Marching Band Uniforms Do's and Don'ts

marching band in red, white and black uniforms

Picking out new uniforms for your marching band can be an overwhelming task, especially as a new band director. There are so many things to consider. You want something that is universally flattering for every member of the band. But should you go with a sash or no sash? Leg stripe or no leg stripe? Below are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to choosing uniforms for your high school marching band.


Colors

DO consider color theory

DO stick to solid colored pants

DON’T select white or light-colored pants

One of the first things to consider is color. It’s not as simple as picking uniforms that match your school colors. You have to look at complementary colors and color temperatures (try using a color wheel like this one by Canva). Keep in mind that within one color, there are various color “temperatures,” which makes your selection that much more complicated.  

If your two school colors aren’t already complementary, try and pick versions of those colors that are within the neutral range (that is, not warm and not cool). You will find neutral colors toward the center of the color wheel.

Have you noticed how true reds look good on everyone, but red-orange makes some people look washed out? That’s because true red is neutral, and neutral temperatures of colors look universally flattering. 

Another option is to choose the brightest school color and pair it with dark pants, such as black. For high school marching bands, do NOT choose white pants. Your students will sit on grass or on a dirty gym floor during a competition break and stain their white pants. Try sticking to darker neutrals for pants, such as navy, brown, charcoal gray or black. These colors will hide grass stains and dirt marks and will last for many years.


marching band behind 4YbssFeFwZk unsplashAccents and Accessories

DON’T add an accent stripe on the leg

DO consider sashes

DO try dark gloves

DO add a plume, but consider the material closely

DO try suspenders

DON’T add too many bells and whistles

Accent stripes can look really stylish on college marching bands, but when it comes to high school, they can be a big uniform mistake. Stripes draw attention to those who are off-step. If you are looking for an accessory that is flashy and easy for your students to put on, consider sashes instead.

Gloves are great accessories and essential for marching bands in colder states. I recommend dark gloves because they hide stains better, and they will better match the dark pants mentioned earlier.

Plumes are a personal favorite when it comes to marching band uniform accessories. They come in many different materials, including feather plumes, fountain plumes, plasticky shako plumes and metallic shako plumes. I recommend something akin to feathers or faux feathers. While the metallic shako plumes are striking, they are easily pulled apart. Sticking to the old-fashioned plumes will ensure that you won’t be repurchasing them next year. Simply put, the older style is sturdier.

While many high schoolers think suspenders are the anathema of cool, it’s worth getting them. Many students will end up with pants that are slightly larger than they need. Suspenders ensure that pants will stay in the right spot, especially during high-steps and run-ins.

Keep in mind that too many accessories can quickly overwhelm the eyes. Choose one or two really nice accessories rather than getting all of them. Plus, some accessories are simply not practical. Gauntlets and spats might look great, but they are a hassle to put on and look tacky when combined with too many other extras. Less is always more.


Fabric Types

DO pick your fabric accord to your climate

DO consider summer uniforms

DON’T choose wool just because “that’s what we’ve always done”

Assess the hottest and coldest weather your students will be marching in. For example, I am a music educator based in Michigan. Our summers are hot and humid, but it can also get quite frigid during the winter. Most music educators around here opt for a lighter summer uniform and a fall and winter wool uniform. Oftentimes, directors choose wool just because that’s what they always marched with. Wool uniforms are simply too sweltering for many marching bands, especially those based in the South. You want your students to look good and feel good. 


Hats

DO consider bucket-style hats

DON’T choose cowboy hats because they don’t last

Marching band hats vary widely. One of my personal favorites is the bucket-style hat. Students are often left without pockets or storage on the marching band field. Bucket-style hats offer students a small and secure storage space for a small granola bar or a Capri Sun. Another style that band directors sometimes choose is the cowboy hat. However, this style is not built to last compared to faux-leather bucket-style (shako) hats.


Color Guard and Twirler Uniforms

DON’T choose a color guard/ twirler uniform that has a lot of straps

DO ask which gender and uniform your students identify with before ordering

Complex and strappy color guard and twirler outfits look really cool, but they are not ideal for situations where your students need to quickly and easily get in and out of uniform.

While all members of the instrument section will be wearing gender-neutral outfits, this is not always the case with auxiliary groups. Sometimes, male-identifying students will want something a little less flashy. Organize an aux.group meeting with your section leader after school and find out what your students are comfortable with.


Shoes

marching band black red pexels 8884280DO have your students purchase their own shoes

DON’T worry about the brand

Having students purchase their own shoes through your band program will save a lot of money for the band boosters program. In addition to this, allowing students to get their own shoes will ensure that they pick the correct size and style. Make sure all students purchase the same color shoes. As for the style, provide students with a take-home buyers guide with a list of reputable brand names, such as Dinkles or Drillmasters.


The Final Step: Student Input

DO create a poll for your students once you’ve narrowed down your options.

Include a comment section in your online poll, so students can write in things that you may not have thought of or overlooked. You don’t need to give in to students’ every whim, such as making uniforms tricolor with a three-layer sash, but remember that they are the ones wearing the uniforms, not you.

Choosing new uniforms for your marching band is no easy feat. From finding a universally flattering style to securing funding, you have a big task ahead of you. But with a little research and some input from your students, you’ve got this!

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