We’re in the middle of a really interesting time for drum corps. More and more groups are choosing to forgo tradition in favor of pushing the envelope. We’re in the midst of a cultural shift in our activity, and it’s no surprise that many fans have varying opinions as to where the marching arts are headed. Much of the discussion lately has been focused on the fact that many corps have decided to change their uniforms from year to year, as opposed to keeping the same style of uniform for long periods of time.
In my opinion there are two main purposes that a uniform serves. First, a uniform is part of a corps’ identity. When I tell you to think of a Cavalier, you probably think of the classic green-with-white-sash uniform. When I tell you to think of a Cadet, you probably think of the maroon and gold. The concept of drastically changing uniforms yearly is a fairly new one. For a long time, part of the lure of wanting to march with a specific corps was finally being able to put on the uniform. A friend of mine that marched Bluecoats a few years back told me that he saw the corps’ 2013 show and said, “I wanna wear that.” Getting to wear the uniform for a lot of people was a signifier that they had made it; that they achieved what they were working hard for.
However, the other purpose of a uniform is to serve as a design element for the show. During an interview at the 2018 tour premiere, we learned that Phantom Regiment decided not to use their signature helmets just for the sake of having helmets. Instead, their uniforms include a hood that act as the hood of a traveler, someone on a journey. Corps members aren’t just there to play music and make shapes, they’re characters in the story. If a uniform is viewed as a visual design element, than it sort-of makes sense that they should be changed to fit each year’s show.
So, what’s the answer here? I don’t know. While there is a certain magic to a corps keeping the same uniform for a long period of time, the activity is only going to move forward through experimentation and and the courage to try new things. This isn’t the first time we’ve had a conversation like this, either. Things like innovation in drill design, the use of props and electronics, and the tuning of the instruments on the field were all met with similar criticism. So let’s give the flashy outfits and tight spandex a chance, even if it seems weird right now. I’m sure we’ll have something else to argue about in ten years.