Scout uniforms: Uncool?

A few weeks ago I discussed the advantages of being a uniformed troop. Following this method of Scouting is important to keep your Scouts looking, feeling and acting like an actual Boy Scout troop and not merely a collection of adolescents who go camping.

But what if they feel it’s uncool to wear a uniform?

A recent post on Scouting Magazine’s blog considered the situation where older Scouts were not only reluctant to wear their uniforms in public, but were actually told by their Scoutmaster not to, because they would be, as he put it, committing “social suicide” to be seen in the uniform of the Boy Scouts of America. Scouters from across the nation weighed in on the matter with opinions, as you might expect, all over the map. It’s particularly pertinent given the fact that many thousands of Scouts appeared in public, in uniform, this past weekend at Memorial Day parades, observances and service projects. It’s well accepted that Cub Scouts are commonly seen in uniform not only at den and pack meetings but on outings to the fire station, nature center or when doing service projects. Even younger Boy Scouts don’t think twice about it. But, sometime around middle school, boys get the impression that it’s “geeky” or otherwise socially awkward to be seen by anyone other than their parents or other Scouts in a Boy Scout uniform.

Perhaps some of the perceived reaction that Scouts get about being identified with Scouting is because they feel that the “rest of the world” thinks Scouting is uncool. Face it, the impression most people have is that Boy Scouts is about tying knots and helping old ladies across the street. (Not that there’s anything wrong with those things!) If everyone, particularly young people, knew all the cool stuff that Scouts do – high adventure, climbing, ziplining, kayaking, camping on islands in the ocean, not to mention all the great opportunities coming at the Summit like downhill mountain biking, skateboarding and whitewater rafting, and new merit badges like game design and programming – they’d feel differently.

Furthermore, not everyone in uniform is “uncool.” Certainly sports teams, marching bands, lifeguards, police officers and firefighters aren’t. And how about our military? As one of our neighbors, Scoutmaster Gary Marquardt of Troop 457 in Saline, reminds us: Next time you think the uniform looks “geeky”, find a member of the Armed Services and tell them that their uniform looks geeky. I’m sure they would like to have a conversation with you about your opinion.

Regardless of what’s on the outside of one’s uniform, it’s what’s inside that counts. The kind of person a boy is (hopefully) doesn’t change whether he is in or out of uniform. If he’s a cool kid with cool friends doing cool things, that doesn’t change. The best defense against the impression of being uncool is just to be yourself regardless of the situation or regardless of what you’re wearing. When people start noticing cool kids doing cool things in a Scout uniform, that impression will vanish.

Some outreach, education, enlightenment and PR can go a long way to changing these perceptions. We need to be out in the community – at public events, in the local papers and web news sites, community TV – and it all starts with the units. Get photos and stories about your unit’s latest adventures “out there” in front of the public, whether it’s a campout on the field of a minor league baseball stadium, going cave exploring or climbing the Tooth of Time.

One troop or pack can make a big difference in your community, but when Scouting units across the country start to show off what we’re really made of to the rest of the world, the world’s impression of Scouting will change. And the day may come when a young man no longer needs to feel awkward in front of his peers just because he’s wearing the uniform of the world’s largest youth movement.


5 Responses to Scout uniforms: Uncool?

  1. I’m all about proper uniforming, but I do have one thing to think about. As much as possible, the Scouting Program should be Boy-Led, with the boys having as much input as possible into how the program is run.

    If the Scout uniform was being designed today from scratch, what would the boys in the program have to say about it, and what would they want to see in a uniform. I know, we just went thru some changes with the Centennial uniform, and some tweaks after that. But how much of those decisions were based on the input of the scouts themselves.

    I’d like to see the BSA find some way to gather input from the youth, and get a representative sample of them as a focus group on what they think a Uniform should look like. Obviously, there would be some guidance to make sure it doesn’t go completely off the rails, but I bet it would look a lot different than it does today.

  2. Larry G, UC

    There is always a fine line between respecting tradition and keeping the program current and contemporary with the needs of today’s youth.

    Uniforms of all organizations change and adapt over time, just look at the military uniforms as but one example

    IF we didn’t have 100 years of scouting history what would our uniform look like if it was designed today?

    Truth is mostly people with gray hair sit around in conference rooms make the uniform decisions and rules and they must not perceive the uniform to be a barrier to membership with older youth or it would be reasonable to expect they would have conducted focus groups and worked out a solution that would eliminate barriers to membership.

  3. Larry Geiger

    “As much as possible, the Scouting Program should be Boy-Led, with the boys having as much input as possible into how the program is run.” Parsing this statement, I think that many of us would have very different interpretations of what it says.

    The Scouting Program, as implemented by a local unit, is boy led. The Scouting Program, however, is not designed by boys. It is designed by adults with adult goals in mind. It is absolutely imperative that this be understood. Children do not design school. Adults do. Children do not design safety car seats. Adult safety experts do. Children do not design family menus. Adult moms and dads do.

    The Scouting Program has designed into it goals that are beyond the comprehension of 11 year old boys. The uniform is designed the way it is for a reason. That it is liked or preferred by boys is not the only factor in the design descision. The rules and uniforms of Little League are derived from college and professional baseball and designed by adults. On purpose.

    The design of the Scouting Program is not a democratic process, nor should it be. It is designed by competent adults taking into account important adult goals and aims.

    I personally like the direction the current and recently previous uniform designers have taken. I like the green pants and tan shirt and most of the other basics of the uniform. It is distinctive, stylish, practical, tasteful, and modest. It is also somewhat configurable. Neckerchiefs, insignia, hats, etc. can all be used to make a uniform distinctive.

  4. Larry Geiger

    “what they think a Uniform should look like.” I would also like to say that it’s not entirely what the uniform “looks like”. Scouting has 8 methods. The uniform is distinctively one of those methods. The uniform also reflects the other 7 methods.
    1. Outdoor. The uniform is not ideal in all outdoor activities, but it is still uniquely outdoor apparel.
    2. Advancement. The uniform provides a canvas (:-)) on which individual advancement is displayed.
    3. Adult Interaction. Direct adult leaders wear the uniform. It is almost exactly the same as the youth uniform. The Troop leader is the SPL and the SM does not have a special chief or leader uniform distinct from the Scouts. Adult leaders are not Scouts but neither do they “run” the local unit program. This is reflected in the uniform.
    4. Patrols. The uniform distinguishes units and patrols. It is also customizable by patrols (neckerchiefs, hats, temporary insignia, etc.). It also promotes comaraderie within the patrol, helping to remove distracting distinctions between Scouts.
    5. Ideals. All of the insignia on the uniform reinforces the ideals. The Scout Badge. Rank badges. The Flag. The Loyal ideal from the Scout Law is reinforced by the entire uniform.
    6. Personal Growth. An individual Scout, who is trained by his unit and parents, in the proper care of his uniform and who participates directly in the care of his uniform (sewing badges on, cleaning, ironing, etc) is growing in responsibility.
    7. Leadership. Patrol and Troop leadership is distinguished by the uniform. Proper care and wearing of the uniform helps to distinguish leaders. Proper leaders are given the opportunity to distinguish themselves by proper uniforming and setting an example.

    I am absolutely sure that I could go on for several more paragraphs, but hopefully my point is made. The uniform, like all 8 methods are important parts of the Scouting Program and they are intertwined and all workd together to achieve the Aims of Scouting.

  5. Larry Geiger

    Ok, maybe I did not make my point above :-)

    The point was that the way the uniform “looks” to a boy is not the only criteria on which Scouting uniform design is based. It is based on all 8 methods of Scouting and the Aims of Scouting.