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Be prepared for a cooler official Boy Scout uniform

11:28 AM CDT on Monday, July 7, 2008

By MARIA HALKIAS / The Dallas Morning News

Gone are the Christmas green and red socks with a killer seam across your toes, pants that even your mother quietly questions, the bright red loops on your shoulders and a hat that screams hit me.

Plano Boy Scout Troop 1776 demonstrates the proper handling of the American flag. (DMN - Video: Natalie Caudill/ Editing: Ahna Hubnik)
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The Boy Scouts are getting a new look – a new toned-down Class A uniform made of forest green and khaki high-performance fabrics, similar to what they'd pick out at REI or Dick's Sporting Goods. (And guys, the new baseball cap – green all the way around with a single Scout emblem, a fleur-de-lis, monochromatically embroidered – you'll want to wear everywhere).

It's about time, some Scouts say.

Eagle Scout Nick Zagorski, 18, says he still wears his Scout shirt, even though it's a bit small, because it comes with so many great memories.

But the official pants are "like walking in an oven," said the member of Troop 861 at Central Lutheran Church in Dallas.

"I don't know what they're made of," he said, "but it was like someone was playing a cruel joke on us."

Redesigns only happen every 20 to 25 years. In the last, in the early 1980s, Irving-based Boy Scouts of America commissioned Oscar de la Renta – an accomplished fashion designer – to produce the current uniform.

Boy Scouts of America
Boy Scouts of America
The old (left) and new Boy Scout uniform.

The line included shorts with a 3.5-inch inseam, but later updates to the shorts made them longer. The very first U.S. Boy Scouts in 1910 didn't care for that era's shorts either, according to a history of the group's duds published in Scouting magazine in 2002.

Many Scouts choose not to wear some of the current uniform pieces.

This time around, officials asked Scouts of all ages and their parents what they wanted to see in the uniform's Centennial edition, called that in honor of the U.S. organization's 100th anniversary in 2010.

"Their primary focus was to not look multicolored or whimsical when in uniform," said Renee Fairrer, the BSA's associate director of marketing and communications. "They wanted to look current, and more outdoor inspired."

Clothes Scouts can use

"I don't know what they're made of," he said, "but it was like someone was playing a cruel joke on us."

Redesigns only happen every 20 to 25 years. In the last, in the early 1980s, Irving-based Boy Scouts of America commissioned Oscar de la Renta – an accomplished fashion designer – to produce the current uniform.

New pieces are more utilitarian and meant to be more than a uniform.

"It's gear," is part of the marketing tag line, said a spokeswoman from National Supply Group, the Charlotte, N.C.-based company that makes Scouting merchandise.

The redesign has been in the works for two years. While trouser sales have decreased in recent years, officials said that wasn't a factor behind the changes.

Scoutmasters, who haven't been able to get their boys in full dress uniform in years, were pushing for changes. Two years ago, a switchback pant was added.

Teen boys are especially sensitive about "not wanting to look like dorks," said Mike Koenecke, scoutmaster of Troop 728 at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Richardson. "What I've seen of the new uniform is a look that's not so in-your-face and a lot more utilitarian."

Like many Scout leaders in recent years, Mr. Koenecke only required that the boys wear their shirts and allowed them to wear green pants, jeans and shorts they found to be more practical and comfortable.

The old shirts and bottoms are made of outdated polyester, not today's efficient synthetics.

In Scout's Honor: A Father's Unlikely Foray into the Woods, a largely favorable book about Scouting published in 2003, author Peter Applebome called for a new uniform. The New York Times writer and father of a Scout found it to be a source of embarrassment for teens and suggested the BSA license its logo to outdoor apparel makers.

'A sense of belonging'

Why have a uniform at all?

Positive experiences and values that Scouts learn are far more important than a uniform, said Skip Williams, scoutmaster of Troop 216 at Grace Avenue United Methodist Church in Frisco.

"I don't care what we wear, but the uniform fosters a sense of belonging and pride," said Mr. Williams, 44, an Eagle Scout who says he's worn a Scout uniform since he was 6.

Much of the time Scouts wear a Class B uniform, which is a customized troop T-shirt often commemorating a trip to summer camp or a high-adventure trip. It's worn whenever the official uniform could get damaged.

Gordon Christian, Scoutmaster of Dallas-based Troop 861 in the 1970s and 1980s and a volunteer at the National Scouting Museum in Irving, said he thinks it's a good idea to introduce a new uniform that's more appealing to the younger generation.

"The older guys like me probably won't change," he said.

About 4 million youth and adult members are involved in Scouting, but they won't be required to buy new Centennial uniforms right away and can wear their old ones until they grow out of them.

Scoutmaster Koenecke says he plans on making the switch when the uniforms come out Aug. 15.

"I'll probably run right out and get one," he said, "because I have to wear it all the time."


New Scout uniforms and merchandise, which will be available Aug. 15, can be purchased online at www.scoutstuff.org and www.bsauniforms.org. They can also be found:

•At 155 stores such as the Collin County Scout Shop at Twin Creek Village in Allen.

•At another 240 shops run by regional council districts – Dallas' Circle Ten Council operates a store in its headquarters at 8605 Harry Hines Blvd.

•At another 695 independent specialty stores, from men's and boy's clothing shops to hardware stores that stock Scout uniforms.

SOURCE: Boy Scouts of America

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