United States Boy Scouts: Uniform Items

Figure 1.--The baseball cap became the standard headwear of American Scouts and Cubs when a new uniform was introduced in 1981. Note this boy is not wearing his neckerchif.

American Scouts over time have worn several different styles of uniforms. In addition many levels of 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.


Nothing captures the image of a Scout more than the broad-brimmed hat. Although many options have been tried over the years (such as the W.W.II overseas hat, the red beret and the baseball cap), the "Smoky-the-Bear" or "Campaign" hat is the only uniform item which has remained constant since Scouting came to the United States in the early 1900s. The overseas cap became standard issue in the 1940s and was worn until the early 1980s. It was worn so long and by so many boys that it bevame mlre associated with Scouting than the Smokey Bear hat that few American boys ever saw, much less wore. A few adult Souters can occassionally be seen with the Smoket Bear hat because of the distinctive image. The baseball cap became the standard headwear of American Scouts and Cubs when a new uniform was introduced in 1981. This cap has proven popular with the boys.


One of the most dustinctive feature of the Boy Scout unidorm is the neckerchief. It was Baden Powell that introduced the neckerchief as part of the British Scout uniform. The most colorful item worn by American and other Scouts is the neckerchief or even kerchief. It is also called a scarfe, but mostly in other countries. It became so well known and popular that many subsequent youth groups (Hitler Youth, Young Pioneers, and others) also adopted neckerchiefs. American Scouts did not initially adopt the neckerchief. Some Scouts did not wear neckwear. Others wore ties. But American Scouts qioickly began wearing neckerchiefs as well. For several decaded there was a stadard Scout neckerchief. Beginning in the 1970s we think we begin to see special commemorative neckerchiefs or group neckerchiefs. The short-sleeve Scout and Cub shirt for some time were made without collars, in part, to facilitate the wearing of a neckerchief. Scouts by the 1990s might skip neckerchiefs, but they were part of the official uniform. Some Scouts such as Explorers or scout masters might wear ties.


American Scout shirts have varied substantially over time. Early Scouts wore shirts that looked morre like jackets, although HBU is unsire just how standardized early Scout uniforms were. The Scout uniform had become definiyely standardized by the 1920s and looked much more like a shirt. While boys did not always wear their Scout shirts with kerchiefs, the kerchief was almostvalways worn in the 1920s. Early Scout unifprms were always long sleeved. I'm not sure just hen the short-sleeved Scout shirt first appeared, probably the 1940s.


American Scouts until the 1940s mostly wore knickers. The early uniform required knickers. Long pants were not introduced to Scouting until the 1940s. Through the 1940s and 50s Scouts mostly wore long pants. Gradually many Scouts began wearing long pants as part of a winter or cool weather uniform. Short pants were not always a part of the official BSA uniform. They were not introduced until the 1920s (with considerable resistance, however) and were rare throughout the 1930s, except at camp. It was not until 1950 that large groups of Scouts would venture onto streets in them. One troop was among the first to embrace short pants in the 1930s and was readily recognized (and jeered and respected) as the "short pants troop" even into the late 1940s and early 1950s. The BSA in the 1950s began a program of promoting short pants for Scouting, especially during the sumer. They were required wear at all National Jamborees and many camps.

Inclement Weather Wear

There were a variety of official BSA uniform items made for inclement weather. This included both cold weather andcrain wear. We noitice a variety of coats and jackets of various weights and materials over time. Scouts tend to be more active in the summer, but there were also cold weather activities. Geography was a factor here as more of the year is covered is dominated by cold wearther in the North and warm weather in the South. And of course Scouts as they were involved in outdoors activities had to be prepared for the rain. Here a useful item was the poncho, especially the ruberized poncho. We are not sure when the first Scout poncho appeared, but it is an important Scout item when camping with tents. The standard rubberized green poncho was used for many years.


While American Scouts did not take to the European style short pants uniforms, they did adopt the kneesocks. Having to wear long stockings and hose supporters would have been rather awkward for active camping expeditions. Most American Scouts through the 1930s wore their kneesocks with knicker uniforms. Shorts were worn, however, at the first National Jamboree in 1937 and they were commonly worn at Scout camps--with kneesocks. American Scouts in the 1960s finally began to weear the short pants uniform more commonly--always with kneesocks. Scout kneesocks were made in the long turn-over-top style. While shorts grew in popularity during the 1970s, kneesocks did not and many boys would wear their Scout and Cub shorts informally woth other socks, often tube socks in the 1970s and ankle socks by the mid-1980s. The new Scout uniform redesigned in 1981 include colored athletic socks instead of the traditional Scout socks. Both before and after the uniform shift, both Cub and Scout kneesocks were made in the same style--only different colors.


American Scouts one had regulation shoes. I don't lmow if this was the case in other countries. I know relatively little about the regulation cout shoes. I think there may have even been regulatiion Cub shoes, but am not sure. The Scout shoes were brown and the Cub shoes black. I think they were available in the 1950s-70sm but again this needs confirmation. I don't think they were very popular. Most boys preferred to wear their own non-regulation shoes.


There are a variety of uniform accessories. Perhaps the most common is the neckerchief slide. British Scouts call them woggles. The BSA has authorized a wide variety of badges and patches. An important part of Scouting is earming merit badges. Besides the merit badges there are different kinf=ds of pateches. Scouts wear a patch identifying their council on their left sleeve. Collecting and trading these patches is a popular hobby among Scouts. Under thgeir council patch they wear troop idetfiers. On their right sleve they now wear the American flag. Many other patches are worn, including patches for camps they have attended and the internatiinal Scouting badge. One item we are not familiar with is Scout plumes.

Badges, Patches, and Insignia

Scouts wears a variety of bages, patches, and insignia on their uniforms. The badges identify the BSA and program as well as the troop and council. Over time these and other bages and patches have been worn. Pne of the most important are rank badges. There are differences among the different programs. Cubs had arrowheads to signify achievements. Scouts had merit badges. Just where they were worn varied. And there were special patches to show participation in camps and jamborees. There were also badges to show how long the Scouts have participated in the proram. And there were patches for patrol leaders and other offices.


One of the most important pieces of Equipment for any Boy Scout was his back pack.

Unidentified Image

Most images, even unidentified images, can easily be identified as Boy Scouts. We have found some images that we are not unsure about or readers have asked us to assess.


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Created: July 24, 2002
Last updated: 5:17 AM 2/11/2011