WikEd fancyquotesQuotesBug-silkHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extensionPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifierAnalysisPhoto linkImage LinksHaiku-wide-iconHaikuLaconic

Named for Vladimir Aleksandrovich Sukhomlinov, snappy dresser and Minister of War for the Imperial Russian Army up until 1915. His name has given rise to a piece of military lore which is often echoed in fiction. The "Sukhomlinov Effect" states that in any military conflict between a uniformed and non-uniformed army, the guys with uniforms will lose (armour being an exception, presumably). In a conflict between two armies with uniforms, the guys with the more elaborate uniforms will lose. Special attention here goes to the uniforms of the officers: big hats, jangling medals, and feather plumes are the kiss of death.

In Real Life, the trope gets periodically averted and played straight for a reason: before the nearly-universal adoption of camouflage uniforms for field duty during world war one and relegation of elaborate uniforms to city dress and ceremonial dress, the sumptuous uniform was a propaganda piece as much as it was clothing. It was designed to impress, to show the power of the nation and leader who fielded it. Cue the unfortunate effect of leaders who saw their state and power base eroded trying to outshine any potential opponent for diplomatic and propaganda reasons.

In fiction, La Résistance uses this trope almost every time, but it can also be generalized to many sorts of conflicts. The only exceptions to this might be in The War on Terror, but then again...

A Sub-Trope of Dress-Coded for Your Convenience.

Compare Nonuniform Uniform, Custom Uniform (these two for the good guys), Gas Mask Mooks (for the bad guys), Bling of War, Highly-Conspicuous Uniform, Impractically Fancy Outfit.

Examples of Sukhomlinov Effect include:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

  • Some superheros fit this trope with respect to their usual villains:
    • The Fantastic Four and the X-Men have relatively simple costumes; their opponents generally do not.


  • Star Wars: Taking this to its logical extreme with the damn Ewoks.
    • There's also the central Jedi vs. Sith conflict. The Jedi traditionally wear simple robes, while many of the Sith opt for something more complex (and intimidating). Of course, the Jedi don't always win...
    • Full-on plastoid armor-suited stormtroopers versus rebel scum? Hmmm...
    • Exaggerated inversion in the prequels: the uniformed republic clones win against the non-uniformed droid armies.
      • And against the Jedi.
      • Although, do the droids really count as non-uniformed? You can't get much more uniform than mass production.
    • Played straight in the prequels otherwise--the Empire effectively replaces the Republic, and their politicians and military commanders (from the Emperor downwards) dress far more humbly than the Republic's elected queens and senators.
  • Indiana Jones vs. the Nazis
  • Die Hard: Bruce Willis in a muscle shirt vs. guys in suits.
  • Megamind. When the titular villain goes around in an absurd High Collar of Doom covered in Spikes of Villainy and an Ominous Opera Cape, he keeps losing. During the final battle of the film, which he wins, he's dressed slightly more practically.
    • Only by necessity. He'd probably have gladly worn his usual outfit, but he needed to be able to use the holographic watch to mimic Metro Man.


  • In The Bartimaeus Trilogy, during The Golem's Eye, Bartimaeus remarks that the less effective the army, the more over-the-top their uniforms.

 "You could hear their metal bits jingling like bells on cat's collars from far off down the street."

  • Sort of, in Discworld. Vimes prefers that a watchman's armor should be a bit beat-up and dingy, to show that it's been doing its job, and by and large, the better coppers do tend to look a bit scruffier, while the ones with the impressively-kept armor tend to be too concerned with keeping it that way to be good at their jobs (Vimes has similar concerns about actual dress uniforms). The exception: Carrot, who is obsessed with being a good copper to the point of not only following all the rules to the letter, but finding a way to make following all the rules to the letter work; his armor is very impressively kept because it's in the rules.
    • Detritus is also mentioned as having exceptionally shiny armor, because he doesn't get bored of polishing. Since we later find out that Troll Kings are made of diamond, and "shiny" is profoundly high praise among trolls, this may also be cultural.

Live-Action TV

  • Inversion. In Babylon 5, the Narn got pretty well stomped on by the Centauri. Of course, the Centauri had a little help.
    • The humans were almost beaten by the Minbari, but they refrained from destroying the humans.
    • This plays the trope straighter than it might appear at first: the humans in Babylon 5 decorate like humans tend to, while the Minbari tend to be less flashy and more elegant and minimalist.
  • Dinosaurs, where the emblem of the two-legged army is a target.
  • Played with in Red Dwarf, with Rimmer's theory that the army with the shortest haircut always wins.

Real Life

  • In reality, this is averted just as often as it's played straight. Particular examples include most colonial wars, a LOT of wars from antiquity, many wars that pit an advanced power against a less advanced one (like the Second Italian invasion of Ethiopia), and (ironically, given who Sukhomlinov was) the Southern half of the Russian Front of WWI for the first year or so, where the Austro-Hungarians had far less fancy uniforms than the Russians, but had them in Summer colors for a Winter war. Played straight by some of the rest of the WWI Russian Front (where the Germans beat the Russians handily, though as the war went on, the Russians had fewer and fewer uniforms period), the Winter War, most independence wars (hence why they are "Independence Wars" rather than "Nationalist Revolts that were stomped flat within a month"), and the Yugoslav Revolution in WWII.
    • Modern Russia just underwent a military reform. A major part of it were the new uniforms, designed by the well known Russian fashion designer Valentin Yudashkin. They are just asking for trouble.
      • Which is a popular misconception. The only Yudashkin's input was for the ceremonial uniforms of the Presidential Regiment. The common fatigues are perfectly fine, and their perceived problems have more to do with the idiotic mid-level officers who forgot to read the manual and insisted on issuing the -10°C-rated variety to the troops stationed in the -30°C locations than with the uniform themselves.
      • OMG, Nashists in my TV Tropes? It's more likely than you think! Nobody's talking about fatigues (though they are really bad, and the officers are scapegoats); the above comment was about dress uniforms.
      • Not ceremonial uniforms of the President's Regiment, but all dress uniforms.
      • Oh, and, by the way, Edit Wars are bad.
  • Before the Battle of Monmoth in the American Revolution, General Washington ordered his troops not to wear their coats while marching to their attack on the British forces. Since the day's high temperature was well over 100 F, this meant his troups were in much better shape to fight.
  • At the end of the American Civil War, General Robert E. Lee from the Confederacy came to the ceremony in his full dress uniform, while General Ulysses S. Grant from the Union showed up in his well-worn field uniform. An observer remarked that, by appearances, one would've expected Grant to be surrendering to Lee.
    • The only reason they even let him into the surrender ceremony was because the troops recognized him on sight. If the guards were different, they might not have even allowed Grant to attend.
    • During the war, the North, having the most textile factories, had the more consistent uniforms (making for a better-dressed army), while the South frequently had to make do with a "butternut" color instead of grey.
      • On the other hand, the Confederacy aimed higher, having a much more elaborate system of officers' badges of rank, with gold lace in amounts increasing according to rank arranged in decorative patterns on their képis and sleeves. The latter, taking the shape of "Hungarian knots", could cover as much as the entire lower arm.
  • In WWII, the Germans had snappy uniforms designed by Hugo Boss. Guess who lost.
    • On the other hand, during the hardest moment of WWII for the Soviets, Stalin decided to bling his army up. Durind 1942-1943, the Red Army switched from pretty drab and unassuming khakis to what was essentially Tsarist era uniforms with Soviet badges instead. One of the most expensive imports bought by the USSR from the Allies during WWII was gold thread. And, you guessed it, USSR both won the war and outblinged Nazi Germany.
  • In the Polish Soviet War, the Poles came to the peace conference in splendid Bling of War, as an invocation of Good Old Ways. The Russians came in unkempt and spartan clothing, which was, however, just as much an ideological affectation as the Polish clothes. This is an inversion as the Poles won that war.
    • Played straight in the second Polish-Soviet War, though averted in the German campaign in Poland?
  • This is noted as one of Murphy's Laws of Combat: no Combat-ready unit has ever passed Inspection. No Inspection-ready unit has ever passed Combat.
  • Mostly played straight with Romanians throughout their history, corroborated with other factors. They kept the Turks and Hungarians at bay for tens of years with this simple recipe: they'd come to conquer, smug, with few people and big ego, and Romanians peasants still in The Dung Ages would rally up from every part of the country or the region with Torches and Pitchforks, wait for them in a swamp or at the top of a valley, and massacre them. There are tales of lakes of blood, probably mostly of Romanians', but Romanians would still win by sheer number and willpower. There's the famous poem "The Third Letter", where the Sultan boasts about his superiority and conquering spree in front of "an old man, a stub [of a human being]", the king of the opposition, only to get defeated and probably even killed in the upcoming battle.
    • The Real Life version of the Sultan, Beyazid I, played the trope in a worse way - he survived the battle, but 7 years later he lost the fateful Battle of Ankara against the "barbarian" and obviously less well dressed Turco-Mongol army of Timur Lenk, got captured and held in a (literal) cage with gilded bars.
    • Later again played straight with the 1900s king overthrown by a guy just released from jail to help the current power which was quickly royally screwed. Then this rag-tag leader joins with the Nazis and as the fashion statement changes, so does his power fall.
  • The Vietnam War. Guerillas in plainclothes vs. the US Army, or North Vietnam vs. the US Army--to this day, the Vietnamese military has comparatively austere dresses.
  • To some degree, subverted by the Geneva Convention. A captured uniformed soldier is generally afforded Prisoner of War status, while mercenaries and non-uniformed combatants may be tried and, if determined not to be lawful combatants, may be executed at the discretion of the custodial nation. Read more at the other wiki.
  • Zig-zagged with the Libyan civil war. The non-uniformed rebels won, but they were aided by NATO pilots, presumably with uniforms.
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.