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LEGACY AND IDENTITY: Advice for Designing Your Next Band Uniforms

There’s no doubt about it, marching bands are looking strange. From the contemporary art uniforms of the Drum Corps International world, to the digital prints of the traditional uniform in the HBCU circuit.

The options can be, admittedly, a little dizzying!

To know where we’re going, it’s been to understand where we’ve been. So first, a brief history of the uniform.

The history of the typical marching band uniform begins with the incorporation of musicians into the military. Drums were used to inspire fear into the enemy, while loud trumpet calls and piercing fifes were used to broadcast messages across large groups of soldiers during noisy battles. The musicians wore similar uniforms to their fighting comrades, as they were still members of the same brigade. This explains the helmets, gloves, and plumes of today’s bands – they are leftover regalia from military uniforms.

Seems counterproductive to put the band in front, but... times were different then.

“Many universities had marching bands prior to 20th century, but the first halftime show featuring a marching band took place in 1907, when the Marching Illinois took the field during a University of Illinois game,” writes Brightspark Travel on their History of the Marching Band Uniform. “A new era began, and though uniforms retained many of their military influences, designs also included school colors and motifs.”

So what does that mean for the modern music educator? Simply put, a marching uniform needs to accomplish two tasks: honor a band’s legacy, and reflect its identity.

Legacy can mean many things. While a high school’s legacy may simply be reflected in a particular name (or mascot or logo) embroidered on the uniform, a university may find that it wants to keep particular assets (such as fringe, tree-foil, or epaulets) that have made older uniforms distinct and different from competitors. A good uniform designer will be able to adapt these physical elements into a variety of contemporary styles.

Fringe and Cowboy Hats are a part of the UT Longhorn Band identity.

Identity, however, may exist either in the past (for those who want to continue with their established persona) or in looking to the future. A new uniform can be a wonderful chance for a band to reestablish itself, and show schools not just who they are, but who they aim to be.

Modern styles have introduced digital printing and dye sublimating to the design world: two processes that have typically been reserved for fashion and theatrics, to the marching world. Complex and intricate patterns can be implemented to augment your school’s aesthetic on each coat.

While these designs can be exciting and limitless, it’s important to remember what busy patterns say about your group. Some bands don’t find these textures as powerful as solid, block colors when viewed from the stands of a stadium.

Showbands in the HBCU have stayed with traditional uniforms to resounding support.

With a good vision for you and your ensemble, and a talented designer, new uniforms can be an extremely powerful and effective statement to make as you grow and look toward the future.