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Creating a New Uniform for Today

by Chad Duggan, Creative Designer, Demoulin Bros. & Co.

Creating a new uniform for today’s marching musical ensemble can be a daunting and overwhelming task. Where does a person start? Should one stick with the tried and true, traditional designs or rock the proverbial boat with a new and updated style? More and more music educators are looking to create an entirely new look, or update the traditional design that has been a part of the ensemble’s existing image for many times…decades. How can today’s music educator find the uniform design that represents a fresh, modern appearance, but maintains the support of administrators, alumni, and traditionalist too? Not an easy job. Here are some points for discussion that may help bring your wants, needs, and requirements in line when it’s time for new uniforms.

Start by defining the style of the group. Style is determined by the image that a performance ensemble aspires to create when experienced by an audience. Many factors contribute to the defined style of a group. The type of musical literature presented plays a leading role. Classical, Jazz, Popular, and Rock are just a few of the choices that exist for the marching musical ensemble. The uniform design presents an image that can support the choice of musical literature. For example: An elegant, regal style to perhaps represent a classical repertoire.

Maybe a more aggressive, darker look to interpret Jazz musical choices.Possible a bit more “flashy” design for a group that prefers popular or rock selections. If the ensemble presents many styles of literature, this too should be considered by endeavoring to create a look that is versatile enough to represent many musical styles.

Focused designs that exhibit clarity from a distance are visually pleasing to the eye. Too many design ideas or details can create a cluttered, unorganized look. Take into account the importance of details that can only be appreciated from a close proximity, verses the appearance of the uniform from the press box of a large performance venue. A successful design is one that is visually effective from a distance, and beautiful upon close inspection.

Consider the use of large, overstated details that are visible from far away. Many times one of these details is used as the main focal point of a design, and can be outlined or framed to create visual definition that communicates across the size of a football field.

Textural contrast for interest is popular in today’s modern designs. Reflective elements, metallic ornamentation, shiny fabric finishes, matt or non reflective fabric finishes, and velvet textures, to name a few, all work together to create contrast, interest, and dimension.

Carefully use white and lighter colors to draw the eye to a particular part of the body or feature of the uniform. White is very powerful and visible on a football field, and should be used with great consideration. The use of white toward the top of the body when combined with darker colors will visually lead the eye up, and create the perception of greater height.

Gauntlets are a choice that helps create a uniform appearance of the arms and hands. The use of gauntlets is also helpful in solving minor sleeve length issues from year to year. Gloves complete the visual line of the arms by taking the color all the way to the ends of the fingertips.

The use of extended shoulder elements, found on many coat styles, helps make the waist and hips appear slimmer and creates a larger, more powerful image on the field.

The visual elongation of the legs and lower torso by continuing the trouser color onto the lower portion of the coat is a way to create the impression of more height. This can be further enhanced by a shorter than average coat length which makes the legs appear to be longer. A more tailored fit of the bib trousers and coat streamlines the silhouette of the body to help create a taller appearance, but requires more customized fitting from the organization’s uniform maintenance team each year.

Plumes are beautiful accessories that help complete the look of many different styles of uniforms. Carefully consider the color and style of plume selected to create the desired effect. Tall, white plumes are beautiful, but add an additional level of visual exposure that must be contended with from a marching execution standpoint.

Consideration of how a design appears when viewed from the back as compared to the front should also be taken into account. Beautiful visual effects can be created when there is a light to dark contrast from the front of the uniform to the back. Keep in mind that when a musical ensemble is facing away from the listener, the volume level is typically reduced. It is for this reason that a design with darker color placement on the back, and a lighter color appearance from the front, effectively interprets the nature of the audio presentation.

The choice of a shoe color that blends with the color of the trouser is desirable because it helps continue the line of the leg into the foot. The alternative is to visually expose the feet by selecting shoes that are contrasting in color to the trousers. Be aware that the choice of a contrasting shoe requires the ensemble to be very accomplished in the area of marching technique.

Life expectancy and quality of construction must be considered in the process of purchasing new uniforms. When selecting fabrics and construction methods, there are many choices; unconstructed, partially constructed, and fully constructed are some of the terms used to describe the various levels of tailoring available, and have a direct effect on the longevity of the garment. Be sure to select the construction quality level that fulfills your uniform life expectancy requirements.

Uniforms designed especially for the ensemble’s auxiliary units are also useful. Even though many of today’s marching productions call for a specifically themed costume for the color guard or dance ensemble, it’s always helpful to have a beautifully appropriate uniform for the visual ensemble to wear when appearing with the musical ensemble in parades or at football games!

Finally, rely on help from design professionals. There is nothing like the assistance of someone that has spent years analyzing the way something looks on the world’s largest stage … a football field!

Chad Duggan
Creative Designer
Demoulin Bros. & Co.