Photo of Veronica and the GMU pep band director in fun modified green and gold band uniforms.

Adapting band uniforms for photosensitivity and sensory overload

How to adapt pep band uniforms for photosensitivity and sensory overload while adhering to uniform requirements.

Over the last few years, I have been a member of many different music programs and ensembles that required different uniform styles for musicians. Even though the uniform requirements can be very strict, I’ve been able to adapt my band uniform by adding or modifying items that can help me as someone with low vision and chronic migraines look and feel my best. Here are my tips for modifying band uniforms for photosensitivity and sensory overload, all of which are band director approved. Everyone is different, so feel free to mix and match different tips listed to find a uniform modification that suits you and your band program best.

Wear a large hat to avoid bright lights

In my college pep band, I wear a green hat with a large brim that helps protect my eyes from the lights, and can easily be pulled down to cover my eyes if needed. Some of my other friends wear baseball caps or visors to keep overhead lights from getting in their eyes or aggravating their photosensitivity. Students in concert band settings should ensure that the hat matches their uniform and does not detract from the band’s overall appearance- the band director can be a great source for finding hats that will work well with the uniform.

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Use sunglasses on stage

As long as I can remember, I have worn sunglasses to band performances that are different than my normal tinted glasses. While I do wear my normal tinted glasses sometimes, my eyes are much more comfortable wearing sunglasses since the lights can get to be fairly bright or disorienting during outdoor performances. Just make sure to bring your normal glasses to change into after the performance if needed, because walking in the dark with sunglasses can be disorienting for people who are not used to it.

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If possible, wear earplugs or noise-canceling headphones

I bring my earplugs with me to all of my pep band performances and occasionally wear them during rehearsals to block out noise that is behind me if needed. My pair of earplugs feel similar to traditional earbuds without wires, though one of my friends prefers to wear headphones that cover their ears as they are very sensitive to sound and have a disability accommodation to wear them. Since my hair covers my earbuds and I still have usable hearing, no one can tell I am wearing them.

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Ensure that braces blend in- or stand out

I’ve had several band-related injuries that range from tumbling down a flight of stairs and messing up my wrist to falling off of a school bus and breaking my ankle. Whenever I wear braces for these injuries or chronic pain, I try to hide the braces as much as possible and ensure that they blend into my uniform or are hidden by clothing. However, one of my friends decided to decorate their brace after an injury with our school colors and fun patterns so that they were able to stand out and look fun. I’d never seen anybody else receive compliments for a brace before, but my friend rocked it with their painted brace.

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Add comfortable under layers

This isn’t much of a problem for me, but some band uniforms can be extremely itchy or uncomfortable, especially if they will be worn for a long period of time. To help this issue, I recommend adding comfortable underlayers in smooth, stretchy fabrics, similar to those that are used in athletic/sports clothing. Whether it is adding a comfortable shirt underneath of a concert dress or pairing a pep band uniform with leggings, there are lots of options for adapting band uniforms so they are less scratchy. Some of my friends also add orthopedic inserts to their shoes to make them more comfortable, though most of my band programs did not have requirements for shoes so I just wore my own.

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Choose fun school spiritwear

For some band performances, students will need to wear school spiritwear such as t-shirts, sweatshirts/hoodies, or similar items. I prefer to choose items in lightweight or athletic fabrics that can be easily layered, as well as cotton items that do not have any scratchy embroidery or other distracting details. Some performances or events may require students to wear items in specific colors- at my college, the most common required color is dark green, also known as Mason green!

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Bonus- have a place to sit whenever possible

This isn’t really related to band uniforms, but if you are adapting a band uniform for low vision or chronic migraines, it is helpful to adapt the place you will be sitting as well. My band directors help me make sure that I have a place to sit during performances where I would traditionally be standing, and that I can adjust my stand independently for positional changes as needed. Two of my band directors took this one step further by ensuring that I also knew how to get to a quiet place in the venue if I started getting sensory overload or felt a migraine coming on.

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Summary of how to adapt band uniforms for photosensitivity and sensory overload

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,

Updated August 2023

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