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Information, Observation, and Inspiration for Scouters

Scout uniforms: Uncool?

A few weeks ago I discussed the advantages of being a uniformed troop. Following this method of Scouting is important to keep your Scouts looking, feeling and acting like an actual Boy Scout troop and not merely a collection of adolescents who go camping.

But what if they feel it’s uncool to wear a uniform?

A recent post on Scouting Magazine’s blog considered the situation where older Scouts were not only reluctant to wear their uniforms in public, but were actually told by their Scoutmaster not to, because they would be, as he put it, committing “social suicide” to be seen in the uniform of the Boy Scouts of America. Scouters from across the nation weighed in on the matter with opinions, as you might expect, all over the map. It’s particularly pertinent given the fact that many thousands of Scouts appeared in public, in uniform, this past weekend at Memorial Day parades, observances and service projects. It’s well accepted that Cub Scouts are commonly seen in uniform not only at den and pack meetings but on outings to the fire station, nature center or when doing service projects. Even younger Boy Scouts don’t think twice about it. But, sometime around middle school, boys get the impression that it’s “geeky” or otherwise socially awkward to be seen by anyone other than their parents or other Scouts in a Boy Scout uniform.

Perhaps some of the perceived reaction that Scouts get about being identified with Scouting is because they feel that the “rest of the world” thinks Scouting is uncool. Face it, the impression most people have is that Boy Scouts is about tying knots and helping old ladies across the street. (Not that there’s anything wrong with those things!) If everyone, particularly young people, knew all the cool stuff that Scouts do – high adventure, climbing, ziplining, kayaking, camping on islands in the ocean, not to mention all the great opportunities coming at the Summit like downhill mountain biking, skateboarding and whitewater rafting, and new merit badges like game design and programming – they’d feel differently.

Furthermore, not everyone in uniform is “uncool.” Certainly sports teams, marching bands, lifeguards, police officers and firefighters aren’t. And how about our military? As one of our neighbors, Scoutmaster Gary Marquardt of Troop 457 in Saline, reminds us: Next time you think the uniform looks “geeky”, find a member of the Armed Services and tell them that their uniform looks geeky. I’m sure they would like to have a conversation with you about your opinion.

Regardless of what’s on the outside of one’s uniform, it’s what’s inside that counts. The kind of person a boy is (hopefully) doesn’t change whether he is in or out of uniform. If he’s a cool kid with cool friends doing cool things, that doesn’t change. The best defense against the impression of being uncool is just to be yourself regardless of the situation or regardless of what you’re wearing. When people start noticing cool kids doing cool things in a Scout uniform, that impression will vanish.

Some outreach, education, enlightenment and PR can go a long way to changing these perceptions. We need to be out in the community – at public events, in the local papers and web news sites, community TV – and it all starts with the units. Get photos and stories about your unit’s latest adventures “out there” in front of the public, whether it’s a campout on the field of a minor league baseball stadium, going cave exploring or climbing the Tooth of Time.

One troop or pack can make a big difference in your community, but when Scouting units across the country start to show off what we’re really made of to the rest of the world, the world’s impression of Scouting will change. And the day may come when a young man no longer needs to feel awkward in front of his peers just because he’s wearing the uniform of the world’s largest youth movement.