Boy Scout Uniforms: Garments

Figure 1.--The original scouting uniforms were all similar to the military-style adopted by Baden Powell when he founded English Scouting. One inovation was short pants rather than the kneeoants and long stockings that most boys at the time wore.

Lord Baden-Powell's designed the original Scout uniforms. The Scouts were not the first uniformed boy's organization. The Scout unifom introduced by Bade Powell included some unique feaatures. The boy's wore short pants and kneesocks rather than the kneepants and long stockings that most boys wore at the time. The kercief or scout scarf also became a key part of the uniform. The original English Scout uniforms had a somewhat military look and was copied by the early Scouts groups in many other countries. The early American Scout uniform followed the English example with an even more military look. This close association with army uniforms was followed by the American Scouts for decades. Most countries gradually introduced recognizeable national garments like berets in France and lederhosen in Germany and Austria, im many cases moving away from an army uniform appearance.

Military Styling

A British reader objects to HBU's assertion that the original English Scout uniforms had a "decidedly military" look. We thus rephrhased our text to read a "somewhat military" look He writes, "I think you're in error about the original English uniforms being 'decidedly military' in look. The shirts, scarves, hats and long shorts were quite unlike the contemporary khaki service dress military uniform, with its highnecked brass-buttoned tunic and peaked cap." HBU is not totally convinced here. Certainly there are differences with the British army uniform. The British Army, however, had many different uniforms. Soldiers in tropical postings did wear long shorts and kneesocks, but our reader is quite the Scout uniform was not a copy of British Army uniforms. (The Sea Scouts are a different matter.) We are in fuller agreement with another point our British reader makes. He writes, "It was the American scout uniform which aped military garments, and continued to do so into the 1960s (campaign caps, leggings, the khaki colour). Indeed, it looked just like army uniform to begin with - highnecked brassbuttoned tunic and the same hat as worn by American troops."

Impact on Boys' Fashions

The Scout movement which developed before the First World War had a significant impact on boys' fashions. The short pants introduced as part of the uniform were to dominate boys' clothing in Europe for five decades. The shorts proved less popular in America where many scouts wore knickers. One common feature of Scout uniforms was the kerchief. Within only a few years of Scotings foundations the drab colors pf the uniforms were brightened by the addition of the colorful Scout kerchief--which soon became regarded as an indispensable article of equipment for Scouts around the world. While many Scout groups now give little attention to the uniform, the kerchief is one part of the uniform that remains popular.

Specific Garments

Some Scout uniforms such as the original wide-brimmed hat have become almost a symbol of Scouting, but is no longer widely worn. Some garments like the kechiefs seem to endure through sucessive changes in uniform styles. Other garments such as short pants seem to vary in popularity over time. While Scout uniforms vary greatly from country to country there are also many similarities. The headwear seems to vary the greatest among Scouts from different countries. Details on individual uniform items includes:


The first Scout hat designed by Baden Powell was the traditional lemon-squeezer hat wore by generations of Scouts. Despite its long-term popularity, it had some problems as Scout headwear. (American Scouts in the 1950s began calling it Smokey Bear hats.) It was hard to be kept smart looking once it got wet, a bad feature for a uniform intended for outdoor uses as in Scouting. It was also expensive. Some French Scouts began wearing berets in the 1910s, but most Scouts continued to wear the traditinal hat. Gradually different caps were introduced in various countries. American Scouts began wearing campaign caps after Worl War II. Berets were introduced in many contries, including the England Scouts in 1969. American Scouts adopted baseball caps in 1980. The original English Cubs wore peaked and most countries copied this style. American Cubs shifted to baseball caps in 1980.

Figure 2.--French Scouts were the first to wear berets. Many other Scout groups have since also began to wear berets.


Argueably the most popular part of the Scout uniform is the kerchief or Scout scarf. Baden Powell suggested that a kerchief be worn for a variety of reasons. Some other early Scouters were not convinced that it was necessary. The kerchief, however, proved popular with the boys and was retaned. In fact, most other major uniformed groups which followed the Scouts, including the Hitler Youth and Young Pioneers, also adopted kerchiefs. Many Scouts today no longer wear recognizeable uniforms often wear the Scout kerchiefs. Early Scouts and Cubs all wore the same kechiefs, but in many countries different groups of Scouts wear group kerchiefs.


The original Scout shirts were khaki or other military colors. The shirts also commonly had military features suvch as epelets and pocket flaps. Gradually Scouts in various countries have adopted brighter-colored shirts. American and British Scoutsd, however, have genrally continued to wear militaty-looking colors. Some shirts came without collars to make ir easier to wear kerchiefs. Otherwise the Scout had to decide to wear the kerchief under or over the collar. Cubs and other Scout levels in most countries wear destinctive colored shirts. Many Scout associations adopted "T"-shirt or activity shirts for strnous activities during the summer.


Sweaters are used as part of some uniforms. The most important use of sweaters has been by British Cubs which for decades wore green sweaters. Some other Scouts also wore sweatrs such as the British Seacouts and French Scouts, but geberally sweaters were not a common part of Scout uniforms. In part this was because the boys did not want to cover up the unit badges and rank parches on their shirts.


Sweatshirts were introduced by some Scout and Cub groups in the 1980s. They were generally used for informal activity wear. Some countries have begun using them instead of sweaters because of thevlower cost.


The original Scout pants introduced by Baden Powell were short pants. This was an inovative step replacing the kneepants commonly worn by boys at the tun of the 20th Century. Scouts and Cubs in virtually every country for decades wore short pants, even during the winter. America was virtually the only country where Scouts did not commonly wear shorts. American Scouts and Cubs wore mostly knickers, but changed to long pants in the 1940s. The American Scout Association promoted short pants, especially for summer wear, but American Scouts did not commonly begin wearing them until the 1970s. Ironically thisd was about the time that many foreign Scouts began wearing long pants. The English Scouts changed to long pantts in 1969 and many European Scouts gradually began wearing long pants or jeans in the 1970s and by the 1980s short pants were not commonly worn by European Scouts. Cuns still commonly wore shorts, but even Cubs in the 1990s have begun wearing longpants.


At this time HBU's information about kilts is incomplete. The kilt is generally asociated with Scottish Scouts who commonly wear them. The kilt is worn by many Scottish Scouts, especially for dress occassions. Scottish Scouts also wear them to international events like Jamborees. When roughing it, the kilt is usually put away and more conventional uniforms worn. Scottish Cubs have also worn kiklts, but not as commonly as the older Scouts. We also note that Irish Scouts can wear a saffron or green kilt as an option, but in fact few do. Those that do always choose safron. There are probably other countries where the kilt is worn, but we do not have details at this time.


The original Scout unifrm designed by Baden Powell include turn-over-top socks or kneesocks. This was an important improvement over the longstockings that boys had worn up and tell that point. Kneesocks were much easier to wear and take care of than long stockings. Scouts and Cubs for decades continued to wear kneesocks. Some French Scouts after World War II wore ankle socks, but kneesocks continued to be worn by most Scout groups. They have declined in recent years as boys have shifted mostly to long pants. Also Scouts who wore shorts often began wearing non-official anjlel socks, often white socks. Even American Scouts began wearing short socks with the summer short pants uniform in the late 1990s.


Early British Scouts wore boot-like shoes. Most Scouts wore oxford-style shoes. Boots were often worn for hiking and camping. American Scouts began to common wear sneakers in the 1970s, although leater shoes were required for the dress uniform. Many European Scouts commonly wear hikong boots. Cubs have generally wore the same kind of shoes as the Scouts. English Cubs though often wore school sandals. English and other European Scout have worn Wellies in wet weather.


Scouts over the years have used a wide range of accesories. As Scout associations became more instituionalized, they would market official accedssory iyems--just as they did official uniform items. It is interesting to compare the accessories worn over the years.


Insignias were adopted for Scout uniforms from the very beginning and proved emensly popular.


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Created: November 15, 1998
Last updated: January 25, 2002