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: