"The correct wearing of the Uniform and smartness of turnout of the individual Scout makes him a credit to our Movement. It shows his pride in himself and in his Troop. One slovenly Scout, on the other hand, inaccurately dressed may let down the whole Movement in the eyes of the public. Show me such a fellow and I can show you one who has not grasped the true Scouting spirit and who takes no pride in his membership of our great Brotherhood." – Lord Robert Baden-Powell, "Scouting for Boys"
Ever since Scouting was founded, the uniform has been one of the biggest symbols of Scouting around the world. In the first Scout organization in England, Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, established an official uniform which he debuted in his book, "Scouting for Boys". This uniform was strongly based upon the military uniform which was evolved for practical use in South Africa. Because of his experience in the Boer War, Baden-Powell knew how important a well-designed uniform was. He knew it would not only help bind the brotherhood of Scouts together, but it would serve as a very important visual to the rest of the world of who Scouts were and what they stood for.
As Scouting organizations were started in other countries, they adopted uniforms of their own. Often these uniforms were very similar to Baden-Powell's design, but many times they had important changes which distinguished them.
Why is the uniform important?
One of the biggest reasons the Scout uniform has been very important in the Scout movement is the reputation it carries. Consider what Baden-Powell said in "Aids to Scoutmastership":
"Smartness in uniform and correctness in detail may seem a small matter, but has, its value in the development of self-respect, and means an immense deal to the reputation of the Movement among outsiders who judge by what they see"
Scouts are, by nature, active not passive. They are active in their communities and their towns. When people see them, the uniform draws their curiosity. Instead of seeing a handful of boys picking up trash in a park, they see a part of a unified group. The uniform points to the fact that there is something bigger behind Scouting than just the individual members. There are ideals and principles that bind them together and make them strong.
If people haven't heard about Scouting, the uniform makes them want to learn more. The uniform has probably been the greatest single recruitment factor of Scouting.
Another, perhaps even bigger, factor that makes the uniform so important in Scouting is the effect it has on the one wearing it. Whenever I wear a Scout Uniform in a public place without other Scouts around, I feel a lot more self-conscious than I usually do. I feel like people are looking at me, and they are. The uniform draws attention, and I know how I act is going to reflect on Scouting's reputation. I think a little bit more about what I'm about to do or say. Wearing that uniform makes me that much more aware of my obligation to live up to the Scout Oath and Law.
William Hillcourt, a great American Scouter, said this about the Scout Uniform:
"Your Boy Scout uniform is part of the thrill of being a Scout. Put on your uniform, and immediately you feel ready for a hike or camp or other vigorous Scouting activity.
It is not absolutely necessary to wear a uniform to prove yourself a Scout. The important thing is – of course – that you live Scouting in your daily life. And yet, the uniform helps you to be a better Scout. Dressed as a Scout you want to act like one. Besides, a uniform makes Scouting easier for you because it is comfortable and can stand all kinds of hard use." – William Hillcourt, Boys' Life Magazine, January 1959
Scout Uniforms of the Past
Instead of just describing the Scout uniforms of the past. I would like to present them visually via some historical photographs. These images are from the archive of the Boys' Life Magazine.
Uniforms of the Present and Future
Contrasted to the uniforms of the past, here is what the current Scout uniform of the Boy Scouts of America looks like. These images were taken from the Facebook page of the B.S.A.:
As you can see, Scout uniforms haven't changed a whole lot, but there certainly are some differences. This brings up the question as to what Scout uniforms should look like in the future. It is on this topic that I would like your opinions. Do you think the Scout Uniform should change with the times? Do you like the older uniforms better or the current ones? What would you like to see change in future versions of the Scout Uniform and how do you think stylistic changes affect the reputation and pride of Scouts?
Thank you for reading this post! Whether you are an older Scout, younger Scout, Scout volunteer, or not a Scout at all, I would love to hear you opinion on the current and past uniforms of the Scouting Movement. What changes (if any), would you like to see and why?
"Every Patrol Leader always has the choice of which kind of Patrol he is going to lead. Don’t think I am decrying smartness: and efficiency. I am not; but it needs to be smartness and efficiency based on true outdoor Scouting. After all, the surest way to keep your uniform smart is never to wear it at all! Some Scouts do it that way. Not nearly enough Scouts and not nearly enough Patrols meet out of doors more often than they meet indoors." – The Patrol Leaders' Handbook by John Thurman