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The marching band has evolved from military and police traditions into the entertainment role it serves today, mostly for choreographed performance during football half-time shows. Marching band uniforms have remained a throwback to early outfits, with several variations available to give each band a distinctive appearance. Though some marching bands just wear tuxedos or matching shirts and pants to perform, the basic components usually involve an embroidered uniform jacket with matching pants, elaborate headgear, white gloves, coordinating boots, and occasionally some flair like a cape. Despite the protests, a long plume of feathers often adorns the top of the hats.
One of the most distinguishing features of all marching band uniforms is the color combination on the jacket. This often will be the school or team's colors, but not always. The coat usually has exaggerated shoulders and large, double-breasted buttons. On the front, back or even both, the name of the band will be prominently embroidered. It then is matched with a flat dark or white pair of slacks, occasionally with a pinstripe down the leg.
Some band directors go with a military-style helmet in a flat or metallic color, either left plain or decorated with feather plumage and touches of brass or rope. Others prefer the use of hats in the band tradition instead. The busby is a domed, fur-coated hat with a little feather for color coordination. The shako hat is squared-off like a cap just above the crown of the head, with a tiny visor and the ever-present, sky-ward plume. The Aussie style offers, by far, the most sun protection, with its wide brim and cascading feather.
The use of plumage in marching band uniforms dates back to military use, when bands would signal conditions and orders on the battlefield. While some directors like a masculine helmets with no feathers, most use plumes to give the band members a larger profile and longer shadows on the field. Some plumes roll down the head like a tiger's mane or shoot straight up like a feather duster. In a variety of colors, these plumes are also regularly tucked in on one side of the head and allowed to drape rearward in a tail.
A pair of white or black gloves, along with walking shoes made to look like dress shoes, usually finishes most marching band uniforms. Some go further, though. Capes are a common addition to marching band uniforms, particularly when performing certain music, such as a medley of show tunes. Many band directors award rank to their best players of each instrument, often in the form of roped cords that wrap around one or both arms, which is another mainstay of military tradition.
Band uniforms are interesting things. I really like the attitude of the Samford University Marching Band. They wear white fedoras and red T-shirts, and from there, it's kind of anything goes. But they're still a good band, musically.
Seeing a sharp looking band is always good, but I do not envy the players who have to wear uniforms that are obviously uncomfortable. The flat topped shakos look excruciatingly uncomfortable. I always like to see the Aussie bush hats, or the Cavalier hats, which are turned up on one side. They are comfortable, and as the article mentioned, provide the best shade.
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