October 17th, 2014

Reed: Update those uniforms PLEASE!


Billy Reed

Executive Editor

Reed: Update those uniforms PLEASE!
Marching band uniforms like these drastically need to be replaced / photo and cover photo from magazine.ucla.edu

I have a wonderful idea for a new business, and I need to find some investors before the same idea dawns on the brains at Nike, adidas or UnderArmour. I want to start a company that takes marching band uniforms out of the Revolutionary War era and makes them consistent with fashion in the 21st Century.

In sports, as in society, fashion trends come and go. In basketball, the short shorts were replaced by the long, baggy look. In baseball, the stirrups in the stockings disappeared and players began dropping the bottom of their pants to their shoe tops.

We have seen all sorts of changes in golf and tennis fashion. We have seen changes in cheerleader and dance team fashion. In fact, we have seen fashion changes everywhere. But not marching bands. Today’s marching bands look much as they did when Red Grange was running wild for Illinois in the 1920s.

I’m not sure who decreed that marching bands must look like quasi-military units. Maybe it goes back to the days of the Roman Army. Whatever, every marching band looks as if it should be accompanied by soldiers carrying muskets. Even during the Vietnam War era, when anything that even faintly resembled the military was subject to protest, marching band fashion did not change.

Look at the language of the band world. The leader of the unit is known as the “drum major.” The baton-twirlers are “majorettes.” I wonder if that means the tuba players are sergeants. I think those titles and roles could use a makeover, too.

Even the best marching bands, the ones from historically black colleges such as Florida A&M and Grambling, have never ditched the military-style uniforms. They draw attention to themselves with their creative formations and show-biz routines.  They put some soul — and, hence, some fun — into what often is an exercise in tedium at many schools.

If you go to a high school or college game this weekend, check out the band and you’ll see what I mean. Only on marching bands can you see feather plumes, gauntlets, sashes, capes, white gloves and even spats. Yes! Spats!

Besides being geeky to the max, marching band uniforms are not practical. They’re way too heavy for hot weather and not heavy enough for the cold. It doesn’t have to be that weight. Since Illinois fielded the first marching band for its 1907 game against Chicago, we’ve had some stunning breakthroughs in developing lightweight, synthetic material.

Nobody would think it’s a good idea for baseball players to go back to wool flannel uniforms. Nobody would think it’s a good idea for cheerleaders to go back to heavy wool skirts. Nobody would think it’s a good idea for tennis players to go back to long pants for men and skirts for women.

So why make the marching band suffer?

Thanks to being located near Nike’s headquarters, Oregon has become the fashion leader in college football. Every season — heck, every game, or so it seems — the Ducks trot out dazzling new uniforms with all sorts of non-traditional patterns and color schemes. Why can’t some company do the same for marching bands?

Consider the possible combinations of headgear, shirts, coats and slacks. No doubt ESPN would want to start a marching band competition to determine which school has the coolest-looking — and best-sounding — band in the nation. It would make halftime shows relevant, and it would add status to being in the band. We have seen the cottage industry that has grown around cheerleaders and dance teams. Why not marching bands?

So let’s get rid of the plumed hats, the capes, the gauntlets, the epaulettes and anything else that has military overtones. Let’s do something like safari hats, golf shirts, Bermuda shorts and colorful sneakers for hot weather. Let’s get some nifty parkas for the cold. Why not? Isn’t it time?

I seem to remember that there’s a maverick marching band somewhere —  Stanford, maybe? — that doesn’t wear military-type uniforms or play traditional marching band music. If any of you know of such a band, please let me know.

For now, though, I need some investors. I think I’m on to something big here.

Remember where you read it first.



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