By Jesse J. Amador
The Santa Clara Vanguard classic red tunic uniform. Who’s idea, was it? Who designed it? How did it come to be? The Santa Clara Vanguard red tunic uniform is iconic in the drum corps world, often imitated and copied by many drum corps and bands. So how did this classic uniform come to be? To understand how the red tunic came about you have to go back to 1971 where it all started.
In 1971 a member of the SCV B-Corps (Vanguard Cadets) was promoted up to the A-Corps (Vanguard). His name was Michael Shiffer. Michael (Mike) had an older brother Norm who already played baritone with the Vanguard. Upon being promoted, Michael went off to get his new (new to him) Vanguard uniform. Mike came home and showed off his newly acquired uniform to his family. Mike and Norms mom, Mary Shiffer, was a self-taught seamstress with professional capabilities. Mary took a real close look at Mike’s uniform and saw that the green silk blouse was very worn and stained from the many years of use (original Green Dragon blouses).
Mary could see that his blouse was slowly falling apart. Mary then went off to her local sewing outlet to pick up materials. Mary took that silk blouse completely apart so she could create a pattern to make up a new improved blouse using newer lighter materials. Mary’s new creation was a completely lighter blouse design that matched the old worn Green Dragon silk blouses. Not wanting to overstep, Mary contacted Gail Royer to have him come over to the Shiffer’s home to get his approval. Gail arrived and was seated in the family room when Mary handed Gail her new uniform top. Gail was so amazed looking at what Mary had created that he got all choked up and responded, “Yes, Mike can wear this new blouse, but can you make 114 more? That was when the seed got planted to come up with a new uniform.
While Mary Shiffer and her team of seamstresses were making up the 114 new green uniforms for the corps, Mary and Gail Royer were thinking of plans for what might be the next uniform for the Santa Clara Vanguard. Gail Royer was known for traveling between Briarwood and Jefferson Schools, frequently stopping and cooking dinner (mainly his famous spaghetti dinners) for many of the corps families along that route. During his visits to the Shiffer’s home, Gail and Mary shared ideas of creating a new and different look for the Vanguard. While Gail didn’t have a particular uniform in mind, he knew he wanted something new, bold, and different. Mary Shiffer went to the Santa Clara Library, checking out books on military uniforms. After countless hours of carefully reviewing ideas and looks, she and Gail made the decision to model or base the new uniform after the Canadian Mountie uniform. Once decided Mary started creating the first version of the Red Tunic (revision 0). That version was presented to Pete Emmons and Gary “Chops” Czapinski for their input and approval. With slight modifications the final design was created.
All this planning was ongoing while the 1971 season uniforms (114 new) were being made. Gail Royer’s goal was to have the new red tunic uniforms ready for the 1972 season. All this planning followed right on the heels of finishing the 1971 (last) new green blouses and black/white cummerbunds.
Once the ’71 uniforms were complete Mary Shiffer shifted her team of seamstresses to start on the red tunic program. The seamstress team was made up of: Mary Shiffer, Helen Akiya, Rose Okasaki, Betty Rhodes, Eddie Raynor, Gloria Siegfried, and Judy Kolwyck, with John Shiffer on clean up and catering. These folks worked for months at the red tunic production assembly line, which was the home of the Shiffer’s – 2080 Fordham Drive, Santa Clara, creating this new uniform. The red tunic uniform would not have been possible without the hard work of all of Mary’s team, along with a generous donation from Mr. and Mrs. Larry Pitton (parents of color guard member Lynn Pitton).
The green uniforms were last worn just before the 1972 tour was to take off. We all said goodbye to the old green uniforms but welcomed the new iconic Santa Clara Vanguard look. Two years of Mary Shiffer’s and her team of volunteer’s lifes were dedicated to making these uniforms for the Santa Clara Vanguard.
The new uniform had so many new changes: the bright red color, the tunic, the green pants, green skirts, green hats (still only called hats, not Aussies), white bucks, and white gauntlets. Many of the old traditions stayed on, but new ones were added. The white feather was kept, now going upward versus back. The green feather tradition that started in 1967 stayed on. New traditions started with the new red tunic uniform, like the Vanguard Star.
The hard work of Gail Royer and Mary Shiffer and many other volunteers created an iconic uniform that would endure for many decades to come. While over the years the uniform has evolved depending on the program presentation, the basis of the tunic uniform has remained with minor alterations (i.e.; white tunics, green tunics, red/green tunics, sash tunics, tunics with lights, black hats [now called Aussies], white pants, white sleeves, Russian hats, Jewish trim, masks, gold stars, star with ribbon, etc…). 2016 was the last year the Santa Clara Vanguard wore the red tunics as drum corps in general went a new direction with uniforms.
Without the dedicated support of parents like Mary Shiffer and many others, the classic red tunic uniform would have never been. Their work ethic, dedication, commitment, creativity, and passion are what it means to be Vanguard.