You wear it every day, but you hardly ever wash it. It's itchy, it stinks, it's hot and it's restrictive, but it's one of your favorite things to put on while on tour. It's your uniform.
The "look" of a corps is the primary way most people identify a group. For those of us whose ears can't differentiate the low brass sound of Phantom vs. Blue Devils, or the snare tuning from Boston to Spirit, the visual identification of the corps' uniform helps us recall why we proclaim allegiance to a particular group. For some aspiring marchers, it's even the reason they chose a corps -- they long to inhabit Glassmen gold, don Magical purple, drape themselves in Devilish blue, or be a part of the Green Machine. But for all the pride of membership it carries with it, actually wearing the uniform is one of the less enjoyable parts of the drum corps experience. First off, it's hot. Any garment that has to survive the rigorous tour schedule has to be constructed of pretty strong -- or, in this case, thick -- stuff. Luckily most corps uniforms are made of cotton, not wool (in order to be machine washable), but even triple-layered cotton will hold that heat and humidity in. And between the gloves, gauntlets, and tight-fitting neck and body of most modern uniforms, there's no escape valve for all that built-up body heat, so you end up stewing in your own perspiration. Different-colored uniforms offer their own unique challenges. Black hides dirt well, and everyone looks good in it, but it's a heck of a lot hotter at those early-night shows. White is much cooler but is a nightmare to keep clean, especially for the accompanying footwear. Part of my pre-show routine last year always included at least 15 minutes to scrub my shoes down: I discovered Soft Scrub with Bleach, applied with an old toothbrush, does wonders to remove light surface scuffs. With this, of course, you have to be careful to keep your toothbrushes separate -- I'll never forget the day I looked down while cleaning my shoes and realized I was using my good toothbrush! Kiwi also makes some good shoe whitening products that put on a nice shine but these won't cover tough dirt. I (and my co-drum major) tried just about anything, including whitewall tire cleaner, Colgate toothpaste and nail polish remover (works great on deeper scuffs, but will take off the top layer of your shoes if you're not careful). Scuffs aside, grass stains are another of the joys of white shoes -- I never did quite figure out how to get rid of those. White uniforms also present interesting undergarment issues, since most uniform pants are thin enough for any shade that varies farther than a good tan's worth from your own skin tone to be seen from 50 rows up. Some corps have solved this with specially dyed briefs that each member is required to obtain personally. Dance supply companies also make flesh-colored tights and briefs that can be useful solutions to the problem as well; of course, there are a variety of methods for dealing with it, any and all of which have been used at some time or another in the history of drum corps. As much annoyance as the jacket, pants and shoes can be, nothing beats the element that tops it all off: the hat or shako. They're heavy, they rarely fit well, and after two or three shows they become reservoirs of stale sweat that rarely, if ever, get cleaned. If you have long hair, it all has to fit underneath the hat or shako, which rarely helps the comfort level or fit problems. They also present the same coloration problems uniforms do (Soft Scrub with Bleach works about as well on white hats as it does on white shoes), and because our bodies do most of their temperature regulation via our heads, hats and shakos become furnaces -- especially during parade days. On the upside, though, there are few better feelings than getting to flip off the hat while going to trail after a show or long parade. The guard has its own special uniform challenges. In terms of dealing with cleanliness, color and head covering, they miss out on most of the joy of traditional uniforms. However, in today's world of multilayered guard uniforms, they have the joy of wearing -- and keeping up with -- four layers to the rest of the corps' one or two; sometimes they're not even that lucky, but rather wear bits and pieces of various uniform elements. This is fine in Texas in July but not in Wisconsin and Michigan in June! And guard members have to be especially careful of tan lines, whereas the rest of the corps gets to just cover everything up. Uniforms should carry a warning label: "Less glamorous than may initially appear." But even with the itch, the stench, the heat and the discomfort, nothing says "pride" like zipping up the jacket and doing one last chain check on the shako. It's all part of the love, the hate, of marching drum corps. Send Emily feedback and ideas at email@example.com. Emily Tannert is currently living in Knoxville, Tenn., taking a year off from school before she returns to Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., for a master's degree. She was the 2002 drum major for the Pioneer, and will play in the 2003 Glassmen pit. She will age out in 2003.
By Emily Tannert