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General Makers – The Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets

Since its inception in 1872, the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets has put out seven Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. More than 100 of the organizations graduates have attained General and Flag Officer ranks.
Proudly outfitting the corps is the Virginia Tech Tailor Shop, located on the campus and managed by Dean Miller.

When you see cadets walking around on campus, you want them to present that neat, well-kept appearance to everybody, says Miller.

At one time, the shop was so large it drafted the patterns and manufactured the uniforms on site. Now, it buys the uniforms 90 percent complete from vendors, with final alterations done on site before they are issued to the cadets.

Virginia Tech is one of only two universities (the other is Texas A & M) that hosts a Corps of Cadets at a primarily civilian institution. Of the 30,000 students at Virginia Tech, 750 are in the Corps of Cadets, which is led by Maj. Gen. Jerrold Allen.

The majority of those are in an ROTC program seeking a commissioned officer spot, says Miller, whose shop falls under the jurisdiction of the Commandant and the Vice President for Student Affairs. Miller works with a head tailor and five seamstresses. One of the seamstresses is designated as the female cadets tailor.

July is the crunch month at the tailor shop when 250 to 300 cadets are fitted on a first-come, first-served basis. A fitting takes up to 45 minutes. The shop can fit three to four cadets simultaneously.

The tailor shop has about two weeks to prepare the order. When the new cadets arrive in August, they pick up a uniform bag prepared for them by the tailor shop that includes all of their uniform needs. New cadets are initially issued 40 pieces of clothing and accessories. As of that night, they are in uniform for the school year.

They get a second issue of winter uniforms six weeks into the school year. That set contains an additional 21 pieces of clothing and accessories.

It gives their bodies a chance to settle in to where theyll be for awhile, says Miller. It spreads our workload out also. If you try to turn all of that around in that two-week period, it would be pretty hectic.

However, the rush doesnt stop when the new cadets are outfitted. Some upper classmen whove outgrown their uniforms or lost weight need to be fitted for another size.

In 1872, the cadets wore a gray cap, jacket and pants trimmed with black. The uniform had to be worn not only on campus but also on vacation.

Today, cadets wear the high-collar dress blue 55 polyester/45 wool blouse as their formal coat.

Cadets wear the issued blouse with a white Certified Navy Twill trouser during the summer months and a gray trouser during the winter months.

On a day-to-day basis, cadets wear the gray trousers with either a white short-sleeve shirt for summer months or a long- or short-sleeve gray shirt for winter months.

The bulk of the uniform consists of the blue blouse, gray trousers, white trousers, white shirts, short-sleeve gray shirts and long-sleeve gray shirts. Garrison, blue and white covers are supplied for dress occasions.

They are expected to be in uniform for all classes and activities, Miller says. At night, as they go to study halls, they are allowed to wear civilian attire.

The tailor shop also outfits the cadets with gloves, shoes and other accessories.

Over the years, they get four sets of shorts, two sets of sweats and about eight T-shirts to go with the four shorts, Miller says.

The fabric most utilized by the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets is a poly/cotton or poly/rayon mix.

We have four seasons in Virginia, and it may go from below zero during the middle of the winter to as humid as can be before they get out of school and when they come back in August, says Miller.

All four branches of the military are represented at Virginia Tech, and all wear the same corps uniform. The brass each one wears each with its distinct insignia separates them.

The cadets are responsible for maintaining the uniform during the school year and storing it during vacation. Most of the uniform requires dry cleaning, though the cadets can wash and press the shirts themselves; Miller adds they wash more than they probably should. Millers shop often has to give new cadets laundering advice.

While the tailor shop is busy providing uniforms for the cadets, it also provides services to other campus organizations, such as the campus police department, teams within the Virginia Tech Athletic Department and the Marching Virginians, a 300-plus member marching band.

The Athletic Department brings us their torn uniforms and we patch them up, Miller says. We are open to all faculty and staff. We dont advertise, so a lot of people dont know we are here, but well provide a service for anybody who walks in the front door.

That includes an occasional civilian who wants combat boots or camouflage as well as military personnel stationed on the campus whose promotion requires rank changes on their uniform.

The tailor shop is self funding. The university expects it to run a break-even budget.

For every dollar we spend, we need a dollar of revenue, Miller says. We dont pay rent, but we are responsible for covering our salaries, our utilities, our insurance and fees that offset our purchasing.

The cadets pay for their own uniforms through various ways. The ROTC receives U.S. Department of Defense military appropriations to offset uniform costs over four years. Cadets can avail themselves of state funding provided for military activities.

Five vendors supply the majority of the uniforms; another 20 provide smaller items.
Miller says delivery time is very important in doing business with vendors.

For a while, we were going through some vendors that didnt deliver on time, he says. The delivery time, the garment quality and the consistency of the fitting from year-to-year are important.

The tailor shop follows state purchasing guidelines, which entail going through the universitys purchasing department. The shop submits a requisition with the specs, which is sent out for a competitive bid. While the work generally goes to the lowest bidder, samples are part of the bidding process, and bidders whose samples are poorly crafted are eliminated from the running.

The tailor shop also is permitted to enter into five-year contracts with companies without bidding.

Once we competitively bid an item as a contract item, we have a years worth of purchases. Anytime during that year, we order from that vendor and theyre locked into a price for a year, so we can reorder from them, he says.

The universitys purchasing department contacts the tailor shop to determine Millers satisfaction with the vendor. If its positive, the purchasing department will contact the vendor to see if the company will continue to supply the uniforms or accessories and at what price.
The contract contains guidelines that stipulate the price has to follow consumer price indexing guides. If all parties are satisfied, the contract is signed.

Anytime a new vendor is involved especially in military uniforms theres a limited demand because there are so few of us purchasing unique uniforms for cadets, Miller says.

Miller says knowing what to order each year is a guessing game and most vendors want up to four months of lead time. As he has no precise idea what the cadets will fit into until they are measured, he uses historical trends to order. To also help in easing the custom sizing, the tailor shop orders pants without hems, hemming them individually to fit the cadet.
As they outgrow them, we tailor them, Miller says. Certain cadets need waists taken in and hips let out. The dress blue blouse is a fitted jacket, and it involves a lot of adjusting sleeves, tailoring the sides, dropping collars and putting the correct size collar on.

Chest sizes come with the collar size, but somebody may have a big chest and a little neck or a little chest and a big neck and youve got to adjust accordingly.

It doesnt take long for a cadet to lose or gain weight or wear out the uniform, so all adjustments are part of the uniform fee the cadets pay.

If a uniform is beyond altering, the tailor shop tailors another new coat for the cadet.

If they outgrow it, we dont make them buy a new one, Miller says. They trade it in, and well refit them for another.

The uniform program is rarely revamped, Miller notes, though as funding increases, more pieces have been provided to the corps. When Miller first started at the tailor shop 22 years ago, the shop just issued basic uniforms.
Neither has the uniform itself changed. Occasionally, the cadets will approach the Commandant to ask about a change, and its taken under advisement. Recent changes include a new windbreaker and a polo shirt that is worn to celebrate football victories.

Seldom is an item deactivated, but subtle changes are more common. One example is color: Physical training gear used to be a maroon color. Jokes circulated that the cadets looked like Barney, the dinosaur from the childrens television show, in the color. The colors were switched to gray and black.

Above story first appeared in MADE TO MEASURE Magazine, Fall & Winter 2006 issue. All rights reserved. Photos appear by special permission.
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