A cockade is a knot of ribbons, or other circular- or oval-shaped symbol of distinctive colors which is usually worn on a hat.
In the eighteenth century, it was pinned on the side of a man's tricorne or cocked hat, or on his lapel. Women could also wear it on their hat or in their hair. A cockade uses distinctive colors to show the allegiance of its wearer to some political faction, their rank, or as part of a servant's livery. In pre-revolutionary France, the cockade of the Bourbon dynasty was all white. In the Kingdom of Great Britain a white cockade was worn by those supporting the restoration of a Jacobite monarchy, while in contrast the established Hanoverian monarchy they were trying to overthrow had one that was all black. But elsewhere and at other times there was more variety.
"As the Continental Army has unfortunately no uniforms, and consequently many inconveniences must arise from not being able to distinguish the commissioned officers from the privates, it is desired that some badge of distinction be immediately provided; for instance that the field officers may have red or pink colored cockades in their hats, the captains yellow or buff, and the subalterns green."
Before long however, the Continental Army reverted to wearing the black cockade they inherited from the British. Later, when France became an ally of the United States, the Continental Army pinned the white cockade of the French Ancien Régime onto their old black cockade; the French reciprocally pinned the black cockade onto their white cockade, as a mark of the French-American alliance. The black-and-white cockade thus became known as the "Union Cockade".
Cockades were later widely worn by revolutionaries and proponents of various political factions in France and its colonies beginning in 1789. Just as they did in the United States a few years before, the French now pinned the blue-and-red cockade of Paris onto the white cockade of the Ancien Régime - thus producing the original Tricolore cockade. Later, distinctive colours and styles of cockade would indicate the wearer's faction -- although the meanings of the various styles were not entirely consistent, and varied somewhat by region and period.
Today, the term is often used to indicate the tricolour cockade in specific, which became a relatively common symbol of nationalism during the French Revolutionary Wars.
Also from the eighteenth century European monarchies used cockades to denote the nationalities of their military. Ribbon-style cockades were worn on tricornes and bicornes just as the French did, and also on cocked hats and shakoes; metal cockades were worn at the right side of helmets; small button-type cockades were worn at the front of kepis and peaked caps.
In particular, the Germans under the Kaiser used two cockades on each army headgear: one (black-white-red) for the empire; the other for the individual German provinces and kingdoms, which had used their own colors long before. The Weimar republic removed these, as they might promote faction which would lead to the dissolution of Germany into petty prinicpalities again. In the Second World War, the imperial or Kaiserliche colors of black on the outside, then white, and red on the inside were used on all army caps.
France began the first Air Service in 1909 and soon picked the traditional French cockade as the first national emblem, now usually termed a roundel, on military aircraft. During World War I, other countries adopted national cockades and used these coloured emblems as roundels on their military aircraft. These designs often bear an additional central device or emblem to further identify national aircraft, those from the French navy bearing a black anchor within the French cockade.
Countries opposed to France and Britain adopted different national emblems in order to be recognized by their own forces.
The following is an incomplete list of traditional cockades used by various nations; the colours are listed from the inside out. If the air force roundel resembles a cockade but differs from the traditional cockade, the roundel is also specified.