Fall 2017 Corps Review    |    Back

We are trying to decipher the name tag on the Corps' only example of the 1896 dress uniform.

The name tag from a tattered example of the 1896 dress uniform.
We are trying to decipher the name tag on the Corps' only example of the 1896 dress uniform.

By Samantha Riggin VT’16, Corps museum curator

The Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets’ museum collection contains objects you would expect to find in a military-themed institution, from buttons of varying designs to accommodate name changes of our university to medals won by unknown soldiers.

The Dress A uniform — complete with blue blouse, snow-white cross belts with breastplates, and the regal wheel cover with a VPI hat grommet — is the item most associated with our cadets. 

Male or female, a cadet in dress uniform is distinctive, distinguished, and just plain beautiful. The uniform has gone through a few transformations since the founding of Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College in 1872, with early styles being repurposed Civil War uniforms. Frock coats gave way to coatees fashioned after West Point cadet uniforms, leading to the blue blouse that we admire in parades today. 

The museum’s collection holds many uniforms used throughout the Corps’ existence. While we have about as many of the current model of the blue blouse and cape that we could ever use, some uniform specimens are truly rare. 

For instance, when the college changed its name to Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute in 1896, the dress uniform went through a major change. The buttons and insignia were refashioned to reflect the new VPI abbreviation, along with the font of the embroidery on the collar to an Old English style. This particular uniform was only produced for one year, making it very rare, indeed. We only have one tattered example.

There was a valid reason there were so many early incarnations of the dress uniform. According to Board of Visitor notes from the late 1800s, the college’s tailor shop was in the red, so an idea was born to introduce restyled uniforms on a regular basis to push cadets to purchase new outfits instead of buying used ones. 

Saving examples of these uniforms are crucial to Corps history. The 1896 example in the collection isn’t the only item that needs conserved. There are other textiles, maps, and medals that need crucial work to sustain them. 

Perhaps equally important to conservation is nailing down who owned the object. The photo above is of the tag inside the 1896 blue blouse. There is just enough information to pique curiosity and aid in figuring out its history. I am asking all of you if you have any clue as to the name of the owner of this blouse. 

I haven’t yet been able to match up the information contained with a cadet from that time period with the rank of major, but, perhaps you know. If you do know who this blouse belonged to originally, or you feel the urge to help with the hunt to figure this out, then please contact me at samsales@vt.edu. Let’s crowd-source this mystery!

Samantha Riggin

Samantha Riggin
Samantha Riggin