A belated happy World Scarf Day! Scout neckerchiefs are the only unique element of the Scout uniform, I don’t know of any other uniformed group that wears neckerchiefs other than Scouts.
As our group prepared for our trip to Switzerland in 2011 our Scouts first asked if they needed to bring their uniforms. I told them they would. Then they asked when they would have to wear them. I told them that they would be wearing their uniforms all the time.
This went over like a lead balloon.
One meeting I was told by the youth leader for the trip that they had voted and that they did not want to wear their uniforms all the time (if at all). Any regular reader of the blog knows that I am thoroughly invested in youth leadership and do not often veto their decisions.
Not this time.
I explained to them that there were several practical reasons that I would insist on a Scout uniform and that it would be worn for the entirety of our trip;
1. In airports, train stations and other public places the Scout uniform is instantly recognized making security checks easier and people more receptive and helpful.
2. When you are in an unfamiliar place with a bunch of your buddies you are tempted to do things that you will not do in a Scout uniform.
3. Moving a group from trains to planes to boats to buses on tight schedules would be much easier if we were all dressed exactly alike. The hat we wore (centennial baseball cap) actually proved to be the most useful part of the uniform for this.
I told them this was absolutely non-negotiable. While I knew that it was likely that I would be able to back down from uniforms all the time it would be much more difficult to start with saying that we’d wear uniforms on certain occasions and not on others.
The Scouts took this in stride. It’s rare that I insist on something over their wishes. When I asked them why they did not want to wear the uniform the only answer I got was ‘it’s uncomfortable’. They didn’t come right out and say ‘I’m embarrassed to wear it’.
You know it, I know it, any Scout leader knows it; many Boy Scouts (especially older Scouts) aren’t thrilled about wearing their uniform.
As our trip progressed I was able to modify our “uniforms all the time” rule to Scout neckerchiefs all the time and trip tee shirts most of the time. This they could live with and even enjoy (the patch and neckerchief we created were popular for trading with other Scouts) .
Those of you who have attended international Scouting events know just about everyone wears a neckerchief with or without the uniform. As a matter of fact at Kandersteg International Scout Center (KISC) the staff, Scouts and rovers wore their neckerchiefs all the time. Some wore two or three different neckerchiefs at the same time. There were lots of different slides (‘woggle’ being the more familiar international term) some folks wore several and many put pins on their neckerchiefs as well. Most neckerchiefs were worn with their ends knotted and, if they had a slide at all, they were not usually worn high on the collar but more open as the pictures below show.
Scouts visit and shop in the village of Kandersteg while at the center and were able to ride the bus for free if there were wearing a neckerchief. In the rare event residents of the village encountered Scouts acting improperly they call the Scout Center and tell the staff there what color neckerchief the miscreants were wearing.
Before we go any further here’s what I am not saying.
I am not saying that I dislike Scout uniforms.
I am not advocating some sweeping policy change or attempting to undermine long standing traditions.
But I do think that a neckerchief makes a great activity uniform and a reasonable, workable compromise Scouts would take to pretty readily. I like the idea of troop tee shirts, but Scouts outgrow them, they don’t outgrow neckerchiefs.
I’d like to change the uniform and insignia guide from ‘The neckerchief is worn only with the official uniform and never with T-shirts or civilian clothing’ to allow for just that.
I know many troops have the tradition of travelling to and from outings in uniform only to change them when they arrive to something more suitable for the activity. We don’t do this because it’s impractical and on eight out of ten trips we’d be wearing jackets or coats covering up the uniform anyway.
Here’s some pictures of international Scouts and their neckerchiefs:
We wore the necker over our activity t-shirts at various times during my Wood Badge course. There were a lot of positive comments about doing such.
John F. Brennan, Jr. says
As for other uniforms having items around the neck while I was in the US Air Force the security police used to wear ascots. When I was in the USAF Reserve we eventually got issued scarves that were worn tucked under the collar of our flight suits and then tucked inside the front zippered portion so you could just see 2 strips on either side just under your chin. I never did understand the idea of a scarf for the flight suit that you had to remove when you went on the flight line because of the chance of it coming loose and being a stray object that could potentially get sucked into an engine. I like the idea of going to a Provincial Jamboree, we are in NH so I will look into that. I agree that councils make $ on national, it was $1800 per scout for our council. That sounded very high to me.
Dave B says
$1800 is cheap. Our council charges $3500 for the jamboree. I can take the whole family on a super nice vacation for that, so unfortunately my son did not go to the jamboree. Do I sound bitter? It’s because I am.
Yikes! Dave, what was included for the $3500? That sounds very steep. Our council (Metro NY) didn’t bracket the Jamboree with any touring and kept the price under $1500. It was certainly fascinating to see units there with matching daypacks, shirts, hats, neckerchiefs, etc but that can really drive up the price!
Dave B says
The scouts get picked up by a private limousine service and are whisked away to a champagne brunch at a waterfront hotel. They then take a horse drawn carriage to the airport, where they fly first class to Dubai for ten days at a luxury resort.
Really, I have no idea how the money is spent, and when I ask I am greeted by silence. The scouts left on Wednesday and arrived at the jamboree site on Sunday. So if I budget $500 for airplane and $200 each for bus… that still means there is another $400 per day per scout for the tour around Washington DC. Which is an absurd amount of money. The best I can figure is that the council must be pocketing about 1/3rd of the jamboree fee for “administration cost”. What do others think?
SM Patrick Thompson says
Neckerchiefs are one of the worldwide items we share with International Scouting. Our BSA neckerchiefs were a hot trading item this year in Kandersteg, Switzerland at the Intl Scout Center (as well as anything with Native Americans, like OA patches or camporee patches). The friendship knot gets around the problem of lost woggles besides being a great friendship tool. Uniform shirts while travelling have saved us many highway tickets, airline hassles and earned us free food/beverages in places that appreciate scouts. Although in a large Swiss city this summer while catching up with the office on some computer time in a café, I was asked whether I was with NSA, being that I had an American flag on my uniform shirt and was on a computer. It was a good moment for some ambassadorship.
Dave B says
Our troop is lucky enough to live within a short drive to Canada, and every four years we attend the Provincial Jamboree in the neighboring province. Every participant gets a necker and that’s what you wear for the week with a t-shirt. The event is a lot of fun and very affordable (affordable in comparison to attending the BSA national jamboree where our council must be making a tidy profit based on what they charge)
The BSA uniform and insignia guide is strange in how it says the necker can only be worn with the uniform. It’s another one of those unnecessary things that gets inserted into a BSA manual and is impossible to have removed.
F. Brown says
I think your proposal is a great idea. Although I am very proud of the scout uniform, sometimes it is impractical to wear it. Here in Texas, it gets up to 100+ degrees and, let’s face it, those uniform shirts get HOT. The wearing of a troop t-shirt with a troop neckerchief would still foster the sense of team with the neckerchief giving the subtle reminder that the boy is a scout and should behave as such.
Dave Davies says
Having just been to the Kent International Jamboree in the UK, my son and I spent most of the week in various scout Tshirts. The compulsory dress of the day was a subcamp neckerchief (necker). This included a day trip to London. The neckerchief made our group instantly
recognizable as scouts. Whilst I remain an advocate of wearing full uniform I liked the way the necker was worn at all times and so would also support your proposal.
David Hull says
THe Scout Scarf is a valuable piece of the Scouting uniform. It is both common to all scouts and unique amongst your troop.
At a recent region camp with some 600 scouts from 30 odd troops across half our city, the wearing of our troop scarf was helpful in identifying our own – and others who we wanted to catch up with. The wearing of scarf also provided a certain level of security, as those that were not wearing a scarf could be questioned on their behaviour and potentially identified as outsiders coming into the camp.
We were also in a bush camp and many scouts (and leaders) forget that a simple piece of first-aid equipment is around our neck – a triangle bandage that can be folded to a flat bandage or pressure pad or spread out as a comfort blanket
Volker Griesser says
Without the uniform the patrol or troop will look like just another bunch of kids. The uniform is not just a practical garment (as yours hopefully is), but also a way of building a team. It is something to take pride in and to show others that you belong to a special group of people. Others will notice who you are and what you are. They will respect you for it as the uniform is a symbol for the values that you as a Scout stand for. It shows that you are adecent fellow who can be trusted.
They will not do that to any other homie.
Clarke Green says
That’s not my experience at all. I wouldn’t want Scouts who rejected someone because they didn’t have a uniform (Scouts are never required to either own or wear a uniform) or instinctively respected someone because they did. I’d rather that they judged someone on the content of their character.
Warren C says
Let me try that one again. The scouts did not look neat and clean after their outing. The SPL knew this and it was his decision on this to choose what the troop would wear in to the establishment. He chose the scout uniform with a neckerchief. Of the nine scout on this outing two are Eagls and three others have completed NYLT. Two are serving on NYLT staff for the seconed year in a row. The SPL is their elected leader I am only a spectator in the game of scouting. As they entered each scout went to the restroom and washed both hands and face. They may have been a little cleaner and yes they did look better in a full uniform but after two days on the trail they still smelled like the mountians.
Also when the troop elects a SPL every six months he passes his neckerchief on to the new SPL. This neckerchief has been around since the troop first began some 20 years ago. The SPLs have worn the same neckerchief for the last five years. There is no other neckerchief as old or honored as the SPLs. This is a tradition the scouts began on their own.
I belived the SPL would make the right decision and I had to trust him. They are his scouts.
My son asked me the other day why we had to put on our class As for all meals at Scout Camp. I told him that a part of the Scout law is ‘Clean’. Learning to keep your uniform clean during activities will help you remain clean in all your activities. It’s a practical way to teach a lesson behind the scenes, which is what Scouting really does all the time.
Clarke Green says
You pretty much lost me on that one. Clean isn’t bad, but uniforms for every meal at camp? (there are no classes of uniform, BTW) It would take me some time to get used to that or to see much merit in it.
Warren cofield says
Two weeks ago we were on our way home from a backpacking trip. As always the troop stops for burgers at a very popular hamburger stand in a more than popular tourist town. The scouts were wearing their class B or activity shirts. This was a reward for hitting the trail on time. Nine scouts stood along side of the road for a head count. I reminded the scouts that on the back of their bright red shirts was printed their home town and troop number . The scouts were a mees as they should be after playing,hiking and sleeping on the ground in the woods for two days. Then from the sky above the one scout which did his best to never wear his uniform in public spoke the words I thought I would never hear. ” Scoutmaster we look kinda skuzzy. Could we please wear our class A uniforms” I about fell over. This scout is the troop SPL. I was very proud of his decision and reminded him he always has my support. They all put on their scout shirts and as we headed in I asked the SPL if this was his first scout shirt. He had grown so mch in the past four years the shirt could no longer be tucked in to his pants. He said yes and would let his parents know that he had out grown this one.
I saw his father a few hours later and I told him the story. I thought the dad was going to cry. His smile was just the best.
The scout has done alot more than just out grow a shirt.
Clarke Green says
A reward for hitting the trail on time is not wearing your uniform? So the penalty was wearing the uniform? Sounds a little upside down to me.
Dan Lee says
Great paycheck a good Scout leader!
I may be misreading this but I think Warren was rewarding the boys with a stop at a burger joint not relaxing his uniform policy.
Great discussion and I particularly like the idea of an SPL-unique neckerchief to be passed along.
Doug Young says
When I was a Den Chief at Cub Scout Day Camp (many moons ago), one of my cohorts used this method to keep track of a particularly active, bouncy cub (one whom today would be labelled ADHD). Instead of making a big deal out of this cub scout’s inability to sit still, my friend handed the cub his own troop neckerchief, which the cub wore all week with pride! It allowed the cub scout to feel proud, and allowed the den chief to see him from a distance. It was a win-win, and it worked so well that the troop provided the den chief with a new necker so the cub could keep his original.
In my new troop we are custom silkscreening our own shirts *and* neckers (three different troop shirts, worn by patrol). One of the shirts we are making is going to be the same color as the uniform, with the rolled necker silk screened directly onto the shirt (front and back) similar to a “tuxedo t-shirt”.
I love the idea of keeping the necker on at all times.
Shane A. Stillwell says
The uniform is considered old fashioned and slightly embarrassing by some, but I believe in it wholly.
I recently had the privilege of being the Scoutmaster for a Jamboree continent from our council. My policy was “when you stop on/off the bus, you will be wearing your full uniform”. On our way, we stopped at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Our scouts had to wait outside the stadium while we picked up the tickets. A Wrigley Field employee happened to see them and was impressed with their behavior, so he emailed our Scout Exec, who forwarded the email to me. Made me very proud to hear the comments about my well behaved scouts. This is one of many incidences where the uniform has been a witness to the good that is Scouting.
Let me go off on another trend with uniforms that I see and really don’t understand. I will see scouts put a uniform on only to do an opening flag ceremony, then take it off right afterward (they had the uniform on for a whole 2 minutes). This puzzles me. If you are going to wear the uniform, wear it, if not, then don’t. You don’t get any points for wearing a uniform during a flag ceremony.
Clarke Green says
We don’t hand out points for anything to begin with, right?
Shane A. Stillwell says
Right… just a figure of speech.
I picked up the casual wear of a neckerchief at World Scout Jamboree in 2007, often wearing both my official BSA/USA scarf with my Jambo-issued Staff neckerchief, replete with the friendship knot.
At the recent National Jamboree I wore a Summit neckerchief all the time. No Neckerchief Police busted me – and I taught the friendship knot to a couple of scouts. Coolest thing about the friendship knot rather than a slide or woggle, is that one scout can tie it for another – fostering friendship.
James Chaplin says
The history behind the use of the neckerchief is equally interesting. BP took the idea from an American friend, Major Frederick Russell Burnham, whom BP serving together in Matableleland in 1896 (Southern Africa}. Burnham was a true American Cowboy, having served as a scout in the US Army during the Indian wars. He had come to Africa to serve in the British Army as a Scout and always wore a “bandana’ or neckerchief. BP took the idea and applied it to the South African Constable uniform, that later became the foundation of the scout uniform today. This without question, the neckerchief is an American idea.
David Green says
I’ve never been a fan of wearing neckerchiefs. In fact, I was looking forward to turning 18 so I wouldn’t have to wear one again. Adults in our troop wore bolo, open collar dor the green tie (70s). However, you made some great points! The neckerchief certainly identifies us as scouts and provide some sun protection too! You’ve sold me on the idea!
Bill Macfarlane says
You’ve got my vote for the change (as long as we can use our own woggle)
Jennifer Oravetz says
I agree with the change you propose. At Intercamp in the Netherlands this year our boys ended up doing just that. Scarf exchange is a big part of the experience too, but we laid down the law on that one, if they did it they would be considered out of uniform and would have to buy another scarf.
As for uniformed groups that wear neck scarfs, air hostesses?
Our troop voted not to wear neckerchiefs. They really wanted to switch to Buffs with our troop logo on them. So they adopted the Buff headgear as the troop hat (allowed by the uniform police).
Here’s a cool photo that shows the many different ways they can wear the Buff:
Not only do the scouts think this is cool, it is practical. It protects against the sun, wind, and even temperature.