The latest in a series designed to help Scout families, Scouts and those new to Scouting better understand what Scouting is, how it works,
and how to get the most out of the experience. For past articles, see back issues of The Guide.

What’s With the Scout Uniform Anyway?

The founder of the Scouting movement, Robert Baden-Powell identified several important reasons for the use of a uniform when he first invited boys to participate. Scouting continues to honor those purposes today.

  1. Personal Equality. The uniform represents the democratic ideal of equality, bringing together people of different cultures, traditions, backgrounds, socio-economic, religious, political, national and geographic backgrounds. In a sense, the uniform puts all Scouts on a level playing field with one another.
  2. The uniform identifies a Scout as a member of the worldwide Scouting movement. In the United States, our particular uniform identifies one as being a member of the BSA and a visible force for good in our community. It is intended to help build pride and a sense of spirit among members and attract the attention of potential members.
  3. The various patches, insignia, pins and medals worn on the uniform recognize personal achievement, responsibility and recognition.
  4. Personal Commitment. The Scout uniform serves as a constant reminder to Scouts from Cub Scouting to Scouts BSA, Venturing, Sea Scouts, and Exploring as well as adults of their commitment to the ideals of Scouting, its purposes and values. It reminds us of our loyalty to country and duty to God.

New Scout families may be confused by all of the patches and the meaning behind them, but rest assured that many seasoned Scouts can be just as confused. You can find information about which patches are required, which ones are awarded or may be added to the uniform by personal choice, and where they should be placed or displayed in the Handbook appropriate for each Scout rank or position or in the BSA Guide to Awards and Insignia.

One patch we share with Scouts throughout the world is the World Membership Badge. This royal purple circular patch depicting a fleur-de-lis encircled by a rope tied in a square knot on the bottom and having five-pointed stars on the right and left arm emblazoned in white is worn by more than 26 million Scouts from more than 200 nations throughout the world. The royal purple symbolizes leadership and service and the white denotes purity. The meaning goes deeper! The two stars represent truth and knowledge, and the ten points of the stars represent the ten points of the Scout Law. The three arms of the fleur-de-lis are bound together at the center by a “bond” representing the family of Scouting. The left arm represents service to others, the right arm represents obedience to the Scout Law, and the central arm or point of the emblem represents duty to God. The encircling rope represents the unity and family of Scouting world-wide, and the knot represents the strength of our unity and family. Baden-Powell distributed fleur-de-lis pins and patches to early Scouts taking the design from compass roses on maps of the time. Lady Olive Baden-Powell later said “it shows the true way to go.”

Other patches placed on the BSA uniform denote the Council, Unit, and Patrol or Den of the Scout, indicate rank or other advancement and achievement, and reflect membership in the Order of the Arrow, participation in various events, product sales, and other Scouting information. The square knots patches often worn by adult leaders reflect special recognition, additional training and awards.

The wearing of the Scout uniform is not mandatory, but is highly encouraged especially on appropriate occasions. BSA policy provides that a full uniform includes a shirt or blouse tucked in, uniform pants and belt. The use of a neckerchief is optional and individual units may determine whether to require a neckerchief. There are official BSA neckerchiefs, but local designs may also be worn. Hats are also optional. The “Class B” uniform often referred to during activities is usually a Scouting related t-shirt and is intended for casual use.

As we approach the holidays and celebrate the many cultural and religious traditions that occur this time of year, it seems appropriate to reflect on the world family of Scouting, the traditions, purposes and values we share with fellow Scouts throughout the world. We share a common commitment to Scouting, to the Scout Law and Oath, and to the qualities of leadership and character we seek to emulate and teach to youth. Our uniforms distinguish us as members of the BSA and our individual Councils and Units, yet tie us to Scouts around the nation and in many other lands.

Thank you once again for entrusting your youth to Scouting and sharing your time, talent and treasure.  In all that we do, let us not forget that Scouting is really for our youth, for their life-shaping, life-changing Scouting experience. Warmest wishes for a meaningful holiday season and may we all enjoy a more hopeful, peaceful and productive New Year.

Paul Shrode