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Brightspark Blog

June 18, 2015 | 1:13 PM

History of the Marching Band Uniform

Written by Brightspark Travel

When we watch marching bands perform at events such as the Outback Bowl and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, we love seeing the uniforms bands choose and the ways in which their uniforms impact the performance. To celebrate the time and creativity directors put into creating this marching band staple, we decided to take a look back at the evolution of the uniform.

Running parallel to the evolution of the marching band, the history of marching band uniforms begins with the inclusion of musicians in medieval armies.   

Middle Ages


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During the medieval ages, groups of marching musicians joined feudal armies, where their music was used to direct troops on the battlefield and to maintain morale. Like the soldiers in these armies, musicians wore plumes from local birds, specific colors and distinct motifs to show their loyalty to a lord. However, complete uniforms were uncommon. 

17th-19th Centuries


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National armies were the first to issue completely regulated uniforms for both soldiers and musicians. Many of these uniforms featured French design elements and ornamentation; hats, trims, buttons and epaulettes were popular.

Designs for units within armies displayed minor differences that indicated rank and purpose, and marching bands were no exception. For example, during the American Civil War, marching band units wore baby blue and purple uniforms that distinguished them from the rest of the soldiers, thus ensuring that they wouldn’t get shot.



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Many universities had marching bands prior to 20th century, but the first halftime show featuring a marching band took place in 1907, when the Marching Illinis took the field during a University of Illinois game. A new era began for marching bands, and though uniforms retained many of their military influences, designs also included school colors and motifs.

1960s-Present Day


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After the 1960s, marching band uniform designs became more innovative. The heavy, 100% wool fabrics of military uniforms were replaced with cotton/polyester blends that allowed for comfort and movement.

Nowadays, marching bands express their group identity through uniforms. For example, the University of Texas Longhorn band dons cowboy hats and western-style jackets with fringe, and the Notre Dame Irish Guard wears plaid kilts. Many traditional show bands wear uniforms with military styles and strong school colors, while more competitive bands wear contemporary styles based off the concept of the show in which they are performing.

The Future


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Traditional, military-style uniforms will always have their place, but drill designer and marching band director Aaron Stone believes that many uniforms will become more theatrical. He says that color guard costumes are leading the way as far as “going all out with the theme of the show.” “I truly believe that marching band uniforms will follow in this trend,” Stone states.

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What marching band trends do you think we'll be seeing next season? Comment below.


Topics: Marching Band, For Performance Directors

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