Uniforms and Footwear: Maintaining Appearances

Mike Lawson • Archives • May 19, 2011

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An orderly, well-put-together appearance goes a long way towards creating the impression of a flourishing music program, which is absolutely critical when raising funds, recruiting, and advocating for your program. What’s more, in the face of hits that music department budgets may have taken over the past couple of years, presenting a proud, cohesive image is as important as ever for student performers, boosters, and everyone else involved in the program.

Fortunately, the relatively recent boom in the popularity of marching pageantry has created a dramatic increase in uniform and footwear design options and, in many cases, these purchases provide more bang for the buck than in past years, with continued innovation in long-lasting, easy-to-clean fabrics.

With a focus on funding – as uniforms are often the largest single purchase a music program will make – SBO recently reached out to five experienced educators who took some time to share their thoughts in this roundtable on the latest trends in uniforms and footwear.

Do you have any suggestions for financing uniforms in hard economic times?

Cristin Eick: When directors are preparing budgets they should always plan ahead. Uniforms can be the largest single purchase in the history of a band’s treasury. That financial burden should not be left for that year’s current parent association or school board to finance. In my tenure at BeCaHi, we have made it a part of our Band Parent Association By-laws to fundraise and deposit $3,000 each year in a separate uniform account. This type of savings and budget planning provides evidence to our parents and school community that not only are we vested in our future members but that we are fiscally responsible. A community will be more willing – and potentially more giving – to financially support an organization that proves this as opposed to one that spends frivolously.

Fundraising during trying economic times can be difficult, but fundraising committees should not get discouraged or give up hope. I encourage my parent association to look outside the normal and typical fundraising opportunities. We do our best to avoid events that target our own band parents to spend money – spending money to make money doesn’t necessarily work when you’re constantly tapping the same parents and family for funds. In the past, we’ve established relationships with community businesses to obtain a financial sponsorship in exchange for advertisement in programs, as wells as other similar ventures. Fundraisers, like clothing and toy drives, that pay your organization back by the pound offer “easily found money” that does not require the selling of tchotchkes and benefits others less fortunate at the same time. Finally, directors can make money by creatively not spending their money. For example, a parent may not be able to donate money but may have a trade or a skill that could be useful. For example, instead of paying to have your uniforms or flags repaired by a seamstress, there could be a parent willing and able to donate his or her time. Utilizing these resources not only create fellowship within your organization, but also are “priceless”!

Greg Bimm: Being a private school, our band parent organization has always had to cover the cost of new uniforms. We budget to add annually to our “uniform account” from our general band parent fund so that we have enough money saved when it is time to buy new uniforms. We have been lucky at times to have great fund raising opportunities at just the right uniform time. Our current uniforms were almost completely paid for with funds earned by working at the U.S. Open, which was held at Olympia Fields Country Club (about one mile from Marian) in 2003.

Eric Mullins: The band uniforms in our school district are on a rotating replenishment schedule. Every eight years the school board purchases new uniforms for two to three of the 13 high schools in the district from a Capital Improvement Fund/Capital Replacement Fund specifically for that purpose.

Steven Barraclough: Due to the economy, I think booster organizations are going to become increasingly vital in terms of funding both uniforms and shoes. Our students raise money through the many fundraisers that our music booster organization does each year. Each student has an account from which supplies like shoes, gloves, and t-shirts can be purchased. These accounts are used for trip payments as well.

Robert Gibson: Until two years ago, the practice and protocol in our district, which has six high schools and six junior highs, was that all the bands were a rotation where every 10-12 years each school was allotted the opportunity to purchase new band uniforms. The district would cover 50 percent of the cost and the programs would match the funds. This past year, we purchased uniforms and as a result of the lack of district funds, the boosters were responsible for shouldering the entire cost. Looking forward, we have started to put away a certain amount of money – approximately 3,000 dollars – every year as a part of our fundraising to allocate that towards new uniforms. After ten years or so, we should have enough funding to buy new uniforms.

Does your program also purchase footwear? If not, are footwear purchases mandatory for your students?

CE: We are not a competitive band, so we wear our marching shoes during football season and at the most, two or three additional performances each year. I feel that for the amount of time our band members wear their shoes, it was not necessary to invest an exorbitant amount of money on them. The speedster style of shoe my instrumentalists wear provides enough support and a beveled heel to allow them to roll-step properly. The band front portion of my band also purchases an appropriate style shoe at a moderate price.

When our shoes are ordered, payment for their shoes is included with the uniform deposit students must make in order to take home their band uniforms. However, we try to handle any financial hardships as best we can. If a parent is short funds, we include the cost of shoes in their fundraising quota. This would allow them the opportunity to fundraise over the course of the year for their shoes as opposed to paying cash. Like most teenagers, our band members seem to continue to grow at a ridiculous rate – especially their feet! We try not to have our members purchase more than one pair of shoes during their time with the band. When growing band members or senior band members graduate, they can donate their gently worn shoes back to the band. This collection is not only used for emergency purposes, but also for a “give a pair, take a pair” recycling program for those who have outgrown their band shoes.

GB: We do not purchase footwear, and our students are required to purchase marching shoes. We do not have a financing option for shoes, but, luckily, the shoes we use are quite affordable and last very long. Often our students can wear the same shoes for the entire time at Marian, unless they grow out of them. Our graduates regularly donate their shoes back to the program and since they are well cared for and very sturdy, they can be used to help students with financial difficulties, or they can be placed in our “emergency” stockpile.

RG: We provide footwear for the students. We require them to wear matching shoes, which are good for the marching band and other performance opportunities, as well. We happen to use a patent leather finish shoe, which works incredibly well on the field, but also works great with formal wear on stage or in other public performances, with the jazz band, for example.

What recent trends have you noticed in uniforms and footwear?

CE: I’ve noticed that there has been a tremendous amount of variety in the uniform and footwear options. The possibilities are endless when it comes to designing band apparel. These options can become overwhelming for a director and could persuade a director to spend their budget on a fad as opposed to a more traditional or timeless uniform. Also, directors should be aware that some uniforms, especially band front uniforms, are often made to be disposable – purchased for a specific theme, and worn for one season. These types of uniforms can be tough on the budget.

GB: Our most recent uniforms are the “new” washable uniforms. Having grown up in a fully constructed, dry-clean only uniform world, I was very concerned about the longevity of the “washables,” but true to their reputation, our uniforms have held up beautifully. In truth, they have actually been more resilient and have held their look better than any of our previous uniforms. Another thing of note is the fit and feel of the new uniforms. Our old uniforms were heavy wool and had the feel of “parades” or “standing guard,” whereas our current uniforms are much lighter, more tailored looking, and built for movement. Finally, some uniforms are being made with snaps for adjustable-length sleeves and pants. While ours do not have these, I think the idea sounds like an incredible time/hassle saver. I know the Bands of America Rose Parade band used these and they worked really well.

We have used the same shoes for years and even though I look at every new generation of footwear, I feel that the idea and design of the shoes we continue to use remains exactly what we need.

EM: Some of the current trends in uniform design are a cross of a return to military lines, but more modernized, and design concepts from theater. The main focus, however, is helping the band look cleaner through the cleanliness of the uniform.

Many band directors want students to look thinner and taller, and these desires drive design concepts. Uniform designs accomplish this in two ways: First, by bringing the color of the pant either all the way up to the shoulder or to the chest area as opposed to introducing a new color in the jacket right at the waist. A new feature that assists with this concept is the introduction of one color fading to another color. Secondly, plumes have gotten taller. While at one point most bands wore 6- or 8-inch plumes, more people now are opting for 12- or 14-inch plumes. To get the students to look thinner, uniforms are fitted much tighter than in the past, this is also easier to accomplish (without constricting the player’s ability to breathe) than it used to be because companies are using washable, lighter weight polyester. Some designs incorporate something called a waist cinch, which can be the same color as the pants and/or jacket, or it can act as a cummerbund as well, but one that pulls in the body at the waist, like a girdle.

Another trend in which we are very interested is the rising popularity of gray pants. We are getting new uniforms this year and our new design will feature two pairs of pants, one black and one gray. The drawback to wearing gray pants is, in fact, the footwear. You really need gray shoes to make the look as clean as possible. However, no one makes gray shoes, so we will do as other groups have done and paint our shoes gray.

I teach band in Texas, and we are in the hot weather more often than not. Early in marching season, we will have several football games and marching contests enduring temperatures of 90 degrees or more. Therefore, a light, moisture-wicking material is a very attractive feature of new marching band uniform designs.

There are many more choices today in marching footwear than there were a few years ago. I remember a time, when I was in high school, that there were two choices, Drillmasters and Dinkles. With the advent of the MTX by Director’s Showcase, new shoe designs have been popping up all over the place. Many people still prefer – and most designs incorporate – some sort of rolled heel. Other design features that most people prefer are leather shoes instead of vinyl; an athletic shoe type soul that is more stable, comfortable and durable, one that is capable of encouraging a smooth glide step yet will grip the turf for a direction change at 140-180 beats per minute.

SB: Uniforms and shoes companies continue to evolve. They have developed a variety of price points for uniforms and shoes that fit into most budgets. I have been very pleased with the shoes that we have our students purchase. They have a good quality shoe that really fits into the budget of our students. We really try to keep the costs as low as possible for our students because times are tough. Regarding uniforms, the styles of have changed significantly over the years. While traditional uniforms are still available, styles that are more cutting-edge are readily available. It really provides a lot of options for bands!

RG: When we recently bought our new uniforms, we were given some contemporary choices for colors. The colors we have now, compared to the uniforms we bought 12 years ago, are much more vibrant. In terms of style, a lot of bands in our area – and I was particular about this as well – are moving towards an all-in-one, meaning as few pieces as possible. The fewer pieces of fabric to worry about, the fewer pieces to lose or break – snaps, Velcro, stickers, zippers, and so on. Our previous outfits looked great from a distance, but they had far too many pieces. Now, we have fully constructed, one-piece uniforms that zip up the back like a straight jacket. It only takes two people to put on the uniform. You have a partner, you zip each other up, and away you go.

Would you describe the impact that apparel has on your field shows and parade performances?

CE: Uniforms and apparel have a great impact on all of our performances. Unlike competitive bands, which change their uniforms to compliment the theme of their shows, my band front uniforms complement the instrumentalists’ uniforms. The majorette and silk squads use flags and equipment made up of different colors that are complimentary to the theme of our music. When considering uniforms, first and foremost, band members must be proud, comfortable, and confident when wearing their uniforms. A band member who is reluctant to wear his or her uniform with pride will be reluctant to give 110 percent effort.

GB: I think that the design of our uniforms and shoes is lighter and more movement driven, so naturally we are more easily able to incorporate all forms of expressive marching and movement in our field shows.

SB: When we got our new uniforms several years ago, it really raised the level of pride for our students. Our old uniforms were nice but had a dated look. Our new uniforms gave the group a more up-to-date look. When we tied the new uniforms into the banner and podium covers and it really provided a cohesive look.

Any other thoughts on school band uniforms and footwear?

CE: Uniforms, and band apparel in general, can certainly set the tone of your organization. Band directors should evaluate their program’s needs prior to making any purchases as well as thoroughly research all of their options. Finally, directors should choose their uniforms carefully while considering budget, style, and comfort.

GB: I would recommend for anyone planning on buying uniforms or shoes to plan ahead. Give yourself plenty of time for decisions and to get through the financial mechanics. Be sure to consider your school and community when looking at cost and financing. Do not simply follow the crowd to newest styles or “flavor of the month.” The uniforms must last a long time both physically and stylistically and shoes must be safe and comfortable. Check out real samples. Wear shoes for yourself. Talk to friends who have bought or are buying uniforms and shoes and get their real feedback.

EM: My general thoughts on uniform design are to sit down and come up with your priorities. Take all of the things you love and/or hate about your current uniform, all of the uniform concepts that you see in cutting edge marching band and drum corps and how it affects the way that they look from a distance and up close. Then communicate that to the uniform company of choice and if they are great, they will come up with a concept – or several – that will strike you. Uniforms are becoming more interesting and creative pageantry is an increasingly important part of the process, as well. In our design process, we have tried to be very open to new and unique ideas, because there are a lot of the same uniforms out there. Our bands need comfortable uniforms the students can take pride in wearing that provide an identity and also fill the function of making our students look taller, thinner, and cleaner.

SB: Personally, I like some of the hybrid type uniforms, and the traditional uniforms that have been given a modern twist. I hope the manufacturers keep up their good work in developing styles and materials that will continue the evolution of the band look.

Cristin Eick

Band Director/Music Department Chair

Bethlehem Catholic High School

Bethlehem, Pa.

Since arriving at Bethlehem Catholic High School in 2001, Cristin Eick has been the band director and music department chair, directing the marching band, concert band, and jazz band, as well as being involved in the spring musicals.

Eric Mullins

Director of Bands

Western Hills High School

Benbrook, Texas

Eric Mullins is in his fourth year as the director of Bands at Western Hills High School in Benbrook, Texas. Under his direction, the WH Marching Band consistently receives first division ratings at Texas UIL Region Marching Contest, and is a finalist in area marching contests, including five straight appearances in finals at the “Aledo Unleash the Sound” Marching Festival, and two at the Texas UIL Area B Marching Contest. Prior to Western Hills, Mr. Mullins held a post as an associate band director at Creekview High School in Carrollton, Texas.

Greg Bimm

Director of Bands

Marian Catholic High School

Chicago Heights, Ill.

Greg Bimm has been director of bands at Marian Catholic High School since 1977. Under his direction, the Marian Band has earned hundreds of awards and honors, and has become one of the premier high school band programs in the United States. Marian’s Marching Band has been undefeated in its class in Illinois State competition for 31 years (since 1980), and has been crowned the Bands of America Grand National Champion seven times. Marian Catholic is one of the few music programs to have been honored with both the Sudler Flag of Honor (for concert band) and the Sudler Shield (for marching band) by the John Philip Sousa Foundation.

Among his many personal honors, Greg Bimm was elected to membership in the prestigious American Bandmasters Association in 1994. In 2005, he was elected to the Music for All/Bands of America Hall of Fame, and in 2006, Mr. Bimm was named a Lowell Mason Fellow by MENC.

Steven Barraclough

Director of Bands

Elizabethtown Area High School

Elizabethtown, Pa.

Steven Barraclough is currently in his eleventh year as the director of bands at Elizabethtown Area High School. He also serves as the assistant director of the Elizabethtown Area Middle School Bands. A native of Brockway, Pa, he holds a B.S. in Music Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and has done graduate work through Wilkes University. Prior to joining the EASD staff, Mr. Barraclough taught at Laurel High School in Laurel, Md. and Scotland School for Veteran’s Children in Scotland, Pa.

Robert Gibson

Director of Instrumental Music

Saugus High School

Santa Clarita, Calif.

Robert Gibson is currently in his 18th year as director of Instrumental Music at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California. The Saugus High School Marching Band has made Southern California Marching Band Championship for four consecutive years, and the instrumental music program also boasts an award-winning Jazz Ensemble, Theater Orchestra, Concert Band and small performance Ensembles. Mr. Gibson is also the director of the Saugus High School Winter Guard, which has three WGASC medals to its credits.

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