Wearing decorations

To wear one's decorations is to be proud to be a Belgian

The Belgian national culture has been set up by means of common values, traditions and symbols. The honorary decorations which are part of the official rewards system belong to that culture. They embody honour, bravery, merit and courage.

The National Holiday, November 11 and the King's Feast are some of those occasions at which the King and the Royal Family, the judges and the magistrates and the veterans are almost the only people wearing their decorations.

The design of the decorations has hardly changed since the 19th century and therefore they are rather uncomfortable to wear on modern clothing. If pinning the recognition of one's merits on a man's jacket is already rather difficult, you can imagine the difficulty to pin them on women's clothing.

Wearing one's decorations decently can really be an obstacle race as any documentation on this subject is lacking. Consequently it is most useful to recall some elementary rules in order to wear one's decorations in the right way.

Some elementary rules

  • In the presence of the King or a member of the Royal Family, unless other instructions have been prescribed, only the great modules of the honorary decorations are worn and never the miniature jewels nor the reduced versions with the colours of the ribbons.
  • The decorations are pinned to the left of the chest, ranged from the centre in decreasing order of importance.
  • Priority is given to the Belgian orders, spread in classes (grand-cross, grand officer, commander, officer, knight, palms and medals). There are three in decreasing order of importance: Leopold, Crown and Leopold II. Only one class per order is worn! (Tab. I)
 OfficerKnightGolden PalmsSilver PalmsGold MedalSilver MedalBronze Medal
Order of Leopold*Not applicable
Crown de Order
Order of Leopold IINot applicable

Tab. I: 4th, 5th and 6th classes of the Belgian national orders.

(*) Only the military category, with crossed swords, is represented here. The civilian category, without crossed swords, follows the same rules.

  • Then we have the other official Belgian decorations. A decoration is official when it has been created by a law or by a royal decree (Order in Council).
  • A regulation stipulates the order in which the military have to wear their decorations (Tab. II). If they are no longer cited, the Second World War decorations and the Korean War decorations naturally have priority.
1.Military decorations for exceptional services or for bravery or act of devotion (1st and 2nd classes)
2.Military Cross (1st and 2nd classes)    
3.Military decoration for seniority (1st and 2nd classes)    
4.Cross of Honour for military service abroad (1st and 2nd and 3rd classes)    
5.Commemorative medal for armed humanitarian operation + bar on the ribbon.
6.Commemorative medal for an operation or a mission abroad. The retired military are allowed to wear on the ribbon maximum three bars with the name of the missions they participated in, provided that those bars have been attributed before September 17, 2004. In all other cases, the number of missions (> 1) the person participated in is indicated on the ribbon by a bronze Arabic numeral 9 mm high.
7.Medal of merit. No bar has been officially prescribed to be worn on the ribbon.
8.Commemorative medal of the Army marches (MESA and the four day march of the Yser). Though these are not decorations, wearing these medals is authorized until December 31 of the year following that of the participation or in a permanent way from 3 participations onward.    

Tab. II: Belgian military decorations.

  • A similar list also exists for the civilian decoration (Tab. III).
ACarnegie Hero Fund Medals
Gold, silver and bronze
BCivilian decorations for acts of bravery or devotion
1st and 2nd class Cross    
1st, 2nd and 3rd class Medal        
CCivilian decorations for administration services seniority
1st and 2nd class Cross    
1st, 2nd and 3rd class Medals        
1st and 2nd class Cross for fireman's services    
1st and 2nd class Medal for fireman's services        
DDecorations for labour
1st and 2nd class    
ESpecial decorations
Health insurance fund, 1st and 2nd class    
Cooperation, 1st and 2nd class    
Social provision, 1st and 2nd class    
Professional union, 1st and 2nd class    
Agricultural, 1st and 2nd class    
FHonour insignia of Labour Laureate
1st, 2nd and 3rd classNo photo available

Tab. III: main Belgian civilian decorations.

Special cases

  • The veterans who are holder of both military and civilian decorations will give priority to their military decorations putting forward respectively those for acts of bravery or devotion, those for the Second World War and the Korean War, those for seniority and finally the other decorations.
  • The official foreign orders are worn in chronological order of attribution next to the Belgian national orders. The other official foreign decorations are worn in chronological order of attribution next to the official Belgian decorations.

Allowances and prohibitions

  • Wearing a foreign order must be allowed by the King. The foreign orders are worn next to the Belgian and according to the date of attribution. No military in service is allowed to wear a foreign decoration without a royal authorization.
  • Een militair in actieve dienst mag geen buitenlandse eervolle onderscheiding dragen zonder Koninklijke toestemming.
  • The Belgian decorations which have not been created by law of royal decree are not officially recognized, even if they have been established by another official authority (region, province, town, municipality…), by an acknowledged institution (Red Cross, fire brigade service…) or by a patriotic, philanthropic or other association. Wearing them next to all other decorations is however allowed, except for the military in active service, providing there can be no confusion with the official decorations. The holders of official decorations will only wear them at events directly related to the institution that decorated them.
  • The decorations of international organizations to which Belgium adheres (NATO, European Union, OSCE,) are assimilated to Belgian decorations but are worn next to them.

The illustrations below are mainly drawn from the regulation for military dress (DGHR-REG-DISPSYS-001) of February 20, 2006 and from the documentation of the press service (SPF) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We also want to thank the TOULET – VAN BAEL society for authorizing us to use certain pictures published on their Internet website and Lieutenant Colonel GS Eric TRIPNAUX for his technical advice.


Photo: Michel Gronemberger © Royal Palace, Belgium