By Brandon O'ConnorJune 27, 2019
With a thimble on her right middle finger, Ester Quiroc works the needle and black thread through the collar of a cadet's long overcoat. With Reception Day just a few days away, the crunch is on.
The sounds of sewing machines whirl in the background as seamstresses work to complete long overcoats for the Class of 2023. At some stations, the silk lining is being sewn into the heavy wool exterior. Quiroc's job is to sew the clasp into the collar, a precise task that a machine can't complete. So, coat after coat she sews by hand.
More than 1,200 new cadets will arrive from throughout the country Monday ready to cast aside the civilian clothes they arrived in and put on the uniform of a U.S. Military Academy cadet for the first time. But before they can be measured, fit and dressed the uniforms must first be made.
In the past 100 years, little has changed about the gray uniforms that have led to graduates of West Point being called the Long Gray Line. The pants and coats are still made of wool and in an age where so much of manufacturing has been automated, the majority of the work is still completed by hand at the Cadet Uniform Factory at West Point.
The Cadet Uniform Factory makes all of the dress uniforms worn by cadets including the long overcoat, dress and full-dress coats, India White uniforms, gray pants and more. In all, the factory produces about 7,800 products each year, not including alterations, fittings and adjusting ranks on items that have already been distributed to cadets.
After R-Day rolls around and one class is given uniforms, work immediately starts on preparing for the next class. The workers started the process of cutting out and sewing pants for the Class of 2023 in August and will start production all over again for the Class of 2024 soon after R-Day.
"On R-Day, the Cadet Uniform Factory has a team of six employees taking body measurements in Thayer Hall which are recorded onto a size card pinned onto the shorts of new cadets and used in subsequent issues to determine the size of garments the new cadet needs," Joe Weikel, manager of the Cadet Uniform Factory, said. "The rest of the staff is fitting trousers, altering trousers with an average of 400 alterations every R-Day. We deliver all trousers that afternoon so new cadets can march in the parade later on R-Day."
The work doesn't stop there either. The seamstresses will continue working to sew coats for all the cadets even after R-Day and making uniforms from scratch for new cadets who don't fit into pre-sized uniforms. In all, the factory uses more than 50 miles of material and 2,500 miles of thread each year to dress the Corps of Cadets.