If you’re lucky, William Plenk, director of athletic bands at the University of Memphis, might unlock the storage-room door and allow a quick peek at the new uniforms The Mighty Sound of the South will wear next football season.
If so, the first thing you’ll notice are the details.
The “1912” stitched on the cuff of the right sleeve, the “MSS” on the left. The silver accents. The official “U of M” branding on the back of the jacket. The leaping-tiger logos, one on each upper sleeve. The blue stripe streaking down the pants’ outside seam. And the hat, white with a silver bill and white plume.
Today, the marching band’s new duds hang in a neatly organized second-story room on campus in the Communication and Fine Arts Building. They’re the culmination of a year-long project to fund, design, create and debut a new set that includes a traditional uniform largely in Tiger blue and a non-traditional uniform that honors the city of Memphis’ musical heritage.
The non-traditional uniforms — a Blues Brothers-styled outfit, complimented by a blue tie — arrived from the manufacturer in time for The Mighty Sound to wear them at the Tigers’ Oct. 13 game and at the nationally televised Birmingham Bowl in Alabama. The band will debut its new traditional uniform, which arrived too late for the 2018 season, at the Tigers’ first game this fall.
“That’s what’s so exciting about it,” Plenk said. “Now we can design a show around it. That’s what we did with the Blues Brothers show. We can do anything jazz-related. We can do anything Memphis-related. We can do Johnny Cash, the man in black.
“The set is what’s really unique and cool about the whole thing. We can have our Memphis-branded traditional look and then we can be interesting and exciting.”
While the band’s Blues Brothers outfit offers visual simplicity, its new traditional uniform is a complex collection of colors and elements. In designing the band’s new look, Plenk knew what he wanted and was inspired by the current uniform that is being retired.
Inspired, that is, to create something more visually arresting.
The uniforms The Mighty Sound has worn for a decade feature a blue jacket and black pants that don’t “pop” when seen from the stands or the press box or on television, Plenk said. The dark colors are too dominant. The silver accent stripe (that has faded to a dull white on most of the jackets) was too understated to brighten the band’s on-field appearance.
Thus, Plenk wanted white.
After selecting a uniform company, Plenk and the designers traded proposal sketches. Four times sketches went back and forth. Plenk considered The Mighty Sound’s sartorial history, what it had worn in its different iterations, and sought elements that would translate well with a modern look.
“In my opinion, it’s great if you can look at a band right now and then look at the band in 30 years and they look the same because it develops an identity,” Plenk said. But “you change uniforms every 10 years or so, which means the uniforms can’t be too modern and can’t be too traditional.”
Essentially, the torso of the uniform jacket features two colors — white on the front, blue on the back. When the band is facing forward, fans will see a sea of white thanks to the jacket, hat and plume. When the band is facing the opposite direction, the uniforms will darken because of the near absence of white.
That contrast, front and back, will allow the band to use the uniforms as an element of its marching routines, Plenk said. If he wants to highlight a specific group of musicians, he can face the other musicians in the opposite direction, which will allow the white on the highlighted group’s jackets to “pop” even more.
“We designed this in about a week, which is really fast,” Plenk said. “You can’t get pricing until you get a design because each design is different — what’s on it, how much embroidery, how many buttons and all of that.”
The Mighty Sound ordered 300 uniform sets; this year’s band had 200 members, Plenk said, and the extras will allow the band to increase its numbers. Two jackets (white/blue for the traditional, black for the Blues Brothers look), two hats (one for each version), a raincoat and one pair of black pants that are worn with both jackets comprise a set. Each set costs roughly $400. The white dress shirt is built into the Blues Brothers jacket, which prevents Plenk’s crew from having to keep up with a separate bundle of shirts.
And the old uniforms? The university will repurpose them as adornments and displays, Plenk said. Their days on the field at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium are over.
— Phillip Tutor, CCFA media coordinator, email@example.com
PHOTOS: A look at The Mighty Sound of the South’s new uniforms