Boys' Uniform Garments: The Kerchief

Figure 1.--The kerchief has been a central part of the Scout uniform from the begiing of the movement. This american Scout wears his yellow kerchief, probably in the 1950s. The kerchief was also adopted by the Pioneers. Notice the plain kerchief slide or woggle and how he wears it with collar buttoned and over the lapels of his shirt. Some Scout shirts were made without lapels.

HBU has just begun to assess the origins of the neckerchief or kerchief as a part of the uniform of youth organizations. The kerchirf was not adopted by the Boy's Brigade or does it seem to have been a part of Baden Powell's Scouts. The kerchief was added to the U.S. Scout uniform in the early 1920s. I'm not sure who in America initially conceived of the idea. It looks rather like the kerchiefs worn by the U.S. calvary. It rapidly was adopted by other Scout groups and was almost universal by the late 1920s. It was also adopted by the Young Pioneers movement which copied so much from Scouting. The Pioneers which did not often insist that children wear full uniforms, did often have the children wear kerchiefs. With declining attention to uniforms in the 1990s, in some cases kerchiefs are the only uniform items still worn.


American Scouts note that the Scouts of the American west were the inspiration for the brightly colored kerchief adopted by the Boy Scouts. The inspiration for its use by the Pioneers is less clear. Clearly it was copied from Scouting. Probably it was a convenient splash of red color that could be added to the uniform or worn instead of a uniform--and did not cost much.


Boy Scouts

Scouts up to about 1915 did not generally wear a the neckerchief as part of the official uniform. Gradually American Scouts began addinging it informally to their uniforms. An American Scout official reported in 1927, "Within the past 5 years, the woodland tan of the Scout Uniform has been brightened by the addition of the colorful Scout kerchief, which is now regarded as an indispensable article of equipment for every member of the Boy Scouts of America. It is more than a part of the Scout Uniform; it is actually one of the most useful items of a Scout's equipment. More than sixty distinct uses have been developed for this characteristic and distinctive touch of color which has completed the outfit of the Boy Scout in America and made him one of the most picturesque figures in our national life." [COMMODORE W. E. Longfellow, "Scouting With a Neckerchief." The Boy Scout Service Library, Series B, No. 6, Boy Scouts of America, 1927]

Young Pionees

HBU at this time has no historical details on the adoption by the Young Pioneers.


There are various terms used, including kerchief, neckerchief, and scarve. The U.K. generally used "nNeckerchief," at least a U.K, Scouter tells us that was the common term in the 1980s. HBU is not sure what the common term was in different countries.



The color of the neckerchief indicates the Troop, District or Council, according to the local regulations. Scout neckerchiefs should always be worn with a contrasting slide which in appearance resembles the Turk's head knot and serves as a reminder of the Scout's Daily Good Turn pledge. The main reason that this slide is used rather than a knot is that it permits the neckerchief's instant removal if needed in an emergency. Slides are furnished by Headquarters in a variety of colors, and when once adopted, each Troop should stick to the color and have it worn by all members. There are many varieties of slides, however, and characteristic slides are often used, such as the Kukui nut in Hawaii, and the Horn slide or sheep vertebra slide of the western plains.

Practically all of the uses of the neckerchief are because of its triangular form, so that a triangular bandage can be used for practice, thus saving the official color kerchief so that it makes a good appearance on the uniform. It should be borne in mind, however, that the Official Neckerchief is slightly smaller in size than the regulation triangular bandage which is made by splitting a yard of cloth, crosswise.

Figure 2.--This Belgian boy wears the green kerchief of Rexist youth movement in occupied Belgium. Notice the Hitler Youth-like shoulder belt. Notice how he wears the kerchief without butoning his collar button and other the lapels of his shirt.


The Pioneers are of course noted for their red kerchiefs. There is always a ceremony where the boys and girls are awarded their red Pioneer scarves at a certain age or academic level. In some countries the children wear a different colored scarf until earning their red scarves. In Cuba, for example, the younger children wear blue scarves.

Wearing the Kerchief

Boy Scout kerchiefs

Scouting organizations have established very specific guidelines for wearing the kefchief. "Here is the proper way for a Scout to fold and wear his neckerchief. First, fold the neckerchief once to get the triangle. According to the size of the boy, turn the long edge over about three inches, smoothly once or twice, or even three times, to insure the neckerchief lying smoothly at the back and hanging correctly in front." the number of cross-folds--if any--governed by the size of the Scout, in order to assure smooth set at back. The half-neckerchief, when used, takes the same folds. Place around the neck over the collar of the shirt, insert the slide up over the ends to the point where the knot would be if tied as a four-in-hand necktie. Then tie the two loose ends in an overhand knot, as if it were one piece of material. This lower knot is a constant reminder of the Daily Good Turn.

Sea Scouts

The Sea Scout method of wearing the neckerchief differs from the method used in shore Scouting. The sea-going Scout will prepare his kerchief as do the sailors in the Navy, finishing with a flat knot on the tails. This type of neckerchief does not look well unless covered by a wide collar; consequently it is not used with the khaki uniform but only with the sailor collar. In connection with the preparation of your own Turk's head knot for a home-made slip-on, the Sea Scout Manual gives a description of the way to make a Turk's head, as follows: Take two round turns around the rope on which you intend working the knot, or around the index finger of your left hand. Pass the upper bight down through the lower, and reeve the upper end down through it; then pass the bight up again, and reeve the end over the lower bight and up between it and the upper one; dip the upper down through the lower bight again, reeve the end down over what is now the upper bight, and between it and the lower; and so proceed, working round to your right until you meet the other end when you pass through the same bight and follow the other end round and round until you have completed a plait of two, three or more lays, along the three strands of the Turk's head.

Wearing It Right

James E. West, Chief Scout Executive, says: "We are anxious to have the co-operation of every Scout and Scout Official in making effective the regulations covering the Official Uniform, Insignia and Badges. To tolerate a conscious disregard for requirements, even in simple matters, breeds disrespect for law and order. When I have found boys wearing the neckerchief under instead of over the shirt collar, it developed that invariably the Scouts, and indeed their own Scoutmaster, did not understand the correct way of wearing the neckerchief. I am anxious that every Scout and Scout Official study the diagram, wear the neckerchief in the right way, and that he invite the attention of other fellows to the right way when he finds them wearing it wrong."


The kerchief of the American West had many uses. Kerchiefs were also worn by sailors. Indeed, many early Boy Scouts wore kerchiefs as younger boys with sdailor suits--one of the most popular styles for boys in the late 19th and early 20th century. The Scout kerchief was easily adaptable for many of the same uses adopted by frontiersmen, cavalry soldiers, cowboys and sailors.


The two groups most noted for kerchiefs are the Scouts and later on the Young Pioneers.



Woggles/Neckerchief Slides

The neckerchief was a common uniform item for many youth groups around the world. Most employed a neckerchief slide to secure the neckerchief. This was much more convenient than knotting the neckerchief. The advantages of the slide or woggle are that in hot weather and on the hike the neckerchief can be loosened around the throat while in a cold wind or snowstorm it can he drawn up closer to serve as a muffler. When necessary to use the neckerchief in emergencies, the slide can be instantly drawn down, permitting the neckerchief to be whipped off over the head. When the slide is not used a knot must be tied, and it is seldom tied twice alike nor at the same position at the throat, a very untidy appearance resulting. The slide is an immense convenience and adds distinctly to the appearance of the neckerchief.


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Created: April 22, 2000
Last updated: 1:47 AM 9/19/2005