United States Boy Scout Uniform Policies

Figure 1.--

American Scouters report all kinds of different policies and experiences concerning uniforms. There are great differences in the importance which American Scout troops attach to the uniform. Some troops consider the uniform to be a very important element in Scouting and havd have very strict uniform regulations. Otrher troops virtually ignore the uniform and boys wear what ever they want to. Most troops have policies somewhere between these two extreems. That said, American SDcouts generally tend to give more attention to the uniform than Scouts in many other countries. Scouts in some European countries, for example, have virtually abandoned uniforms.

American Scouters have discussed their concerns over uniform standards, the varying uniform standards they impose, and how to deal with the question of wearing Scout uniform.


Just to keep the discussion simple: I know some people have financial problems. Let's assume these can be dealt with privately and discuss the other issue: how do you get the boys to wear uniforms? Most of what I've read here says the boys run the troop and adults are only advisors. But there have been some references to "what I make them do" or "my rules". At what point, short of danger, can an adult step in and declare that something is going to be done his/her way? Boys in our troop rarely wear their uniforms. The SM has told them that shirts are required when traveling to/from scout activities, but it's a real travesty to see some of them. I'd rather not admit they're scouts! The SM is about to move to the pack (his oldest will be a Tiger shortly) and my husband is in SM Fundamentals now. He wants to improve the appearance of the troop and hopes to make this a high priority item when he takes over.


Different Scout troops report a variety of standards that they eborce or choose not to enforce.

Our Troop is somewhat relaxed in uniform requirements at regular meetings and does not require anything but the shirt and neckerchief w/slide. We do not send kids home for coming to meetings out of uniform, but they know they cannot participate in a board of review or a court of honor without the uniform. We had an outdoor campfire show and court of honor this weekend coinciding with a picnic the Scouts ran for the Cub Pack as a fund raiser. We had a trading post including used uniforms at the picnic, mostly for the new Cubs joining that day. Just before the days events began my son discovered that he had forgotten his uniform shirt. He checked the trading post and the only shirt there that would fit was a size 20 Cub Scout blue uniform shirt. Care to guess what he wore that day? Yup, that blue shirt. We didn't ask him to wear it, he asked permission to borrow it because he didn't want to miss participating in the Court of Honor where he was being given his ASPL patch. [April 1994]

When we got a new Scoutmaster, our troop started a new uniform policy. For the meetings it's just the shirt with jeans and docksiders/boots. Then once a month there's a uniform inspection (regularly scheduled and announced) After so many months (i'm not sure what exactly it is, I've been away at school since right before they started this) there are awards for the most points (there was a point scale for uniforms). I think the key is to make the boys WANT to wear it and not force them to. Make the uniform into a source of pride and they will wear it all the time.

My troop had a written policy on uniforms. Scouts were required to wear proper shirt, pants/shorts & socks, and belt. The troop neckerchief was optional, also the hat. When I became SM after the summer encampment was over, the PLC wanted to push on the issue. I was aware that there were families that could not Afford so the PLC made it a written but "No harassemnet" policy on uniforms. The scouts that had uniforms were expected to wear them. The only prblems we had were the pants. I at time squashed PL/SPL/JL that wanted to jump a scout without the official pants. I usually remebered the Scout being 3-6 inches shorter. The troop wore uniforms to just about every activity. At my 1st summer camp, the PLC had decided it didn't want the class "A" to get messed up between the Saturday/Sunday Troop picture and the Friday nite Parents Night festivities. They dropped all uniform requirements for the Scouts. By Monday, the third day in camp, the PLC was beside itself because of the ratty, tattered, AC/DC style T-shrts and the crummy shorts. They decided that it was Blank T-shirts or Scouting related T-shirts with crummy shorts. The PLC then began dressing for the evening retreat in the troop site, then dinner, then all meals. By Friday, the entire troop was back in full uniform. We even packed out of camp in uniform on saturday. Managed expectations and setting the example do work! We hand down uniforms, recycle uniforms, do everything we can including borrowing the uniforms from drop outs. That can be used as a recruiting tool, also.

The troop that I belong to has a lax attitude towards wearing the Boy Scout uniform. Shirts are about all anyone wears, if that. The SM and me are about the only ones who wear the full uniform with consistency. Other adult leaders rarely wear even the shirt. I have tried to use the SPL and ASPL to set the example for the Scouts. It seemed to work for a short time. We got to the level of wearing neckerchiefs and not wearing non-Scouting hats. Now we're back to just shirts. I feel that the adults should be setting the example for the whole troop. Does anyone have any good ideas or methods of getting good compliance in the wearing of the uniform?


Scouters have many ideas about how to improve uniform standards.

We Had this problem also so we started a bead program. If the whole patrol came in complete uniform they would get a bead for that night, if they got three beads we got them a giant chocolate chip cookie, and gave it to them at the end of the meeting. After about two cookies the whole Troop started to come in uniform, now we do not have to give out a cookie the whole Troop comes in uniform. Sometimes it takes a jump start to get the boys going again. Hope this helps. Ron Schneider

The best method is to make them to want to wear their uniform such as having a reward. This could be a treat, a game, a reduction in dues, a reduction in camp fees. This can be easily justified, since if they buy and wear uniform parts they are spending their own money wisely so they need a break on troop expenses. Also, invite your unit commissioner to come in and have a uniform inspection occasionally.

Good uniforming begins at the top, and that means with the scoutmaster. If you are setting the example, then the first thing, is to insist that your assistants do likewise. Next, gather the PLC, and ask them what should be done to improve uniforming in the troop. Ask why they do not wear the uniform, or only a split uniform. Tell them, either directly, or through the SPL, that proper uniforming is a reflection of pride in who and what they are. Counsel the PLC to set and enforce a uniforming policy for the troop, and let them do it. Above all, once that policy is set, do not override the SPL when a boy comes to you and complains that he was sanctioned for not wearing his uniform. Of course, there are exceptions. If a boy does not have a uniform, or has only a partial uniform, there isn't much you can do. Uniforms are not as plentiful in the thrift shops as they once used to be, but they can be found. Contact your council office, or your district commissioner/executive. They might have a handle on where "experienced" uniforms might be found. Ken

Has anyone talked with the Troop's leadership about this attitude and to see what THEY suggest are ways to solve it?? You'll get a lot of suggestions here from talking with fellow adults, many of whom have been through the same situation you've been through; but to SOLVE the situation, you MUST have the youth leaders of your Troop ON BOARD AND IN AGREEMENT WITH whatever they and you and the Scoutmaster works out. Perhaps nobody has actually explained the importance of the uniform. Not "We wear it because we're Boy Scouts" but rather "We wear it to call attention to ourselves and to promote what it is we're doing....plus, we tend not to get into too much trouble by wearing this getup." It could be a problem of cost. I spent close to $40 on a pair of pants which I only wear eight days out of each month, on the average. It could be that your Troop doesn't have a REASON to wear the uniform....why wear it if you're going to get dirty or grungy every week? If the Scoutmaster and yourself are wearing the uniform WITH CONSISTANCY (like EVERY WEEK, not "every week that we can remember to wear it"), your youth members WILL "catch a clue". Your adults should establish a rule similar to one I used as a Scoutmaster whereby "no adult Scouter shows up for a Troop meeting or activity out of uniform except in cases of emergency or staying around the meeting or activity for LESS than 25 minutes." This reduces the chance that Scouts will "catch a clue" from those adults whom are simply too lazy to go home and change into the "uniform of the period". You cannot "use the SPL and ASPL to set the example for the Scouts." Whatever the uniform "policy" is going to be of the Troop MUST come from the FULL Patrol Leaders' Council...this means that ALL patrols must "buy into" whatever the decision that the PLC makes. What happens when you don't have a Scout to wear his complete uniform to a Troop meeting or activity?? I don't know. Leave that up to your Patrol Leaders' Council to decide, with some advice from your Scoutmaster. You can't "throw someone out of Scouts" for not wearing the uniform...there are plenty of legit, important, SUEABLE reasons why they don't. That's also why you and your Scoutmaster has to KNOW these boys in your Troop and merely not "babysit" them from week to week. You need to let them and their parents know that they are involved in a PROGRAM, not "organized child care for older kids". Programs have uniforms. The uniform for this program is the official uniform, as complete as possible. You need to have a meeting with your Scoutmaster and your Troop's Patrol Leader Council. Understand from THEM why guys aren't wearing their uniforms and then have THEM to make the rules about what is going to be tolerated and how long and what happens when it's no longer tolerated. And then stick THEM to enforcing THEIR policy and rule among their peers. That's how Scouting works. Settummanque!


Some American Scout troops have uniform inspections, although it is not as common as in England.

One tool that can be used is uniform inspections. Your unit commissioner is "supposed" to do one once each year as part of his service to your unit. I know one unit locally (for which I am the commissioner) that actually holds monthly uniform inspections. I believe they are possibly in the running for best uniformed troop in the district...:) The boys are proud of their uniforms and one boy who was not in uniform at their meeting last week was slightly embarassed (he had forgotten to give it to his mother to wash or something like that) and was making apologies to anyone in earshot. It was cute...:)...but it was also refreshing. The real key is to set the example yourself and to make sure that the older boys follow your example. Wear the uniform proudly and the boy leaders will quickly (we hope!) emulate you. Then it snowballs from there down to Tommy Tenderfoot who just joined a couple of weeks ago and wants to fit in. Being sure that there is a process for boys who are in financial straits is imperative because no one wants to feel left out.

One Scouter reports his troop had had haphazard uniform wearing. He was doubtful about it, but they conducted a uniform inspection. they waited until the end of the evening when the parents were there to pick there kids up. The next week EVERY SINGLE SCOUT was in full uniform. We now do it at random.

My best tool for uniforming is a few spare council strips I have gathered over the years--I usually pick up a few when I visit a council, plus the 23 where I have been registered or worked on summer camp staff. When I visit a troop I get the SMs permission to conduct a brief inspection. When I narrow it down, I get the troop to help me decide who is most properly uniformed. I give that scout one of the council shoulder patches. A few weeks later, I visit again and do the same thing. Usually by the third visit, the scouts are looking sharp just in case I visit. Once in a while, no patch is awarded because no one meets a minimum standard and the troop knows it!! BTW, sometimes I tell the troop that I'll be back for a visit in two weeks, hope you can get your patches straightened out by then. I always carry several patches after an experience of not being able to make a choice between two excellently uniformed scouts. The SM pulled a patch out of his pocket (magic) and we awarded two! I also conduct inspections at Roundtables. Participation is always voluntary on the part of adults and scouts but if you don't participate, you can't get a patch. BTW, the older scouts who are patch collectors really get into this one since some of my patches come from far off locations (and are not available through national supply). I also do not award a patch to anyone with incorrect insignia. I will tolerate missing items (since council often is out of stock) but not incorrect ones. Biggest problems--multiple quality unit patches and multiple temporary patches. Among leaders, the biggest problem is patrol patches. If you have a patrol patch, you better have only a number 1 on the left sleeve. Fortunately, we do not have as many "Old Goats" and "Rocking Chairs" in this council as I have seen in others.

I agree that uniform inspections are the best tool, and some reward method is great. In our CUB pack we had each den send up the BEST uniform each pacj meeting, and the PACK voted for best uniform. The cub got a special Mogly necklace with real imatation bear claws and stuff to wear for the next month. We also had a DEN attendance award for the den with the most total people present at the pack meeting. The DENNER got a special award to have until the next meeting, and then could pass it on or keep it, if they had best attendance next month. For the scouts, we have had a mothly inspection, and at each court of honor we have at times used special certificates for categories of BEST overall uniform since the last COR, and MOST IMPROVED, plus BEST Patrol Leader, best Junior leader, etc. We used to buy fancy certificates, but now someone makes them up with pagemaker or some PC based tools, and we just add a GOLD sticker. At other times the SM has had a surpirse inspections, and comes up with a neckerchief slide, or a belt buckle or a hat pin or some award, maybe even a CSP as was mentioned. We still do not have 100 percent uniforms, but over time it seems to improve. I guess the KEY is some method of motivation that will appeal to the scouts, and so that all scouts have some chance of an award, not just the EAgle scouts with the sharp uniforms for the EAGLE COR etc. We have also found that having some one in the troop try to coordinate a uniform RE-cyle concept will help out everyone. It also helps to have the PACK stay in touch with the Troop to get some CUB uniforms back to the pack. Maybe if you had a troop or pack newsletter, people could LIST what uniform parts they have to trade, sell ot donate? Also, anyone that might offer a PATCH sewing service. I have seen a few cases wear some familys with two wooking parents or only ONE parent familys were willing to PAY to have someone sew the patches. I hope that is of some help. Not that our pack or troop is 100 percent in sharp uniforms, but each year it seems to get better as the program year procedes.


Many Scouters disagree on the importance of the uniform.

In our small 1 sq mile town we have three troops. One Mormon, one traditional Scouting (they wear full uniforms with neckerchiefs) and my high adventure troop (we wear only a scout shirt at meetings and ceremonies, though the older boys life & Eagle tend to acquire full uniforms). Though we all follow the same overall program, our implementation is unique, and usually it rides on the personality of the SM or to her key adult leader. We run a less formal group and focus on building self-esteem, confidence and cooperation. Uniforms are low on our priority list, while being active in the field twice-a-month is very high. I agree that seeing a scout unit in full uniform looks very sharp. But how many kids join scouts to look very sharp? My suggestion is that you write down on paper your chief goals. Than let the kids do the same Where your goals and the kids goals match, you will have a great Troop, wonderful experiences, and little aggrevation. If your goals are very different than the kids, in time, they will drop out. Sometimes the most difficult thing for us adult leaders to do is to think like a kid! What was important to you as a child of 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, etc.? I have found the new scouts of 10-11 think the uniform is great, but that soon changes when they hit 12 and 13. Remember, young teens are striving for their own identity. We, like many troops, have our own T-shirt (tank top and sweat to match). The logo was done by a commercial artist so it looks like something from a store. Our theme "The Vertical Edge" was easy to work with. This shirt the kids wear to school, to play and on trips. Its all over town. If you decide on full dress uniforms and you have no strong competition from near-by troops, the kids will live with it if they really enjoy your program.

Financial problems

Scout uniforms are not cheap. Scouters have ideas about how to deal with that problem.

Your council may also have a uniform "hand-me-down" program for those scouts who may need help in purchasing uniform pieces too. This low cost method of getting uniforms is one way to comabt the eventual argument that they are too expensive. David

Uniforms are not as plentiful in the thrift shops as they once used to be, but they can be found. Contact your council office, or your district commissioner/executive. They might have a handle on where "experienced" uniforms might be found. Ken


Many Scout groups have special policies about specufic garments.

Non uniform hats are not worn--the terminology we use is "loose the hat"--which really means that hats are not worn because only the SM wears an official hat (broad brim). I have one but do not wear it very often. Contrary to all the other units in the area, we also wear official pants or shorts (we have two non-compliants of 31 scouts and the pressure is starting to get to them). Some scouts have shorts only and just freeze for both weeks of winter. Many have long pants as well. In our troop, full uniform means the whole works (except hats). If you want to wear a hat, it must be official.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: November 15, 1998
Last updated: June 30, 2000