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FireStone

Does National want to kill the uniform?

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Posted (edited)

I've heard a local scouter refer to the uniform as a "field uniform", and say that it should be worn at all Scouting functions, by all scouts and scouters. "There is no Class B", he says, adding "You're either in uniform or you're not."

I'm the recruitment coordinator for my Pack, and I frequently browse the BSA Brand Center for interesting photos to use in marketing materials. Not every parent wants photos of their kids used in promotional materials, fliers we distribute around town, etc., so I find the stock BSA photos to be useful for this.

Browsing the latest batches of photos, I'm finding a very noticeable lack of uniform present. Under the "camping" image category for Scouts BSA, there are 52 photos, not one of them showing a Scout in uniform in the field. In fact, as best I can tell, in the entire Scouts BSA photo collection there are only 5 photos that show Scouts in uniform, and they are older images, likely to be phased out some time soon (as it seems to happen with the Brand Center, new images in, old stuff out).

It's the same under Cub Scouts, most photos show scouts out of uniform, in Class B t-shirts. Under "Top Picks" for Cub Scout photos, 1 of the 19 photos shows a scout in uniform, in the background of the photo.

I work in marketing, and one of the things we often say around the office is that marketing is aspirational. You don't show your potential customers what you do right now, you show them your higher view of what you do, your more aspirational ideas of where you'd like to be. One of my food science clients doesn't show photos of their actual dirty labs and equipment in their marketing materials, they show photos of super clean labs, stuff that was cleaned up just for that photo and that we then Photoshopped even further to look spectacular. Facilities are immaculate, workers are smiling, the grass outside the building is always bright green and the sun is always shining. It's a depiction of what the company wants to be, not what they actually are day-to-day.

If I were to judge the aspirations of the BSA based on what they are putting out in their marketing resources, the photos they create and distribute, my conclusion would be that the scout uniform has been killed off. If these photos are any indication of what the BSA hopes we'll look like in the near future, it's a future without uniforms.

Emphasis on the uniform in the BSA from the National perspective has seemed to ease up in recent years. I've even noticed the adoption of some more European trends in uniforming becoming popular at the National level in the BSA in their marketing and promotional efforts. Videos from events sometimes show scouts and scouters in casual clothing with a loosely fitted neckerchief on, tied in a friendship knot (picture how Bear Grylls typically looks in a hoodie and neckerchief).

I wouldn't begrudge the BSA for killing off the uniform. I'd probably applaud the move, actually. Kids don't like the uniform (ask your kids if they'd be willing to wear their uniform to school before telling me I'm wrong about this and that they actually really love the uniform), Scouts tend to wear Class B every chance they get, sometimes even when we say Class A is required. I've actually had parents ask me, "Do they really need to wear the uniform? My son says he feels dorky in it."

I love the uniform, personally, although I think it could do with a design update and modernization. But more than that, I love delivering an enjoyable program for scouts and if the uniform is something that makes them unhappy, I would be all for National doing what I think they are already doing and downplaying the importance of the uniform in most activities, or doing away with it completely.

If this truly is the direction we're headed in, if BSA marketing photos are any kind of look inside the mind of National and their vision for the future, I think I'm ok with how it looks.

Edited by FireStone

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What most will call a "Class B" is also referred to as an Activity Uniform, and while it's much less formal that the FIeld Uniform, it's still a uniform, and can still look very sharp. 

I don't buy that they're angling to get rid of uniforms, but I understand why they would emphasize it less in the marketing.  It's an important method of the program, but I imagine very few youth are signing up because of the BSA's spiffy threads.  They're selling the sizzle, putting the focus on the cool things the BSA offers in order to draw them in.  

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As much as I admire the uniform, it's pricey and more about image than function.  

  • Price approaches $150 for full uniform and at least $65 for just the shirt with appropriate patches.  (world crest, position, council patch, unit numbers, trained patch, OA patch, etc).  
  • Canvas pants are too heavy, easily damage and don't breath as needed for hot humid summer camp.  Forces you to unzip leggings to cool down.  My older nylon Oscar De Larenta pants never tore, never wore out and were good for a hot humid summer camp.  

IMHO, BSA blew it by not having their own "reasonably" priced class-b program.  Our pack used ClassB.com for over 15+ years (???) buying new t-shirts for the scouts each year.  Cost was manageable and we always saw the shirts all over town on kids and adults.  It was the best money our pack spent.  Made those scouts easily recognizable and the t-shirts were usable for activities.  

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1 hour ago, Miami_Chief said:

What most will call a "Class B" is also referred to as an Activity Uniform, and while it's much less formal that the FIeld Uniform, it's still a uniform, and can still look very sharp. 

I don't buy that they're angling to get rid of uniforms, but I understand why they would emphasize it less in the marketing.  It's an important method of the program, but I imagine very few youth are signing up because of the BSA's spiffy threads.  They're selling the sizzle, putting the focus on the cool things the BSA offers in order to draw them in.  

I would imagine this is what is happening.  The BSA marketing department realizes what we all do - good program sells.  So rather than a bunch of pictures of kids in uniforms, they are showing pictures of kids doing fun things.

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8 hours ago, ParkMan said:

I would imagine this is what is happening.  The BSA marketing department realizes what we all do - good program sells.  So rather than a bunch of pictures of kids in uniforms, they are showing pictures of kids doing fun things.

It seems odd to me, though. Especially the photos of girls, after all we've seen and heard about girls being so proud to join and wear the uniform, wouldn't that be an angle the BSA would want to emphasize? I'm not sure there's a better image of the BSA being fully open to girls than a photo of a girl in a BSA uniform.

I know marketing materials aren't policy, and neither is the examples set by various folks from National and around the national organization, it just seems to me like another point of conflict between what local folks say and what National shows us by example. I've even heard from a parent in our unit that they are upset that we don't enforce uniform policy more. They force their kid to wear the uniform at every activity and event, and they say we should require all scouts to do the same. That's a tough sell already, when our Pack just spent a bunch of money on nice Class B t-shirts. Now we've got fliers going out to all the schools showing kids in t-shirts, but I'm supposed to enforce stricter uniform standards? If I go by what National is giving us, I would think it should be the opposite, de-emphasizing the uniform.

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2 hours ago, FireStone said:

It seems odd to me, though. Especially the photos of girls, after all we've seen and heard about girls being so proud to join and wear the uniform, wouldn't that be an angle the BSA would want to emphasize? I'm not sure there's a better image of the BSA being fully open to girls than a photo of a girl in a BSA uniform.

I know marketing materials aren't policy, and neither is the examples set by various folks from National and around the national organization, it just seems to me like another point of conflict between what local folks say and what National shows us by example. I've even heard from a parent in our unit that they are upset that we don't enforce uniform policy more. They force their kid to wear the uniform at every activity and event, and they say we should require all scouts to do the same. That's a tough sell already, when our Pack just spent a bunch of money on nice Class B t-shirts. Now we've got fliers going out to all the schools showing kids in t-shirts, but I'm supposed to enforce stricter uniform standards? If I go by what National is giving us, I would think it should be the opposite, de-emphasizing the uniform.

It's possible I'm wrong.

I sense that today people are more interested in the experience than the organization.  People join the BSA because they want the Scouting experience.  So, it would stand to follow that in the marketing material we play up the experience.  A bunch of people in pictures with uniforms detracts from the basic message - join us & do fun stuff. 

Put differently, you join to do fun stuff, not wear a uniform.  So, why remind all the prospective members about the uniform when it's not a big sales point and may even detract.

Now, once you're in the BSA the uniform takes on a special meaning.  There's history, there's connections, there's personal pride in what yo've accomplished.  So, alums, parents, and even maybe some Scouts see the uniform as an important part of what we do.  So, for many in the organization there's a connection to the uniform.

This is why I think the marketing materials will look different from what we see inside the unit.

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36 minutes ago, ParkMan said:

Put differently, you join to do fun stuff, not wear a uniform.  So, why remind all the prospective members about the uniform when it's not a big sales point and may even detract.

I don't disagree, this is just counter to what I hear locally. There's a lot of local emphasis on the uniform, badges, etc., especially at the Cub level, and definitely at the recruiting level. Our Council encourages us to talk about the uniform at recruiting events, we've even set up displays of the uniform, badges, etc., as a sort of "look and see" to get kids excited about the badges they'll earn.

I try to "sell the fun" in recruiting materials. And the materials using the BSA imagery are great for that, but they also mostly leave out the uniform, and that makes for a sort of weird image based on the local culture here of pushing the uniform. Maybe that's where this whole discussion came from for me. What National puts out there visually isn't so weird for many units, but for me it's jarringly different from what I see and hear locally. National seems to favor t-shirts for photos, whereas when my Pack knows we're going to be somewhere that photos will be taken, it's more like "You better show up in full uniform for those photos!" 😀

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I'm not understanding this fun stuff thing over uniforms. I drive by the soccer fields and see soccer players having fun in "Uniforms". There doesn't seem to be any unrest about youth sports and uniforms.

Fun being the only reason youth join Scouts is a myth. In the US, the parents are very much part of the motivation for their kids joining scouting. I have said many times that the unit must satisfy the parents if they want to keep the scouts. Of course scouting looks like fun. But lots of activities look like fun to kids. Today's youth have a lot of choices and and they are fickle. So there has to be some other motivation or push to select scouts over those other temptations. The parents do the pushing and their motivation are the added benefits of values gained from the experience.  

On our trip to Philmont one year, we stopped at the Santa Fe Arts Festival. As our van was passing the crowds walking to the festival, we could tell by the unusual animal noises that the scouts were noticing several girls also walking that direction. With their tail feathers fanning out, they said they didn't want to wear their uniforms. We were once that age, so we adults said fine, but the adults are wearing theirs. I doubt any adult in that group can remember the art because we were constantly greeted and thanked for giving our time. I hadn't shook that many hands since my wedding. The boys went their way on their prowl, and we went ours. But by coincidence, they ran into us again as we were eating and drinking free concession food from the vendors. Apparently our fortunes were better than theirs. 

In all our travels, our scouts have been treated special because of the uniform. Only once during a visit at a city zoo up North did we feel uncomfortable. Now, maybe things have changed in the last couple of years, but my experience is the uniform carries a respect with the general public that the wearer may not deserve. The uniform represents more than fun. It represents discipline of practicing virtuous actions. We never got that kind of respect from folks walking by our soccer matches.

Scouting is more than just fun and I believe the uniform is part of its heritage. Reducing it to street clothes would discourage all that many more families from joining. 

Barry

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I think the point isn't whether the uniform is valued by current members or not.  It's whether the uniform is a selling point on joining Scouting.

I take @FireStone's point that at the Cub Scout level it is.

But, at the Scouts BSA level, I don't think a lot of youth join because they are excited about the uniform.  Sure, it's part of the gig, but I can certainly see why those responsible for driving interest in youth becoming members may focus more on the "fun" than the process.

Again - I do think it takes on meaning to current members which is why I do not believe the BSA would move away from it.  If they do, they might acutally be my breaking point.

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The "uniform" was once uniform  That went away years ago.  Now it's just a clothing brand.  The kids can tell who is wearing the expensive model and who the cheapie across the width of a good-size room.  

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I've got three uniforms and the pockets are all different and I still call them uniforms.  We live in a world where people tweak things all the time.  Most scouts I know would say - cool - your pocket is a little different than mine.

Our troop avoids cares about uniform costs by encouraging every scout to participate in our uniform closet.  Hey, when your uniform is too small stick it in the closet.  Oh, you're a new Scout, we've got a bunch of uniforms in the closet - go find one that fits.

To the topic at hand - I suspect that the perception that Scouts are sititng around a church basement obsessing over differences in each others uniforms is something the BSA would would to avoid.

 

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9 hours ago, ParkMan said:

I think the point isn't whether the uniform is valued by current members or not.  It's whether the uniform is a selling point on joining Scouting.

I agree. But I think the difference is I look at it from the public perspective, not the scout. I mentioned the other day that young parents I've talked to lately feel betrayed by National for bringing in girls in the program because that is not the BSA they envision. It doesn't mater if they have sons or daughters, the BSA represented a higher order of respected tradition.

As I said, because of the biological changes mature through as they grow into adults, they are fickle about dress, so there will never be an agreement of a uniform uniform. But the public does have a traditionally respected vision of the BSA. They are who the BSA has to satisfy. When the Canadian Scouts went through their membership change in the 90s, they took a huge membership hit. There are many reasons folks abandoned, what was considered at the time, the best Boy Scout organization in the world. But the one thing that I saw offensive right off was they completely changed the uniform to look nothing like the traditional uniform. I pretty sure they did that on purpose, but I'm guessing that one change alone drove off potential membership. 

Of course the uniform should be practical and functional, but the image of scouting shouldn't be sacrificed.

I have been watching the uniform changes for the last 30 years. Anybody remember the short shorts of the early 90's? :o The uniform design today is completely different from that uniform, but still easily identifiable as a Boy Scout uniform. 

And while folks talk about the European uniform of just a neckerchief, I recently say a picture of a European female Scout in full uniform that looked almost identical to the BSA uniform. In fact, it look even better. I didn't have to read the caption to know she was a Scout.

Barry

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Posted (edited)

I just flipped through the girls version of the handbook. Of the first 25 images of people (through page 27), 10 are in field uniform, 7 are clearly activity uniforms, 3 are non-uniforms (youth doing stuff at home). The remaining five are rain gear or outdoor gear that may or may not be be covering field or activity uniforms.

 I cannot say I see a pattern that makes me think BSA is down playing field or activity uniforms.

Edited by HelpfulTracks

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