*** U.S. boy scout uniforms: uniform details

United States Boy Scouts: Uniform Details

American Scouts 1930s
Figure 1.--This Boy Scout in the 1930s wears the knickers uniform which was the most commonly worn Scout uniform worn by American boys.

The earliest American scout uniforms were military-style khaki uniforms similar to U.S. army uniforms. There have since many three major revisions of the Scout uniform (1922, 194?, and 1981). There have also been new levels introduced such as Cub Scouts and Explorers with uniforms for these groups. Most American Scouts through the 1930s wore knickers rather than the short pants worn by British and European Scouts. Interestingly, American Scouts now commonly wear short pants while it is becoming less common for European Scouts to wear shorts or for that matter any uniform at all. There are several levels of Scouting. Each with their different distinctive uniforms. The BSA debated for some time about a Cubbing program. When finallt created (193), it was decided to make the uniform destinctive. The BSA did not want the Scouting program to be seen as a little boy program. American Scouts over time have worn several different styles of uniforms. In addition many levels od Scouting have had different uniforms. This has mean quite a number of different garments and styles of garments. Some of these garments, especially the headwear, were worn over so many years by so many boys that they have become symbols of Scouting in themselves. The following information is available on the major U.S. Scout uniform items.


The earliest American scout uniforms were military-style khaki uniforms similar to U.S. army uniforms. Since that time there have been three major changes in the American Scout uniform. The BSA adopted a uniform that was not such a close copy of the army uniform in 1922. Most boys wore knickers, but short pants were an option. Cub Scouting with a blue iniform was introduced in 1930. A new green uniform was introduced in 194? and knickers were replaced with long pants. The current uniform designed by Oscar de la Renta was intoduced in 1981 and continues to be the style worn. Some minor changes have been made, but the most obvious is the long baggy shorts the boys now wear.

Scout Levels

There are several levels of Scouting. Each with their different distinctive uniforms. The BSA debated for some time about a Cubbing program. When finallt created (193), it was decided to make the uniform destinctive. The BSA did not want the Scouting program to be seen as aittle boy program. Years later the Tiger Cub program was begun for even younger children. And there are uniforms for a brogram for older youth called venture or varsity scouting as well as explorers.

Tiger Cubs Uniforms

Tiger Cubs have no official uniform, but members can purchase an iron-on Tiger Cubs logo for parent and boy to put on an orange T-shirt.

Cub Scout Uniform

The blue Cub Scout uniform has changed little since 1930, except for Webelos Scouts. The yellow Cub Scout neckerchief was originally worn by all Cubs. Many minor changes have occurred at about the same time as similar changes in the Boy Scout uniform, including the switch from knickers to trousers (in 1947, 3 years after the Boy Scouts) and the switch to permanent press. In 1984, the yellow Cub Scout neckerchief became the Wolf Cub Scout neckerchief, and Bear Cub Scouts got their own light blue neckerchief. (This is different than the English approach where Cubs and Scouts wear a common unit neckerchief. Oscar de la Renta redesigned the Cub Scout uniform at the same time he redesigned the Boy Scout uniform, but the changes were minor, the most significant being the change from English-style peaked caps to baseball-style caps.

Figure 2.--This Weablo Scout is in the transition from his Cub Pack to Scout Troop. He wears a Scout uniform with a blue cap, plaid neckerchief, and his Cub badges.

Webelos Uniform

The Webelos Cub Scouts of the 1950s and 1960s wore only the Webelos den badge on the standard Cub Scout uniform. In 1967, they were given special Webelos insignia, neckerchief, and hat. Beginning in 1984, Webelos Scouts got the additional option of wearing the standard Boy Scout uniform with Webelos hat, neckerchief, insignia, and blue shoulder loops.

Scout Uniform

Varsity/Venture Scout Uniforms

Varsity Scouts who belong to a Varsity team have the option of wearing the standard Boy Scout uniform with orange shoulder loops and Varsity Scout insignia, or they can wear a Varsity Scout T-shirt with non-uniform brown trousers. Venture Scouts, and Varsity Scouts in a troop, wear the standard Scout uniform with a "Venture" or "Varsity" strip above the "Boy Scouts of America" strip.

Explorer Uniforms

The early Senior Scouts and Explorer Scouts wore the same uniform as other Scouts. Sea Scouts and Air Scouts had uniforms appropriate to their programs. Explorers of the 1950s had a forest green uniform. Later, a blue blazer "uniform" was allowed, and the forest green uniform was dropped. Today, most posts wear no uniform beyond jeans and a printed T-shirt. Even Sea Explorer ships have total freedom to design their own uniform. Career Awareness Explorers have never had a uniform.

Uniform Items

American Scouts over time have worn several different styles of uniforms. In addition many levels od Scouting have had different uniforms. This has mean quite a number of different garments and styles of garments. Some of these garments, especially the headwear, were worn over so many years by so many boys that they have become symbols of Scouting in themselves. The following information is available on the major U.S. Scout uniform items.


The most important change over the years may have nothing to do with the style of the uniform. With all these many changes, the most important one in the uniform's 86-year history was probably permanent press! Until the mid 1960s, uniforms were wrinkle-prone cotton or itchy wool. Ironing might last an hour or so (sometimes minutes). Modern, cotton/polyester permanent-press materials were a big improvement

Wearing the Uniform

One Scout group provided some tips on wearing the modern uniform:

Neatness is a big factor. Hang up your uniform as soon as you get home from the meeting. Then put the top of the hanger through your neckerchief slide so that it doesn't get lost.

The smart thing to do is to check your uniform now -- well before the next weekly meeting. If it is dirty or needs a badge to be sewn on, get it done as soon as possible so that there is plenty of time to do it before the day of the meeting. If your shirt gets washed, make sure you put your pencils, paper, advancement card, and name tag somewhere you'll remember them. Chances are that your shirt or neckerchief need ironing. Your parents will be only too glad to help--just give them enough time --and they'll be mighty proud of their sharp looking Scout in his neatly pressed uniform.
Hat: When wearing the Smokey Bear type hat, keep the brim hard and straight by pressing with a hot iron over a damp cloth. Keep your hat in a press or on a flat surface when not in use.
Shirt: Tuck in your shirt at the waist and keep it free from bulges and wrinkles. Turn in the collar so that the neckerchief will lay neatly and snugly. The sleeves of your T-shirt or undershirt must be short enough so as not to be visible by protruding outside the sleeve of the uniform shirt.
Pockets: Do not have over-crowded pockets. You should have a pencil and your advancement progress card inside the right pocket.
Insignia: Should be sewn on flat with no gaps or buckling and no loose threads. Check your Scout Handbook for the proper location of the badges and patches.
Neckerchief: This is rolled rather than folded. The point at the back should be about 6 inches (the whole BSA diamond should be visible but not drape down too far).
Neckerchief Slide: Different troops have various slides.
Name Tag: This is worn on the pocket flap with the top edge just below the upper seam. The toughest part is making sure it is centered and not pinned on crooked.
Belt: The web Scout belt should be trimmed to the proper length--just long enough so that only the brass tip extends outside the buckle. This is called "brass on brass." The belt should be worn with belt through all the belt loops of the shorts.
Shorts: Boys grow into and out of shorts but try to keep them a reasonable length (i.e. 1-2 inches above the knee).
Socks: Make sure the long socks with the wide red border on the top are worn with seams running straight up and down the leg and rolled down just below the knee cap. The red border should be rolled into a band with a width of about 2 inches.
Shoes: Footwear (shoes or boots) must be of a dark color (e.g. brown or black)--not white or a bright color, luminescent, or flamboyant. They must be in good repair and clean with the laces neatly tied. Leather shoes (dress or moccasin type) are preferred but not required.

Ordering Scout Uniforms

The BSA initially sold Scout uniforms and equipmet through its Department of Scout supplies. BSA publications show that this was a major undertaking by 1919, pronably earlier as well. Uniforms have also been sold through mail order firms. I believe that Penny's Sears, and Ward have all sold Scout uniforms under contract with the BSA. I'm hazzy on this, but I sem to recall in the 1950s going to a Sears store to be fitted for my Cub uniform. Penny's for example appears to have been the major distributor in the 1970s. Scout shops as were common in Britain, appear to have been less common in America. Today the internet is a major way of distributing Scout uniforms.

Age Factors

Boy Scouting in America and Brotain and presumably many other countries as well were affected by Gresham's Law of boys' work. The principle is that younger boys in an organization tend to drive out older ones. One of the key characteristics of boys accross many different societies is they want to vhieve their acceptance as mature adults as soon as possible. One of the principal factors inhibiting this is to grouped together with younger boys. As a result, when a group is sufficently large, boys will naturally order themselves by age. Few American Boy Scout troops in the eraly years of Scouting were divided by age or maintained to accompdate older boys. It was of course quite common for older boys to be used as instructors. There were, however, limitations here. Boys were required to be at least 18 years old to be an Assistant Scoutmaster. Younger boys could be patrol leaders, but they had much less authority. In addition, many boys were not that interested in spending their time to teach younger boys instead of pursuing challenging activities. Many older boys felt that they were being used in a program for younger boys. In addition, as society was requiring more years in a dependent status (school), issues of maturity became more pronounced. Some boys did not even like the term "boy" in Boy Scout. One historian reports, "The uniform, which appealed to younger boys as a step away from childish dress, became an embarrassment to older Boy Scouts; high school as well as working boys disliked its resemblance to army army garb and cringed even more at wearing shorts." [Macleod, pp. 282-284.]

Unit Approachdes

Units at every Scouting level took varying approaches to the uniform. This varied over time and depended on the unit leadership. Early Scout and thn Cub units paid consideranle attention to the uniform and wearing it correctly. This was the case into the post-World war II era. This began to changes in the late -1960s. Many units began showing less interest in th uniform and you see boys wearing non-uniform items with the uniform. The unit leaders also varied as to how much attention was given to the uniform and wearing it correctly. There was also difference in setting uniform guidelines. You see some units wih all the boys dressing alike. Some units selected destictive headwer like red berets so they stood out in Scouting events. And some units set a uniform of the day and expected all the boys to comply. Other units allowed the boys to select optional uniform items like short and long sleeve shirts or short and long pants. We also notice variation in hosiery, although this was only noticeable when wearing the short pants uniforms. some unit leaders insisted on official uniform items and the boys dressing alike. This was unimportant to other leaders. There was also varition in different activities. Some leaders wanted the boys to look smart for activities like church call, but were less concerned abou unit meetings. Camps also set different uniform rules.

Uniform Conventions

Uniform Discussions

Many Scouters continue to believe that the Uniform should be worn at "all" Scouting events. This is not just some impractical "law on the books" that no one has gotten around to changing. It is one of the living Eight Methods of Scouting. The reason that many adults say one thing and do another, is that the Uniform is no longer designed to be practical in the very environment where Scouting takes place. It is the Uniform that needs fixing, not the Program.

Other Scouters believe that the problem is more complicated. Many believe very strongly in the uniform as one of the Eight methods of scouting. However, it may not be possible to come up with one uniform that can do the job at all times. Scouts already have two uniforms - winter and summer. As others have posted, they are for the most part "dress" uniforms. Since there is a significant minority who don't even agree that the official pants should be part of the "dress" uniform, redesigning the uniform would have no meaning for them, since their stated reason for not requiring the full uniform is cost. Also, almost 100 percent of these scouters allow blue jeans, which we all should know are not appropriate for outdoor wear, anyway. Given the great extremes of environment that we find ourselves in, many don't see how we could ever have one uniform that is "right" for all activities. One Scouter wants one thing for Klondike Derbies, and another for winter hiking. Some want something else for those damp spring trips, and something else for those 95 degree 95% humidity days on the Eastern Seaboard. Something else for canoeing or sea base.

What some would like to see is the current two uniforms for "dress" occasions like troop meetings, COH's, BoR's, parades, scout shows, etc. I would also like to see at least two "activity" uniforms (one winter and one summer) for use out of doors. There could be additional pieces of the "activity" uniform that could be mixed and matched as the environment requires. I would not have all cotton, since the risk of hypothermia is IMHO higher than the risk of a scout actually being in a fire. Also, I believe that the current synthetics can wick away moisture and keep you cooler in summer, reducing the risk of heat stress/ exhaustion/stroke.

There may be deeper issues at work here. While no leader has really came out and said so, some believe that at least some of those who do not support full uniforming do so because they themselves don't like wearing it. We've heard from Scouter's saying they won't wear the uniform because they lost their keys. My response is a trip to the tailor's and $2 will get you deeper pockets! We've heard about the "cut" of the pants being bad, or the fit being poor. However, given the fact that you can essentially get a uniform "custom tailored" at no additional cost (as long as you buy 2 of them at one time), these really shouldn't be issues. Besides, most boys in the 1990s want their clothes one way--way too big!!!!

Boys' Attitudes

We all know that for the most part the boys in Scouting during the 1990s would rather not wear the uniform because they don't really want to be identified as scouts. They can hide the shirt under a jacket or sweatshirt, or carry it with them and put it on as the troop lines up to start the meeting. It's a lot harder to do this with the pants.

Hand Me Downs

The Boy Scouts and later the Cubs became an important national institution. Large numbers of boys wanted to join and participate. For most middle-class families this was not a problem. But for many families buying a uniform was a streach for family budgets. And the boys wanted the uniforms, the whole idea was very popular. Troops varied on uniform rules. Some just insisted on uniform shirts while others were adament about full turn out. Selling or authirizing the sale of officvial items was an important source of revenue for the BSA. This of course was especially true during the Depression of the 1930s. One solution to this problem was hand-me-downs. This worked well if your older brother was a Cub or Scout. And to broaden this approach, many troops organized used uniform shops to sell uniforms and modest prices.


Cuns and Scouts at camps and various evens often put on skits. A popular topic for these skits is often the Scout uniform. Often the boys like to make fun of or kid about their uniforms.


Macleod, David I. Building Character in the American Boy: The Boy Scouts, YMCA, and Their Forerunners, 1870-1920 (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1983), 315p.


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Created: November 15, 1998
Last updated: 12:10 PM 10/10/2014