*** United States Boy Scouts: Uniform Styles--Decade Trendss

United States Boy Scouts: Uniform Styles--Decade Trendss

Figure 1.--

Many old Scouting pictures are not dated. It is possible, however to roughly date them with some degree of accuarcy by analizing the uniforms that the boys are wearing. We are developing specific details on the evolution of U.S. Scout uniforms organized by decade. Scouting appeared shortly after the development of amateur snapshots let by the Kodak Browine (1900). And the boys as well as Scout leaders and the parents loved o take snapshots. Thus no other Scout movement in the worlkd is as well doumented by photography as the American Scouting. The only comparable photographic record is the Hitler Youth movement in the 1930s. Major changes occurred in he 1940s and 80s. As a result there is a huge photograohic record. Early images show a mix of uniformed and non-uniformed boys in the first few years. But very soon we see groups that are fully uniformed. This continued to be the case through the 1950s, but by the late-60s we begin to see a decline in the uniform standards with many bous just wearing the Cub or Scout shirt with jeans or other non-Scout garments, We see the same pattern in Europe, but to an even greater extent.

The 20th Century

The 1900s

While the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was not founded until 1910, there seemed to have been groups of boys who began to participate in scouting activities well before this, perhaps as early as the 1890s, certainly by the 1900s. They do not appear to have been organized groups, aleast on a national basis. Not did they have destinctive uniforms. But with adult superviion there was hiking and camping in the woods and a activities like swimming and boating. We do not have a lot of information on this. It was done on a private basis and there was no national organization. It occurred along with the American summer camp movement. here were some pre-BSA Scouts in the United States. Woodcraft Indians were founded by Ernest Thompson Seton in 1902. Sons of Daniel Boone started by Daniel Carter Beard in 1905. These were the two principal presursor groups to the Boy Scouts of American (BSA) and they provided the inspiration for the American Scouting movement and even influenced Baden Powell's English Scouting movement. It was William D. Boyce and BSA beaureacrats that were to build the BSA into the most important youth group in America. Strangly American Scouting was not born in the pristine woodlands or wide expansive plains, but rather in of all places a thick "pea soup" fog of polluted London streets.

The 1910s

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was founded by William D. Boyce and several associates in 1910. Boyce was a businessman with an interest in youth work. His critical contribution to Scouting was to organize the BSA as a business. He incorporated the organization, choosing Washington, DC, rather than Chicago to emphasize its national character. He recruited key youth professionals, primarily from the YMCA, to design and operate the program, and he provided essential funding for the fledgling organization. Important decisions were made about Scouting in the 1910s which had a major impact on its character and success. There were many competing visions of the movement with varying influences including commercial, altruistic, patriotic, militaristic, social, religious, racial, and many others. The American Scout movement was relatively small in the 1910s before World War I (1914-18). The movement grew significantly beginning with the War when a patriotic fervor swept the country. The movement was to grow even more in the prosperous 1920s. Increasingly by the late 1910s it was becoming an excepted part of an American boyhood, at least in small towns and cities, to join the Boy Scouts. The organization became increasingly popular throughout the country and was supported by both schools and churches. It was a virtually all white movement in its first decade as blacks were essentially excluded, especially in the South.

The 1920s

The American Scout movement was relatively small until after World War I (1914-18). The War gave the movement a tremendous boost as patriotism soared. The movement grew significantly in the properous 1920s. A new uniform was adopted in 1922 to better diferentiate Scouting and the military. It was rapidly becoming an excepted part of an American boyhood, at least in small towns and cities to join the Boy Scouts. The organization became increasingly popular throughout the country and was supported by both schools and churches. Among other major developments in the 1920s, a new less militaristic uniform was adopted in 1922. Race continued to be a difficult issue for American Scouting duting the 1920s. Scouting in America during the 1920s continued to be an essentially all white movement, especially in the South. The American Scout uniformns in the early 1920s continued to be the khaki Army-style uniform after World War I (1914-18). The BSA modernized its uniforms in 1922 to the style we would recognize today. The boys wore the Smokey Bear type hats were retained. Coats and leggings were dropped, and neckerchiefs were added. Scouts could wear shorts and knee socks in the summer, knickers and knee socks in the winter Unlike England, however, short pants were not commonly worn, instead scouts generally wore knickers with knee socks.

Boy Scouts 1930s
Figure 4.--This Boy Scout in the 1930s wears the knickers uniform which was the most commonly worn Scout uniform worn by American boys.

The 1930s

The American Scout movement was relatively small until after World War I (1914-18). The movement grew significantly in the properous 1920s. The War had created interest in Scouting in part through a wave of patriotism. The growth slowed in the early 1930s with the Great Depression, but began to grow again as economic conditions improved during the late 1930s. The new Cubbing progrm proved enormusly successful. For middle class boys Cubbing and Scouting duing the 1930s was vurtually a rite of passage. American Scouts in the 1930s still wore the olive green military style uniform with the smokey bear style hats. Knickers were most commonly worn, reflecting what most American boys were wearing. Some some Scouts wore short pants and knee socks like scouts in most other countries. This was primarily the Scouts participating in camps and jamborees. Scouts attending weekly meetings and engaging in activities around the neighborhood mostly wore knickers. There were sime exceptions to this. Boys in wealthy neighborhoods were more likely to wear short pants as were boys in the South. Cubbing was introduced in 1930s after years of debate within the BSA. American Cubs Scouts wore a blue and gold knickers uniform. They wore the peaked cap (rather like a British school cap) introduced for British Cubs, but in the blue and gold American colors. The kneesocks worn with knickers had gold stripes--unlike the Scout kneesocks wghich were plain. Cubs did not participate in camping like the Scouts and were thus even more likely to wear the knickers uniform. Again there were exceptions and some boys did wear shorts, but we think this was a relatively small number.

Norman Rockwell Scout paintings
Figure 5.--Norman Rockwell used neigbors to model his paintings. Here is a Cub and Scout he painted in 1949. Note that the Cub is wearing the knickers uniform. Click on the image for a view of the final painting.

The 1940s

The American Scouting movement as were Scouts around the world were powerfully affected by World War II. Most Americans demanded that their country remain neutral when War began in 1939. America finally went to war in 1941 after the Japanese carrier strike on the naval base at Peal Harbor. Americam Scouts played a small role in the war effort, although nothing like the major role including combat played by the Hitler Youth in Germany. Along with these momentous developments, there were changes in the Cub and Scout uniforms. Knickers continued to be worn at the beginning of the 1940s by both Scouts and Cubs, but were going out of fashion. They were replaced and rarely seen by the mid-1940s. Scouts wore mostly long pants, except for camping and the periodic National Jamboree. Some Scouts wore short pants, but longs were much more common. Cubs continued to wear the same blue and gold uniform worn in the 1930s. The uniform was worn knickers at the beginning of the decade, but had mostly shifted to long pants by the end of the decade. Some of the most beloved images of American Scouting are those painted by Norman Rockwell. He painted a nice image of a Scout and Cub ("A FRIEND IN NEED") for the 1949 Boy Scout calendar image, 1949)." What Norman Rockwell did as he created his paintings was to pose the models (most of which were local neighbors of his), and photograph them in various positions and clothing, so he wouldn't have to keep them posing for long periods of time. I had seen the final painting before, but this was the first time I had seen a preliminary. Until 1948, all Scouts wore campaign ("Smokey the Bear") hats. At that time, the field (overseas) cap (popularized by World War II soldiers) was added.

Cub Scouts1950
Figure 6.--This magazine cover was published in 1960, it shows the Cub uniform worn in the 1950s and 60s and the uniform Den Mothers wore. The term Akela was not used in American cvubbing.

The 1950s

A Cub Scout in the early 1950s tells that he and his fellow Cubs all wore long pants even during the summer. Each Thursday was Scout day at his elementary school and the boy all dressed up in their uniforms--with considerable pride. One former Boy Scout reports that, "When I was in Scouts, back in the mid 50's and early 60's, our troop's official uniform was the summer uniform with the short pants and knee socks. We were expected to wear the full uniform to each weekly meeting, and special scouting events. The only exception, naturally, were cold weather outdoor events like camping. Once a year, there was something called a "Red Star Inspection," where each troop from the district (there were about twenty or so troops) gathered at a local National Guard armory for a competition on scouting skills, and uniform presentation. The uniform inspection was the first item, because the following events might mess things up. Even though our troop was the only one who adopted short pants and knee socks as the official uniform, I don't think the issue of feeling out of place ever came up, even though we were the only group of boys with bare knees. Before the final presentation of our troop, we did, however, have the extra check by our leaders to make sure our knee socks were straight and evenly pulled up. Obviously, the other troops didn't have that final step. I do remember our troop winnning the inspection more than once, so I suspect the fact that we stood out as unique and attracted the attention of the judges."

Boy Scouts 1960s
Figure 7.--American scouts wore this green uniforms from the 1950s through the 1980s. Shorts were not commonly worn except at jamborees during the 1950s, but had become common by the 1980s.

The 1960s

Here we note developments in American Scouting during the 1960s. The most importan development was the Golden Jubilee in 1960. We do not note any important changes in the Scout uniform during the 1960s. We note more Boy Scouts wearing the short pants uniform. We do not, however note many Cubs wearing the short pants uniform. We note boys beginning to wear a great diversity of neckerchiefs. Most American boys in thr 1960s wore the long pants Scout uniform. This varied somewhat by region. Shorts were worn more in California. It was beginning to become more common to wear the short pants ubiform during the summer. One HBU contributor tells me that he was an Eagle Scout in the 1960s. "Yes, I remember wearing the shorts and knee socks and all, at least during the Summer months. The shorts didn't seem any more "sissy" than the regular long-pants uniform, but you didn't dare wear either of them to school past about the 6th grade--unless you wanted to get teased by the other boys." There were no major changes in the Scout uniform during the 1960s.

The 1970s

major changes occurred in U.S. boys' fashions during the 1970s. For the first time, American boys began wearing short pants. They weren't worn for dress, but became very common for leisure wear and play. This carried over into Scouting and more American Scouts wore the short pants uniform. A U.S. Scouter tells us, "When I was in Scouting during the 1970s, there were several uniforms:
Formal or dress: Long sleeved shirt, long pants, medals, neckerchief (Scouts), necktie (adults), Loafer or Oxford shoes.
Summer Dress: Short sleeved shirt (neckerchief for Scouts, open collar for adults). Long pants. Square knots or medals, at the ????????? of the unit, but the unit must be uniform - they all wear medals, or they all wear square knots. Loafer or Oxford shoes.
Summer: Short sleeved shirts, shorts, knee socks (w/garter & tab) Knots/medals optional. Open collar for all, except if a collarless shirt is worn, then a neckerchief is worn. Shoes or boots.

Boy Scouts 1980s
Figure 9.--American Scouts by the 1980s commonly wore the short pants uniform with green knee socks.
Summer Camp: Scout at summer camp almost always wore short pants, usually with camp or Scout T-shorts during the day for activities. Knee socks w/tabs and garters were optional. Camp shoes or boots were worn. The Scout shirt and kerchief was worn for church call and special events.
Other; Other uniforms included the "Fall or Spring Camp" uniform, with long pants, long sleeved shirt, Knots optional, boots or shoes suitable for the conditions and terrain.

Each uniform has a different purpose. Courts of Honor usually require a full dress uniform, especially an Eagle court, or one where an award from the local or National Council is being presented. A camping trip over a weekend, while also necessitating long pants and a long sleeved shirt, would not take all the medals, knots, service stars, etc., of the dress uniform.

The 1980s

The American cub and scout uniforms were changed in 198?. The distincrtive cub peaked cap was changed to a blue and yellow base ball cap. The uniform was left blue shirt and pants. Most cubs only but the shirt and wear it with jeans, although shorts were becoming somewhat more common. The blue kneesocks were changed to blue athletic socks with yellow turn over tops. The boy scouts changed the green uniform they had worn for years to a light-brown shirt and dark olive long pants or shorts. Both long and shorts have large cargo pockets which have proven popular with the boys. It had become common for scouts to wear shorts during the summer. Base ball caps replaced capaign-style caps. The solid green knee socks were replace with green athletic socks with red turn-over tops. Scouts tend to wear the full uniform more than the Cubs, but many Scouts also wear jeans with the Scout shirt. Not all Cubs and Scouts buy both the long and short pants, but many more did so then in the past.

Interestingly as American Scouts more commonly wore the short pants uniform, Scouts in other countries increasingly moved to long pants or no uniform at all. American Scouts tend ti give more attention to the uniform than virtually any other country. American Scouts through the 1950s and 60s usually wore long pants except for camp outings. During the 1980s, however, it became very common for Scouts to wear the short pants uniform. At the U.S. Jamboree and the World Jamboree, American Scouts are part of a growing minority of Scouts wearing short pants and knee socks.

Boy Scouts 1990s
Figure 10.--The American scout uniform was changed to this so-called designer uniform in the 1980s. Shorts had become more common, but in the mid-1990s, long baggy ones had become common.

The 1990s

American boy scouts wore the uniform redesigned in the 1980s. In the 1990s more commonly wore shorts with the uniform than ever before. The shorts worn by the boys became long and baggy by the mid-1990s. It became less common to wear kerchiefs with the new uniform as the tan Scout and blue Cub shirts came with standard collars. Kerchiefs are becoming increasingly worn only for formal occasions.

The 21st Century

We have liirle information on the 2000s yet. The most notable observation is that unlike Scouts in many other countries, American Scouts still commonly wear uniforms--often full uniforms. If anything American Scouts are wearing the full uniform more than in the 1970s and 80s, although this is only a preliminary assessment. Very little change has been made in the uniform in the the 2000s. The principal change appears to be in the short pants. They are the same style but now generally worn at knee-length or below and often quite baggy. Kneesocks are no longer worn. There are now short socks, but with the same red tops.


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Created: 2:17 AM 1/26/2015
Last updated: 2:17 AM 1/26/2015