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Issue 366 – October 13, 2013


So here I am, with some time to spare between Scouting events, my family’s goings-on, and business priorities. I’m happily reading another issue of a Scouting blog—an official one, in fact. I’ve been reading its issues for some time now. Pretty good stuff, by-and-large. But this one’s different. Near the bottom of a short piece on uniforming, here’s what I come across…

“The BSA has never said and likely will never say that you must wear the field uniform at all times. If your unit is conducting a service project or taking a weekend backpacking trip, leave the field uniform shirt on the hanger at home.”

Well, yes… I’m painfully aware that the Twelfth Edition (2009) of THE BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK has informed me that there’s been a significant dilution of what I’d considered a standard for the 99 years before its publication. Right there, on page 33, I read, “…wear your uniform to troop meetings, ceremonies like courts of honor, and most other indoor troop functions. When you’re headed outdoors, you can pull on a T-shirt with Scout pants or shorts, or wear other clothing that is right for the events of the day.”

But “never”? Really?

I well remember the days when the handbook contained statements like “The uniform is designed for the outdoorsman” and “The color and design of the Scout uniform make it the ideal clothing for outdoor adventures.” Or do I? Maybe I’d better check. After all, I’ve rather ingloriously reached that wonderful age where memory “hiccups” are more and more commonplace. So here I go…

I still have my own HANDBOOK FOR BOYS—the book that guided me for some seven years, and beyond. It was the Fifth Edition, first published in 1948 and not replaced until 1959. Mine was the sixth printing, in 1953—the same year I became a Boy Scout.

So let’s start with its cover… and there they are: Two Scouts and one Explorer sitting around a campfire. Hey, look! They’re all in uniform! Turning to the chapter titled “Signs of a Scout,” I flip to pages 50 and 51. There it is: “The Scout Uniform—What it Stands For… The Scout uniform stands for the out-of-doors (italics in the handbook). It is made of rugged, tough material, that is suited for outdoor use… Wear it when you go Scouting… (and) in all Scouting activities such as Patrol, Troop, and Tribe meetings, hikes, camps, demonstrations, etc.” I flip through other pages in my handbook, looking for Scouts in the outdoors who’ve left their uniforms home, on hangers in the closet. Care to guess how many illustrations I found like this? Yup, you guessed right: None.

Hey, but that was back in ancient times! Maybe not the Jurassic Period, but pretty close to the Stone Age. Let’s do some more searching. After all, “never” can cover a lot of turf.

Now I’m looking at the Sixth Edition (1959-1965). There’s the cover again, with a Scout in full uniform. Hey, wait a minute—what’s this? He’s wearing a…it can’t be…a backpack! Maybe he’s wearing it to a troop meeting? Nope, I don’t think so, because, in the background there are other scenes of Scouts camping and hiking and such…and they’re in their uniforms too. I turn to page 20: “Your uniform is a part of the thrill of being a Scout. The moment you put it on you feel ready for hike or camp or other vigorous activity… The (uniform) color blends with the hues of forest and field.” What, you mean the color wasn’t designed to blend with the motley array of stuff in my closet, or with the inside of a troop meeting room? Well how about that!

But hey, we’re still in the dark ages. Six more editions of the handbook have been published since these two. I’d better do some more checking, even though that little remark about “The BSA has never said you should wear your uniform at all times” has already been proven inaccurate.

The Seventh Edition ran from 1965 to 1972. The cover of this one shows three Scouts on the trail, with backpacks. They’re in uniform, too, but I can’t see their pants. Maybe, like so many Scouts today, they’re wearing jeans, khakis, or something else below the waist? Gotta check some more here…

Turns out, all the illustrations show Scouts in the out-of-doors in uniform (I guess they haven’t forgotten the Scout pants and shorts after all!). And there is it, on page 56: “Put on your uniform and immediately you feel ready for hiking and camping.” I read on. Page 57: “The uniform (is) the clothing of the outdoorsman.” Well, that seems pretty clear to me! But we’re not done yet…

The Eighth Edition (1972-1979) represented a complete revamping of the Boy Scout program, and had two different covers (the second one arriving in about 1977). The illustrations, while newly drawn, continued to show uniformed Scouts in camping and hiking settings. But the language on uniforming (page 14) got shorter and less specific: “Your uniform is neat, yet tough. It will give good service during the years you are a Scout.” The version with the second cover says even less, but the cover itself now clearly tells the story: There’s our Scout, in his uniform, and—guess what—he’s carrying a backpack.

Next, I move to a more contemporary era. The Ninth Edition (1979-1990) was entirely rewritten by none other than William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt. Let’s take a look at the cover. It’s by Norman Rockwell, depicting Scouts on a camp-out, and guess what they’re wearing—Scout uniforms! On page 52 Bill returned to earlier language: “Wearing the Scout Uniform—Wear it at all patrol and troop meetings, hikes, camps, and rallies.”

In the Tenth Edition (1990-1998), “wearing your Scout uniform” moved to the back of the book (pages 566-567) but the language held fast: ‘Wear your complete uniform proudly and correctly at all Scouting events…At patrol and troop meetings, hikes, camps, and rallies.”

The Eleventh Edition (1998-2009) changed the language but not the intent (pages 12-13): “The uniform…might be brand new, or it might be an experienced uniform already worn by another Scout to many meetings and campouts…wear your uniform proudly whenever you are taking part in Scout activities…” But this edition for the first time offers an alternative: “For outdoor activities, Scouts may wear troop or camp T-shirts with the Scout pants or shorts.”

So I guess our blogger was right…and wrong. Yes, today pretty much anything goes; it’s no longer important to look like a Scout when you’re out and about, even though the current uniform pants, with their zip-off legs (converting them to shorts) suggest that these have been made for rugged outdoor use more than for the “ceremonial” stuff that happens indoors. But that little remark about “never” is completely mistaken. For nearly one hundred years, the idea and ideal of wearing the uniform of out movement remained steadfast.

Today, the BSA continues to state: “Since 1910, the Boy Scout uniform has been a recognizable part of the American scene. Wearing the uniform helps boys develop a sense of belonging to their patrol and troop. It reinforces the fact that all members of the BSA are equal to one another.” The uniform, in fact is one of the eight stated methods of Scouting, employed to achieve the movement’s aims of character development, citizenship training, and mental and physical fitness.”

With this in mind, let’s do some quick arithmetic. The average Scout in a normal troop will spend approximately 600 to 700 hours a year involved in Scouting activities, including indoor meetings (troop and patrol meetings, courts of honor, etc.) and outdoor activities (hikes, camp-outs, summer camp, etc.). Of this total time, about 10% will be indoor; 90% will be in the out-of-doors. Based on the recent de-emphasis, the uniform, as a Method of Scouting, can be put to work only about 10% of the total time a boy is involved in Scouting activities. For the remaining 90% of the time, this method is completely absent.

Suppose we applied this “10%” guideline to some of the other Methods of Scouting. What would that mean? What would happen? What would Scouting look like? The answers are…well, you can make up your own mind. Here are a few. How effective and fun would Scouting be if…
 Every 10-hour day hike takes the equivalent of 2-1/2 work-weeks of indoor meetings to prepare for.
 Each year, one in ten Scouts earns a rank or merit badge.
 Of some 40 troop meetings in the average “Scout year,” the Scoutmaster shows up for four.
 In the entire seven years a boy is in a troop, he gets to be a leader for eight months.
 For every week of summer camp, it takes the equivalent of nine solid indoor-only work-weeks to prepare.

Sound silly? You bet! But even worse, it sounds like the most dull and boring program you could possibly design. So much for character development, citizenship training, and the rest.

B-P put it this way: “Yes, a boy can be a Scout, without a uniform. But what boy, with Scouting in his heart, wouldn’t want to wear his Scout uniform?”

Happy Scouting!


Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to Please include your name and council. (If you’d prefer to be anonymous, if published, let me know and that’s what we’ll do.)

[No. 366 – 10/13/2013 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2013]


About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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