Balancing Comfort, Style, & Image

Mike Lawson • Archives • May 13, 2009

Anyone who has experienced the excitement of watching a marching band understands that the visual aspect of the experience can be almost as important as the music that’s being played. While first-rate choreography is a key element of any field performance, the design and feel of the uniforms can have an equally huge impact on the ensemble’s presentation. Uniforms create an image for a band. Whether they are flashy, ornate, or subtle, one could say that the uniform makes the band. SBO recently checked in with some educators who have years of experience outfitting bands. Read on as they share their experiences, along with some helpful advice.

What is the most important element that you look for in a uniform?

Keith Rutledge: I think the key to a good uniform is the quality in the construction. I want to know that the uniform will hold up over the years. Support from the uniform company is also very important.

Marc Mueller: The fit. We put a lot of emphasis on having the kids not look dumpy, so flexibility in design to try to create a slim look was desirable. Secondly, we wanted the thing to stay put as much as possible. If a student lifts his or her arm up, we wanted the jacket to stay as still as possible. You also have to think about how the uniforms will hold up over time. Can they be cleaned easily? Will they move on a musical athlete or will they be cumbersome? In the South, they must breathe.

Brett Johnson: How it makes the band look on the field. In other words, it isn’t as important how the uniform looks on an individual – the most important visual element is how the totality of the band looks from the field. It’s also important to make sure the uniforms will wear well and look great during their entire cycle and are not made of fabric that will oppress the students on a hot day.

David Niemeyer: I like uniforms that use traditional flair such as the traditional shako, plume, and even some basic elements like a gauntlet and baldric. However, when you take these items and add a more cutting edge to it, maybe a different type of button, or different angles and colors, it adds a cutting edge to it. I like our current uniform because I believe it combined some of these elements. Although I think our uniform could have been even more cutting edge. Our uniform is in the DeMouline product catalog. It is blue and gold with a W on the right chest. The Carolina Crown uniform is a good example of what I like. Design is the most important element.

Chris Miller: The design and features are most important, because I want the group to be recognized as soon as they step off of the bus. Identity and visibility are key to a good uniform. The features that are important include the sash or epaulets, something that makes it stand out from another school that might have a similar uniform. I feel that the identity of the group and how they look while marching is most important. I want people to know who we are when they see us, but I don’t want identification marks to detract form the execution. Writing names of schools on the back of the uniform is fine, but if students don’t execute a proper slide then they are easily picked out in performance. The same goes for stripes down the trousers. Practicality doesn’t seem to be an issue anymore. The companies seem to have gotten a real handle on that. I also look for quality and durability.

John Abucewicz: They have to be eye-catching. I want people to think they look sharp. Cost is always a factor as well.

John Arata: The overall appearance of the band is important. Having a representative who can help with the design phase is critical. Finding a company who can assist with designing a quality uniform and who will be able to provide continuous service over the years when placements or fill-ins are required is very important. Most of the companies have made their uniforms very practical, so the appearance is, by far, the main thing.

Andy Walters: Design is very important. The uniform needs to fit a number of body types with a look that is current and will also allow the band to look as clean as possible. Cost and the reputation of the company purchasing from is also a big part of it. We want a company that will stand behind their product. I think you have to choose a band uniform that looks good close up and from far away. Uniforms with small lettering or indistinct patterns may look good from three feet away, but as soon as you step back from the design, it can seem “unclean” from far away.

Also, with items like capes and other lapels, these can make a band appear “unclean” in the wind. I try to design uniforms that are simple with clean lines, much like modern automotive design. School colors are appropriate for displaying school pride, but a design that is overly complicated can date a band and their uniforms. One should try to be as generic and clean as possible in design in my opinion. Also, the less stuff on a uniform, the more cost effective it is.

Dr. W. David Spencer: I look for simplicity and style in a uniform. They should never be faddish. When wearing red, white, and blue, visibility is not an issue. So we tend to focus on style, and practicality.

Ryan Kelly: When it comes to our uniforms, we look for a visually aesthetic appeal with a distinctive memorable signature or quality that stays in the mind of our audience after the band has left the field

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