Mike Ruhala wrote: Different strokes. Even in my lineage I could wear a different color of pants, I went with white for practical reasons. There's some things that strike me as really odd though, like people who are clearly not masters wearing black uniforms. To me that's like hanging a giant flashing neon sign around your neck that says "HEY EVERYBODY! LOOK AT ME! I'M AN EXPERT!!!" and if you can't deliver the skills, well... we've all seen martial artists who make claims they can't back up and it's hard to take them seriously.
To put this in terms more people would probably be able to understand, it's the same exact thing as if somebody studied a book about karate, bought themselves a black belt and made everybody call them "sensei." I think you personally, Jake Norwood, are all good because you're at the very least equivalent to a coach. What I'm trying to convey is that there's a very large community of Western swordsmen from living traditions, how you dress and the colors you wear communicate a very loud message to them. If you view yourself as isolated from the surviving branches of Western swordsmanship then do as you will, otherwise you may want to give some consideration to how you present yourself and how it will be perceived by practitioners of related arts.
I've heard this before, and I can't disagree more.
Your analogy of buying myself a karate black belt would be valid if I went to a classical fencing (or regular fencing if it applies) class with a black uniform because I bought a book and taught myself to fence. Outside of that context, black uniforms mean whatever you want them to mean. If someone shows up to our Toyama Ryu class with a black obi (belt), no one is going to think "oh that guy wants to look like an expert." A black obi means nothing in our dojo except that the wearer likes black and chose that color for his obi. Some people choose pimping gold with loud patterns. Just because there are other martial arts where a black belt has meaning doesn't mean a damned thing, because we are not practicing those martial arts. Likewise, black uniforms in HEMA only mean what a particular HEMA school wants them to mean.
In NYHFA, black uniforms used to mean that you were an instructor. It meant this only because I decided that it does, no other reason. Not too long ago I decided that differntiating by uniform color was juvenile, so now everyone gets black uniforms.
In the US military, a star on your shoulder board makes you an admiral. In the Russian army, it makes you a junior liuetenant. Uniforms only have meaning in context.