Yesterday, while strolling near Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan, Izzy saw a well-dressed gentleman with a small red thread sewn on his lapel right next to the button hole. Luckily, Izzy could decipher the code, having remembered an article in The New York Times all about that little bit of thread:
To the untrained eye, the lapel thread might be confused for a brand indicator, like the red stripe in Prada shoes or the Lacoste crocodile, or even a stray piece of lint. But to those in the know, the decoration is more like a military chevron or a tribal tattoo. It shows that [the wearer] is a member of Franceâ€™s most prestigious â€” and most coveted â€” society: the LÃ©gion dâ€™Honneur, granted by the French government to those who have somehow contributed to the glory of France.
More elite than the Masons, less secretive than Skull & Bones, less G.P.A.-dependant than Phi Beta Kappa, the Legion of Honor was founded in 1802 by Napoleon. Itâ€™s been awarded to an estimated 40,000 foreigners and 96,000 French citizens â€” military personnel and civilians, men and women.
There are several ranks, each with a medal and ribbon, starting with chevalier, or knight; then officier, or officer; commandeur; grand officier, and grand croix.
For everyday use, chevaliers and officiers wear a special hue of deep red thread sewn in a thin stripe from the buttonhole to the outer edge of the lapel, while commandeurs wear a silver thread. The thread and other legionnaire pins are sold at a store near the Palais Royal in Paris.
These threads might get some attention in France, but are harder to decode in New York. â€œEvery time I take a suit to the dry cleaners they try to snip them off,â€ said Paul LeClerc, the president of the New York Public Library and a chevalier. â€œItâ€™s very expensive thread if you have to go all the way to Parisâ€ to get it.
One has to wonder why Mr. LeClerc does not frequent a French laundry.
Izzy must confess to enjoying the display of the thread (especially on a dark suit), which is surely the most elegant award one can wear.