The Show Band of the South: The Evolution of the LSU Tiger Band Fashion from the 1950’s to Today
By Christine Phan, Ruby Harrold, Mackenzie Govett, Vinnie Rusciano, and Zachary Davis
College marching bands have long been a part of American college culture and tradition. With such a vast influence of military bands across the country at other major universities, two upperclassmen at Louisiana State University formed what is now known as the LSU Tiger Band. In 1893, two student cadets announced their intention to begin an on-campus brass band. In November of 1893, the group held their first formal meeting in the Pentagon Complex of LSU’s campus (Continé, 1). These students, Wylie M. Barrow and Ruffin G. Pleasant, along with eleven other members, established the Cadet Band.
The membership of the Tiger Cadet Band has doubled in size since it first began. Their uniforms resemble the military style that LSU obtained during this time period. This was due to it’s first role as a marching unit during their formative years. Figure 2 below was taken between 1897 to 1898, showing the members of the band. The gentlemen pictured center in the darker colored suit is Ruffin G. Pleasant, along with colleague Wylie M. Barrow to the left. Pleasant went on to become director of the band, continuing to serve as governor of Louisiana between the years of 1916 to 1920.
Jumping towards the beginning of our timeline, on March 19 1958, the band hall was burned to the ground. The fire engulfed the entire building, swallowing all band instruments, equipment, music libraries, and uniforms. However, good came of this event as it paved the way to a shift in the look of the band. As a result of the fire, entirely new uniforms had to be produced and decisions were made to direct away from the traditional military style and towards a more modern style. After involvement from Huey P. Long’s and his efforts to include female students in the marching band in 1943, the band sought after a more contemporary look.
Figure 3 displays the evolution of the tiger band uniforms following the fire. This is the first time we see embroidery incorporated into the uniform for both genders. The band’s style transformed with the current style of this time as pleats, patterns, bright colors and softer fabrics became on trend.
In 1964, there was a monumental shift for the Tiger Band when William Swor became the new band director. His intention was to create an image of the perfect golden band of the south. Swor had high expectations on appearance and uniformity. Men were instructed to have a sharp loose haircut, with no long sideburns, and a well-trimmed moustache (if males wanted to sport facial hair). Women were not allowed to wear too many hair accessories or show too much skin (Continé, 9).
During his time as band director, William Swor believed in the strictness of the dress code. However, the uniforms he designed were fully functional and convenient. Swor incorporated metallic straps across the chest resulting in an “X” shape. The cross on this uniform served a practical purpose. As part of their routines, some tiger band members were asked to carry tall metal flag poles with spiked tips (this later became the job of the colorguard). They were so heavy that these straps acted as support holders for the members. The metallic fabric used for the cross created a statement as this was not the typical fabric used for the uniforms. These uniforms caught the attention of the tiger community and facilitated the forward development of the Band’s image.
In 1973, new uniforms for the band were bought through the athletic department. Swor found a way to increase band funding by arguing that the band contributed to the culture of the athletics program, in particular LSU football. Aided by the color picture, Figure 6 depicts the uniform design.
The uniform design is becoming more similar to modern day uniforms. Additionally, the Tiger emblem becomes a statement piece for the uniforms. This piece was embroidered. Most of the uniforms prior to this point had been made of predominantly wool fabric. However, withstanding Louisiana heat during games would have been terribly uncomfortable and sweaty. These uniforms were the first to be created with polyester blends and washable fabrics which made them more comfortable for band members to wear during practices and games.
Figure 7 depicts a photo, again from 1973, of the band leaders dressed in a different style to the rest of the band in the early seventies. Dressed in all white, they can stand out from the rest of the band members. This resembles the present-day Tiger Band where the conductors are dressed distinctively different in comparison to the rest of the members. In the background, women can be seen dressed in capes and marching with the band. These women had similar roles to majorettes. Their uniforms were very simplistic, coordinating with the white worn by the conductors.
Figure 8, taken in 1988, illustrates a major resemblance to today’s uniforms. A high cut jacket gives the appearance that the band members stand taller, and the purple pants boarded with a yellow stripe give the illusion of a slimmer fit.
This style of uniform was both popular and practical. There are more similarities to the band’s uniform styles of the eighties with present day styles worn today. Garments would include more of the white gloves, detailing of the stitching, and more of the gold attire seen with the basic designs of today.
Figure 9 was taken in 1988 and shows the beginning of glitter and flamboyance being incorporated into the uniforms. Here, the Tiger Band engages in a pregame show with the massive crowd to hype them for an electric Saturday night in Death Valley.
We were able to conduct a personal interview with a member of the 2018 Tiger Band. An interview conducted with Kevin Finn, a regular performer on the trumpet in most of the Tiger Band’s performances, gives insight on the previous and current style of the Tiger Band. Kevin states that the top hat used to be angled, but it has now been reshaped towards the flat top hat. He is not sure why this is. He also expresses his delight in the new material layers of the uniforms. They now only have two layers instead of seven. This allows the performers to keep cool in the heat. These changes, if only small, is evidence of the uniforms being updated constantly for a fresh look and practicality. There is a strict policy when it comes to uniforms no gameday. If one member of the 310 member strong band is missing an item they were told to bring, no one is allowed to have it on. Kevin explains a time when a few members forgot their raincoats on a game day where it was forecast to rain heavily. This meant no one being allowed to bring their raincoat and resulted in a very wet tiger band. This culture is example of the etiquette enforced by Swor’s during his time as band director.
The LSU Tiger Band continues to be a significant part of the history and legacy of one of the most impressive college stadiums in the nation. What will the future hold for such a polished and grand band of our university? Decisions are made over changes to the uniforms roughly every ten years, and future uniforms will keep much of the iconic look they hold. Right now, the jacket rides high and comes to a point in the front, which give the illusion that everyone looks taller. The purple color bordering the jacket matches the color of the pants. This color is also used underneath the sleeves for a slimmer look. The uniform is altered every ten years to in an attempt to maintain the band’s fresh style. The band members always express their positive feedback in looking and feeling good. They must feel good in order to impress the crowds, and thanks to the Tiger Band, such games could not be so extraordinary without them.
Fig 1: Continé et al. The Golden Band from Tigerland: A History of LSU’s Marching Band. LSU Press, 2016. Page 1. Print. Accessed April 9th 2018.
Fig 2: Continé et al. The Golden Band from Tigerland: A History of LSU’s Marching Band. LSU Press, 2016. Page 2. Print. Accessed April 9th 2018.
Fig 3: Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College, “Gumbo Yearbook, Class of 1959” (1959). Gumbo Yearbook. Accessed April 9th 2018.
Fig 4: Continé et al. The Golden Band from Tigerland: A History of LSU’s Marching Band. LSU Press, 2016. Page 69. Print. Accessed April 9th 2018.
Fig 5: Continé et al. The Golden Band from Tigerland: A History of LSU’s Marching Band. LSU Press, 2016. Page 69. Print. Accessed April 9th 2018.
Fig 6: Continé et al. The Golden Band from Tigerland: A History of LSU’s Marching Band. LSU Press, 2016. Page 70. Print. Accessed April 9th 2018.
Fig 7: Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College, “Gumbo Yearbook, Class of 1970” (1970). Gumbo Yearbook. Accessed April 9th 2018.
Fig 8: Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College, “Gumbo Yearbook, Class of 1988” (1988). Gumbo Yearbook. Accessed April 9th 2018.
Fig 9: Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College, “Gumbo Yearbook, Class of 1988” (1988). Gumbo Yearbook. Accessed April 9th 2018.
Fig 10: “Tailgate Concert.” Tiger Stalkings, 2018, lsusouthflorida.com/photos/tailgate-concert/.
Finn, Kevin. Personal interview. 19 April 2018.