Sometimes Hollywood comes calling, but even heartthrobs and Oscar winners have to take a number behind the LSU Tiger Marching Band.
So Patrick Dempsey and Octavia Spencer just had to bide their time for their costume adjustments.
“If I’m working on the Tiger Band’s uniforms, even the movie people know they’re going to have to wait,” says Oscar Reyes. “The band always comes first.”
Reyes owns and operate El Bengal Tailor Shop, a business his dad, Oscar Reyes Sr., opened on Government Street in 1972. Oscar Sr. immigrated to Baton Rouge from El Salvador, where he also worked as a tailor. He moved his business into a small house on Highland Road near the north gates of LSU in 1974.
The purple and yellow house has become somewhat of a campus landmark where everyone from judges to sorority sisters to LSU athletic legends has crossed the threshold to have clothes made or fitted.
“Shaquille O’Neal used to come here,” Reyes says. “He would have to duck down to get into the door. There was a time when it wasn’t easy for tall men to find clothes, and he would come here to have his fitted.”
Photos of clients fill the front counter, many of them local notables. All of them friends.
“People like for their clothes to fit their bodies,” Reyes says. “I know I’m not doing the work of a scientist or a doctor, finding cures to diseases or changing the world, but I always see that smile when a person looks into the mirror to see their clothes really fitting their body for the first time It changes their perspective, and it gives them confidence. They walk out of here happy.”
Reyes talks while working on the Tiger Band uniforms. He’s developed a rhythm from sewing machine to ironing board to hanger. First the pants, then the jackets.
If the band’s drummers were here they could beat out a cadence that would complete the scene, because Reyes never stops.
“They are my No. 1 client,” Reyes says. “The band always takes priority.”
But that’s not to say the football team and cheerleaders don’t come calling. Reyes also is responsible for sewing all of the SEC patches on the football jerseys — 255 white and 180 purple — and making alterations in the coaches’ pants and jackets.
“I have all the coaches’ measurements,” he says, meaning he knows who may have gained or lost a few pounds since last season.“That’s right,” Reyes says, laughing. “I know all about the coaches.”
He works with coaches in other sports, too, like volleyball and soccer, and also alters sorority dresses during rush.
But his shop is filled only with gold jackets and dark pants on this Friday before LSU’s first day of classes. There are 325 members in the band, and Reyes is altering at least half — maybe more — of the uniforms for that roster.
“Some don’t have to have any alterations, because they’re using the same uniform as last year,” he says. “Some want to change out a coat or pants, and some are trying on the uniform for the first time.”
And some may have to return the uniforms before the end of the week.
“They try on the uniforms before the band makes its final cut in preseason,” Reyes says. “I do all the alterations as needed, but some may not wear the uniform. I had one band member tell me, ‘Maybe I’ll be able to keep the uniform this year.’ If they don’t make the band, they’ll come back next year and try again. I’ll see them.”
Amazingly, Reyes recognizes almost all returning band members from year to year. And he can match faces to instruments.
Earlier in the week, Reyes spent Monday and Wednesday afternoons in the new Tiger Band Hall. Uniforms were laid out in various sizes on a table as samples, and specific uniforms were brought out to try on.
“I look at their body length, their chest and shoulders and test uniforms by trial and error,” says former band member and manager Greg Renoud, who returned to help out while working on his master’s degree in mass communications.
“I make sure they can still breathe once they get the coat on,” he says, laughing. “I make sure the pants fit in the waist and that the pants rest on top of the shoe laces.”
From there, it’s on to the next room, where Reyes waits, tailor’s chalk in hand.
“You play trumpet, don’t you?” he asks a band member, examining a uniform sleeve.
The band member nods.
“I remember,” Reyes continues. “So, you are changing coats this year? OK, hold up your arms like you’re holding your trumpet.”
The sleeves aren’t quite long enough, so Reyes marks them with chalk. The trumpeter hands his coat to Sierra Garcia, who hangs it next to others. Band members are required to remember the numbers sewn inside their coats and pants.
“That’s the way we keep the uniforms together,” explains Garcia, a sophomore from Lakeland, Florida, who plays the saxophone. She’s volunteering in the uniform room for the band’s fraternity, Kappa Kappa Psi.
Uniforms then go to the tailor shop, where Reyes works from Thursday through Sunday morning to meet the band’s uniform inspection on Sunday afternoon.
Oscar Sr. began working with the band in the 1990s, and Reyes helped his dad while working in the computer business. Eventually he entered the family business full-time. Then Oscar Sr. was diagnosed with cancer.
“He was in bed in his last days,” Reyes says. “I remember a man came in and wanted a suit made. I’d never done anything like that, and I had to ask how to do it. He told me what to do, and I did everything exactly how he told me to do it. I was 26, and he trusted me completely. The suit turned out perfect. My dad died a few days later.”
That was in 1997. The Reyes family’s association with the band began when former associate director Linda Moorhouse asked Oscar Sr. to make alterations in the Golden Girls’ uniforms.
“Eventually, Linda and (LSU Tiger Band Director) Roy (King) asked us to measure the whole band,” Reyes says.
Reyes’ mom helped for awhile. She’s now retired and lives next door to the shop. He and his wife have a 23-year-old daughter and two sons, ages 21 and 8.
The youngest, Andres, is a mascot of sorts in the Tiger Band. He’s a second-grader at University Laboratory School, and everyone cheers when he walks into the band hall to meet his dad after class.
So even though Reyes has worked on some big movies — he did a fitting for Kellan Lutz when the star was filming “Twilight” in Baton Rouge — that can’t trump his work for the Tiger Band.
“I don’t even remember the stars’ name,” he says. “My daughter keeps up with all of that. I love the band, and it’s a privilege to do this for LSU.”