The style of Weird Al Yankovic's newest album cover is meant to evoke a Soviet-era propaganda feel, with a hint of totalitarian oppression. Rolling Stone described his outfit as "what appears to be a Russian military uniform". But is it? Is it Russian, or Soviet, or what?
SPOILER ALERT: Weird Al's "Soviet propaganda" uniform is 100% US American.
Image credit: "Mandatory Fun" cover photo made available by RCA Records Press Site for promotional/editorial use.
The green uniform is, as best I can tell, a forest green US Marine Corps uniform from sometime in the first half of the 1900s (or a replica of one). The high collar and four front pockets, along with the seams and pointed cuffs, all point to that style uniform. Additionally, his uniform's button design (left) was used by the US Navy and Marine Corps during and after WWI. Today's Marines sergeants have crossed rifles beneath their three-chevron rank insignia, but pre-1959 a USMC sergeant (or chief cook) would have been rocking the rifleless green-and-red pictured on the album cover (right).
(An earlier version of this section wrongly stated that modern Marines have moved on from green-and-red rank insignia . . . thanks to Venku_Skirata for the correction!)
For his service to his country, Weird Al was apparently awarded the following six medals (in order, from left to right):
- The Bronze Star, awarded for heroism and/or meritorious service in a combat zone (with "V" device, meaning it was additionally awarded for valor or exposure to personal hazard).
- The Defense Meritorious Service Medal, for non-combat outstanding achievement and/or meritorious service.
- The Navy & Marine Corps Commendation Medal, for long-term meritorious service or sustained acts of heroism.
- The Joint Service Achievement Medal, issued by the Department of Defense. Similar to #3, but for service/heroism not quite reaching the level of a Commendation Medal.
- The Navy & Marine Corps Achievement Medal, same as #4 but issued by the Navy or Marines instead of the DoD.
- The National Defense Service Medal, for service during times of "national emergency".
All six medals are consistent with service in the Marine Corps. They are also displayed in the correct order of precedence.
The Service Ribbons
First thing first: these ribbons are all upside down. The three devices ("V", "E", and star pins) are clearly flipped . . . and while most ribbons look the same either way, there are a couple on here that don't and they give it away. Also the order of precedence is backward . . . these were arranged (mostly) in the proper order, and then the whole block was put on upside down. I'm guessing that they decided it looked "better" with the lone ribbon on bottom instead of on top.
There are 16 ribbons here. From left to right, top to bottom, they are:
- Navy Pistol Marksmanship Medal
- Navy Rifle Marksmanship Medal (w/ upside down E "expert" device)
- Kuwait Liberation Medal (upside down)
- National Defense Service Medal
- Vietnam Service Medal
- Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
- Defense Meritorious Service Medal
- European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
- Navy Unit Commendation Medal
- Navy Combat Action Medal (upside down)
- Navy & Marine Corps Achievement Medal
- Joint Service Achievement Medal
- Navy & Marine Corps Commendation Medal
- Joint Service Commendation Medal (w/ upside-down silver service star)
- Meritorious Service Medal
- Bronze Star (with upside-down V device)
The Other Decorations
This is a Naval Aviator Badge, meaning that he has been through advanced flight training.
As best I can tell, the various stars are just pins, with no actual military significance.
If you look closely, the red shoulder boards are a Navy ensign's hard shoulder boards with red fabric stretched over them. You can see the board's star and stripe bulging beneath the fabric.
There's no reason for Alfred to be wearing a red aiguillette (the braided shoulder cord) except that maybe it looked cool.
The Sam Browne belt—part of most US officers' uniforms until a confluence of the Depression, fascist symbolism, the replacement of swords with pistols as sidearms all conspired to do it in—is actually cobbled together from two belts: a fabric waistband that matches the tunic, and a leather shoulder belt from a real Sam Browne (I can't tell exactly which one, but it's really nice-looking leather so I'm guessing it was recently made).
(Thanks to BenMcS for reminding me I'd missed that bit!)
These gave me the most trouble. While some diplomatic uniforms have gold embroidery on their collars, this was unlike anything I'd seen or could find.
Then it finally hit me . . . this is probably the silliest part of the whole uniform. These gold oak leaf clusters are embroidered patches meant to go on a hat . . . the so-called "scrambled eggs" that decorate the visors of many navy officer hats, as well as civilian pilot and merchant hats. While I didn't find an EXACT match to his oak leaf design, several civilian hat patches came very close.
Navy Captain's hat illustrating "scrambled eggs" decoration. Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Weird Al, or his wardrobe person, probably just stuck the hat patches on the uniform collar to give it a hint of that "gold-embroidered diplomatic uniform" appearance. It's silly when you know what you're looking at, but it kind of works.
Weird Al's "Russian-looking" military costume is nothing more than a mash-up of U.S. Navy and Marine Corps uniform elements, with gold stars, red fabric, and a red cord tossed in for flair. We have seen the uniform of oppressive, oxymoronic demands for involuntary levity, and it was actually like three different uniforms, none of which (sorry, Rolling Stone!) were even remotely "Russian".