How to Keep Your Uniform Clean

Rain. Snow. Sleet. Mud. Not to mention sweat. These are only some of the elements braved by marching uniforms throughout the season. To keep your outfit looking great and in working order, find out how parent and student uniform managers handle the task.

Illustration by Joe Yip

Everyone knows how good it feels to get out of your uniform after marching in a great show. You should be proud of the “blood, sweat and tears” that go into a great performance, but make sure that they don’t stay on your uniform! Sometimes students don’t think much about the hard work done by “band moms” or parent and student uniform managers. Here’s an inside look at how they prevent uniforms from stinking up the band room. Also, they provide tips on what you can do to help.

Peggy Ervin
Parent, Uniform Manager
Mount Hebron High School Marching Unit

Whenever I give students a uniform, I give them written and verbal instructions on how to take care of it, and we reinforce this by making sure that the parents see this information as well. In preparation for performances, we remind the students regularly to think ahead and get things cleaned.

We give all the new students and incoming freshmen all the pieces that they need. They’re expected to keep and take care of them for the whole time that they’re in the marching band. If their size changes, or if there’s a problem, we replace the needed article with another piece from our inventory.

I’ve had a lot of success with “magic erase sponges”; they take the scuff marks off of shoes and hats. I’ve also had pretty good success using handheld electric “de-fuzzers” to take off some of the little lint balls that develop; they brighten up fabric a little, too, when it’s getting worn down.

I think the biggest thing that helps me is to be organized; I use a spreadsheet to keep track of everyone’s articles. Uniform management is a little overwhelming, so keeping track of who has what is very helpful. Keep things organized by size, and stay on top of alterations that need to be done. Here at Mount Hebron, there’s a group of parents that helps with alterations. Things that fit well are less likely to get worn out at the hems or seams, which is one of our biggest problems.

Rosa Ortega
Parent, Uniform Manager
Glencoe Crimson Tide Marching Band

With the rain, we have clear ponchos that are pretty heavy duty. If the students are doing a show, obviously the judges prefer that they not wear them, and then the uniforms get wet.

If that happens, then after the performance when they take off their uniforms, we spread out the uniforms in the band room, so that they dry. We let them dry overnight.

If the field was muddy during the performance, we get some volunteer parents to clean the bottoms of the pants with damp cloths. At the same time, if we see that the pants are very wrinkled, we get the parents to take them home and press them a little bit.

Try to use big, heavy-duty wooden hangers for uniforms, so that pants do not get wrinkled; plastic hangers tend to bend.

Also, get all of the uniforms of the seniors that are graduating and un-hem the pants, so that they’re ready to hem back up for next year’s students. If you don’t take down the hem in advance, they get really bulky because they’ve never been hemmed down.

Janet Callicott
Parent, Uniform Team Leader
Pope High School Marching Band

The uniforms go through an inspection; section leaders will look them over and make sure there’s nothing obviously wrong.

We are very careful with our uniforms— in fact, we have parents that put the shakos on the kids using gloves. The shoes are a problem in that they all look alike. I usually have two to three kids who can’t find their shoes as we get ready for a competition.

Even though the kids hang up their uniforms, we check everything before we put them away in the closet. We do an inventory at the end of the year to check that the hems, zippers and buttons are all correct.

The biggest thing about working with teenagers is that you’ve got to have patience—some of them don’t know how to take care of their clothing properly. You’ve got to be firm but patient; don’t pick uniforms up for them every time, or they’re going to do it again.

You’ve got to be organized; keep everything numbered and write things down. We know who has what and where things are supposed to be.

Julie Dorenbusch
Graduate Student, Uniform Manager
University of Cincinnati Bearcat Marching Band

Keeping the uniforms clean is something that we organize, and we send them out to the dry cleaner once a year. We have a few other girls and a couple guys that help us out. We have a band sorority (Tau Beta Sigma), and there’s a subcommittee whose job it is to take care of the uniforms. Just having a small group of people committed to this really helps. We try to keep the office staff and directors in the know about what we’re doing.

Our uniforms are 11 years old, and due to budget cuts, we aren’t scheduled to get any more ‘til 2011 or 2012, so a lot of our job is just maintaining things and hoping that they hold together until we can get new uniforms.

We have girls who go through the uniforms and make sure they are hung up properly, and if someone’s done it wrong, then we show them how to do it again. We have some kids who just don’t understand how to hang up a uniform properly.

Have an organized list of everything; keep a list of who’s gotten gloves and who’s gotten a hat, so that people aren’t asking for multiples

Straight From the Source

Band and guard uniform manufacturers share their uniform cleaning secrets.

Band Uniforms

The Band Hall
Featuring: Washable, partially-constructed and fully-constructed uniforms

“Regardless of the type of construction used in your uniforms, having them dry cleaned will add years of use to them. If you must wash and tumble dry them, we recommend removing them from the dryer before they become completely dry. Also, if uniforms should get damp during a performance, they should be hung on a hanger or seat back to dry. Never put a damp uniform in a garment bag.
—Keith Hall, Founder and President

Band Shoppe
Featuring: Machine washable, heavy-duty polyester layers (ie: triple layer front)

“The jackets are made to wash, and all the components have been tested. We built the test jackets and washed them 100 times. We recommend bleacher covers, especially if you have wooden bleachers. Don’t let students lean up against a brick wall. It will break down any uniform fabric. If you do that repeatedly, it will pick at the polyester. It’s mostly common sense. Band uniforms are expected to last anywhere from five to 10 years, so little things like that can make a big difference in how the uniforms can hold up.”
—J. Pearison, Senior Vice President

Featuring: Washable uniforms; online design program lets you design your own uniform.

“For washable articles, we recommend setting up a uniform committee person to wash them all together because then they’re cleaned within the same machines and with the same detergents in order to have consistent results.

The vinyl shakos can be wiped down with an over-the-counter leather cleaner or a damp cloth. Fur shakos could be dry cleaned or washed with lukewarm water, a washcloth and mild soap. We recommend storing all your headwear in protective boxes.”
— Michael Marsden, Director of Marketing and Customer Service

Fred J. Miller
Featuring: Machine washable/dryable uniforms; specialty accessories

“Because machine washable polyester gabardine fabric is so durable and easy to care for, there’s not a whole lot of extra care to be done. It can be treated with your regular household spot removers. It’s a lightweight, breathable fabric, ideal for warmer climates, but it’s also extremely appropriate for colder climates. Our uniform couldn’t be any easier to take care of.

We do sell the Under Armour, and it is ideal to wear underneath your uniform. ”
—Terry Freeman, Public Relations

Featuring: Separate male and female patterns; complementing accessories

“The dry cleaner should not overload his tumbler. If it is overloaded, it will stifle the flow of chemicals into the makeup tank. Perspiration is very toxic, and it can release excess dye. It just depends on how the dry cleaner takes care of extracting that excess dye out and then sealing the dye.

The uniform should not be stored in plastic or nylon bags, zipped up in a room with no ventilation. The uniforms should be placed into a room with proper ventilation and no bags, so that the garments can air out. Mildew can set into the bers of the uniforms; you won’t be able to see it, and dry cleaning cannot take it out.”
—Kenny Fruhauf, President

Featuring: Synergy Line (washable), Celebrity Line (fully constructed), Harmony Line (lightly constructed)

“What we really want our customers to know is that the best policy with cleaning is to test a few garments rst to avoid any possible issues. Make sure this is done at a reputable dry cleaning establishment. At www.stanbury. com, we have extensive cleaning instructions including a video. The biggest issue is spot cleaning and color migration; it’s particularly an issue with red, maroon and black.”
—Gary F. Roberts, President

Guard Uniforms

Featuring: StyleWise, ColorWise, and Size- Wise design options

“A lot of the damage we see happens when a student takes o a sweaty uniform and throws it into their sports bag. Hang it up, but not in a garment bag. Hang up your uniform on the side of the shower and let it dry on its own. Uniforms would last so much longer if students didn’t wad them up and throw them into their bags. Also, leaving stained uniforms to soak is a really bad idea. I sell products primarily for females, and a lot of females have feminine problems related to their uniforms. Still, soaking is a very bad thing.”
—Sue Gordon, President

Dance Sophisticates
Featuring: Design your own uniform with Perfect Fit Studio system

“Most of them are made of theatrical fabric. We usually recommend hand wash, cold, lay at to dry. Typically the costumes are cleaned after each performance, so that the perspiration doesn’t ruin the costume. Just use a mild stain remover. If it can be dry cleaned, then get it in as soon as possible.”
—Denise Dennis, Owner

A Wish Come True
Featuring: Size fittings for every style; stretch fabrics

“We use a lot of solid velvets and lycra. To wash these kinds of fabrics, you can use the delicate cycle of the washing machine with cold water. I’ve test-washed these fabrics. When the velvet or lycra has a glitter design on it, I suggest hand washing it inside out in cold water. If there’s anything with fringe on it, bring it to the dry cleaners. Definitely look at the care instruction label before you wash a uniform or costume . For instance, water temperature is very important for certain fabrics.”
—Corinne D’Ambra, Account Executive

About the Author

Elizabeth Geli is an editorial intern at Halftime Magazine. She is currently a senior majoring in print journalism at the University of Southern California. She began playing flute 11 years ago in her hometown of Placentia, Calif. Now she plays in the USC Trojan Marching Band and has supported the teams at back-to-back-to-back Rose Bowls, the NCAA basketball tournament and as many other games as possible. She also serves as the band librarian.

About author

Elizabeth Geli

Elizabeth Geli is the assistant editor of Halftime Magazine and a journalist/communications professional in Southern California. Her 11 years at the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band included time as a flute player, graduate teaching assistant, and student advocate. She holds a bachelor's degree in Print Journalism and master's degree in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.

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