Thoughts on Uniforming: Part II -- Practical (a)
Thomas H. Harbold CSB, M.T.S. (tharbold@NS1.WMDC.EDU)
Thu, 16 Apr 1998 17:40:36 -0400
First I must apologize that this is so long in coming; my original intent
had been to post the second part within 24 hours of the first, but events
conspired against that plan. Hoping that late is better than never, I shall
Those who read the first part will remember my comment to the effect that
the section of the Boy Scout Handbook dealing with uniforms and uniforming
had been hidden back around Chapter 23. Well, I was wrong about that...
it's actually Chapter 24. Worse yet is the fact that, with very few if any
exceptions, all of the "action shots" of Scouts doing their thing in the
Handbook -- and nearly all of the illustrations -- show Scouts in the
so-called "activity uniform."
[See Part I for my thoughts on uniforms -vs- "gear." Also, if the
"dorkiness quotient" is an issue, the "activity uniform" isn't much
improvement over the real uniform -- the days of preppy polo shirts being
"in" for Scout-age boys has long passed.]
At the risk of sounding like Foghorn Leghorn, how, I say *how*, are we
supposed to convince Scouts that uniforming is important when the very
Handbook doesn't show Scouts practicing their Scoutcraft skills, camping,
hiking, etc., in uniform??? Still, I have to sympathize. There's a very
good reason for that: the fact that the present uniform is not really
designed or intended for use in the field.
Think about that for a minute. Consider it. Ponder the implications. For
the first time in some eight decades, the uniform of the Boy Scouts of
America is not designed or constructed to be appropriate for field use.
That's not to say that it's not a perfectly nice uniform, for dress
occasions; in fact, there's no reason it can't be retained as an option for
just that function -- particularly for leaders, both adult leaders and for
(let's say) SPLs, OA members, Eagle Scouts, etc. But it's not a *field*
uniform, and that's a problem.
What we need is a field uniform in the old style: one which looks sharp
enough to not be ashamed to wear at a Court of Honor or other formal,
public function, but yet one which is sturdy enough, roomy enough, and
otherwise designed to be practical for field use. What shall we use as our
criteria for such a uniform? Well, those who read the first part will
remember that I quoted the section on the uniform from the 1962 Boy Scout
Handbook. In case you don't have Part I, I will quote it again here:
The Boy Scouts of America is the largest uniformed body of volunteers in
the world. This very moment, more than five million boys and leaders belong
to the Boy Scout movement in the United States and wear the Scout uniform
Your uniform is part of the thrill of being a Scout. The moment you put
it on you feel ready for hike or camp or other vigorous Scout activity.
The Scout uniform stands for the brotherhood of Scouting, for the Scout
ideals, and for outdoor life. The color blends with the hues of forest and
field. The design is made for comfort, for freedom of action, and for
health. Every Scout wears the same uniform -- it is a badge of democracy,
an emblem of service.
To the public, the uniform proclaims aloud, "Here is a boy who is a
Scout" -- the people know that only a boy who is a full-fledged member of
the Boy Scouts of America has the right to wear the Boy Scout uniform.
Now then, as I also said in my conclusion to Part I, if we're going to say
that "the moment you put [the uniform] on you feel ready for hike or camp
or other vigorous Scout activity," that it "stands for... outdoor life,"
that "the color blends with the hues of forest and field," and that "the
design is made for comfort, for freedom of action, and for health," we'd
better be able to deliver on those promises.
Those promises will be my premises in discussing, for the rest of this
"treatise," how we might create a more appropriate uniform. If you don't
accept the premises, you might not like my conclusions either (you might
not, anyway!), but I hope you'll at least find it interesting.
If there was one word into which I could condense all of the traits listed
above, that word would be PRACTICAL. The uniform has got to be *practical*.
That means that it has to be several things: ECONOMICAL, WEARABLE (comfort
and cut), and DURABLE for the various Scout activities: hiking, climbing,
running, stalking, etc. It also has to, I believe, "blend with the hues of
forest and field," in the words of the '62 Handbook -- that is essential in
a SCOUT uniform.
Let's deal with ECONOMY first, and get it out of the way. Someone mentioned
in another thread that the campaign hat was "a little pricey," or words to
that effect. That's one way of putting it. The fact is that the uniform,
period, is "a little pricey" -- in fact, it's a lot pricey, enough so that
that fact alone probably keeps some Scouts from wearing all of it (i.e.,
pants). Some uniform pieces cost more than comparable items from Land's
End, L.L. Bean, or similar sources. That, pardon me for saying so, is
Folks, if we're going to -- as we ought -- expect the Scout to pay for his
own uniform, or at least contribute to its purchase, we need to find ways
to bring the price down. That's why, while I fully agree with the person
who suggested that our uniforms should be made in the U.S.A. -- that's key
-- I disagree that it should be union-made as a requirement. They should be
made by whoever can provide the best value for the money, whether the
producer is unionized or not.
Next is the matter of COLOR: the uniform should "blend with the hues of
forest and field," so that whether the Scout is stalking his fellow Scouts,
hiding from them, sneaking up on wildlife for observation or photography,
or whatever, he is as inconspicuous as possible. The uniform should also
provide the psychological effect of making the Scout feel ready to "become
part of nature." The current uniform is not completely off-base in this
regard -- light khaki/tan and dark olive are both "natural" colors -- but
I'm not sure the two-tone effect is either necessary or desirable.
I suggest, instead, a single-color uniform of dark khaki: a color
approximately midway between the two present colors, one which would not
look terribly out of place in the North Woods (or Pacific Northwest) or the
desert Southwest. I'm sorry I can't include color swatches in this! But
anyone who gets one of the "outdoor clothing" catalogs such as I mentioned
above probably has a pretty good sense of this color: "safari" jackets and
the like are often produced in it. Making the uniform a single color might
also provide the psychological boost to uniforming of making it seem to be
*one* uniform, rather than two isolated components, on of which one can be
Another note regarding color: let's begin to de-emphasize red, except as
trim. The jac-shirt is a special case: it is an institution in Scouting,
and furthermore has a good deal of heritage attached to it from the "North
Woods" days of American outdoorsmanship. But there's no reason
windbreakers, ponchos, the front of caps, and equipment covers need to be
red. As my comments above suggest, a Troop or Patrol of Scouts should be
inconspicuous, if not invisible, in the woods or field, and that's hard to
do when they look like a bunch of bipedal fire-engines!
Now then, rather than treat Wearability and Durability in separate,
isolated sections -- in point of fact, they can't really be separated --
I'm going to incorporate both into two different sections: first,
MATERIALS, and second, descriptions of specific, suggested uniform
Here's where I'm probably gonna draw the most flak. Let the fun begin! ;-)
It is my firmly-held belief that Scout uniform components should as often
as possible be made of exclusively or primarily natural fibres. There are
many reasons for this: psychologically, it all ties in with the "one with
nature" ethos which we should be helping to instill in our boys. I can tell
you from personal experience, and I'm sure many of you will agree, that
it's harder to "blend and flow" with the natural world when one is encased
in a synthetic coccoon.
(Recycling and/or disposal is also an issue when one is dealing with
synthetics: they don't biodegrade properly, they're problematic to
incinerate, they don't make good candidates for the "rag bag," they take up
room in the landfills.)
Natural fibres are also more breathable than synthetics, and (assuming the
right match between fabric and season) they keep the wearer warmer in
winter and cooler in summer than any but the most expensive synthetic
equivalents (and I would personally say, than *any* synthetic). Finally,
from a woods-movement perspective, natural fibres are also quieter to move
in than nearly all synthetics -- useful for stalking, tracking, hiding,
etc., as well as nature observation in general.
So let us presume, for the purposes of this essay, that the Scout uniform
should be made exclusively or chiefly of natural fibres. Given the fact
that flax-based linen is rare and expensive, and that hemp cloth has some
issues attached to it due to mis-use of the hemp plant by some misguided
individuals, that basically leaves cotton and wool. That's just fine,
because it suits my preferred breakdown in uniforms: not between dress and
"activity" uniforms -- any Scout uniform worth its salt should be suitable
for either -- but between summer or warm-weather and winter or cold-weather
Someone mentioned (I'm sorry I can't cite the specific individual, my
SCOUTS-L mailbox is on my 'puter at home) that, in the context of
hypothermia, "cotton kills." Well, yes, it does -- but it doesn't kill at
random, it kills only when and where hypothermia is an issue. And, I would
hasten to add, one of the worst offenders in this regard is denim jeans...
which are very typically worn in preference to uniform pants.
Therefore, I would recommend a summer/warm-weather uniform being made of
cotton (wrinkle-resistant and crease-retaining all-cotton weaves do exist)
or a cotton-synthetic blend with a minimum cotton content of 65%, and
preferably of 85%. I would suggest a heavyweight cotton for the pants, a
lightweight cotton for short-sleeved shirt, and a medium-weight cotton for
long-sleeved "intermediate" weather shirts.
Conversely, I would suggest that winter/cold-weather uniforms should be
made of a wool-blend containing not less than 65% (for warmth) and not more
than 85% (for shape retention) wool. A "summer" cotton shirt could be worn
with wool trousers, but if so, a wool uniform jacket (patterned similarly
to a "safari" or "BDU" jacket) should be worn over the shirt -- see
"Components," below. If there is any doubt at all of the conditions to be
encountered, Scouts should be encouraged, if not required, to take along
wool uniforms to change into.
Yes, this may mean that every Scout in the country may need (at least) two
uniforms -- so where's the economy? Well, economy is not just cheapness,
it's value for the money. If the uniforms are well-made, durable, wearable,
and smart-looking, and if we "sell" uniforming as I suggested in Part I, I
suspect that Scouts and/or their parents will be willing to pay to be
properly and appropriately uniformed. It's not surprising that they're not
now, when uniforms, or parts thereof, are less than ideal in comfort and
configuration, and seem to be optional rather than required.
So much for fabric. Now, let's move on to...
However, this post is getting kinda long, so I'm going to break it off
here, and save the section on Uniform Components (Part IIb...?) for the
Hope folks are finding this helpful, or at least interesting!
Yours in Scouting,
Thomas H. Harbold P.O. Box 1537
email@example.com Westminster, MD 21158
www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/5129 ICQ # 6198968
"The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline
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