This week the Girl Scouts of the USA unveiled new uniform options for the three youngest program levels. Daisy, Brownie, and Junior Girl Scouts may start the new school and Girl Scout years with casual options and a new, softer color palette.
These are just a few of the new looks, the entire wardrobe is shown at the national Girl Scout Shop.
Traditional components, such as tunics, vests, sashes, and neckerchiefs have been refreshed as well. Headbands and matching hair scrunchies, so popular in the 1990s, have also returned.
The pieces have subtle branding so that they may be used everyday.
A new Girl Scout uniform wardrobe for girls in middle school and high school, debuted in 2020. It used a color palette of lavender, sky blue, charcoal, and green. Responding to girl feedback, the vest was redesigned with pockets.
Why a Uniform?
Early handbooks explained the advantages of wearing a Girl Scout uniform. First, “it gives a certain prestige in the community” because the public will recognize wearers as girls who are courteous and helpful. Second, the “uniform puts every girl on the same footing.” Uniforms made be purchased, sewn at home, or hand-me-downs, but everyone wears the same thing.
The first Girl Scout uniforms were a simple dress or coat dress, with an official tie, hat, belt, and socks. The only choice was which color tie a troop would wear. Older troops had a choice between socks and hose. Once decided, every girl was to dress in the same leg wear.
As membership grew and new age levels were established, each phase of Girl Scouts had its own distinctive uniform: a simple dress with a tie and hat. Hats and white gloves were included as they were the norm at the time.
Blouse-and-skirt options became available in the 1950s and 1960s. The new dark green skirt, shown above, was particularly popular as girls could tuck the “GS” tab into their waistband and nobody would know it was a Girl Scout garment.
“Uniform Separates” A Contradiction?
The 1970s brought the concept of separates to each age level, with many options and combinations possible. Instead of troops using a consistent, uniform, look, the 1973 catalog encouraged girls to express their individuality:
NEW UNIFORM LIBERATES CADETTES
Here’s a new Cadette GS Uniform that lets you be you. Whatever you’re doing, whatever your pursuit, there’s an outfit just for you. Six separates mix and match into over 15 different looks. Choose one or all six to suit your tastes, reflect your lifestyle, keep up with your busy life. Whichever you choose, you’re official. For today’s liberated you, official never looked so good. (1973 Catalog)
New fabrics, colors, and designs came along in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, and all of these collections continued to offer multiple options. At times the options were overwhelming.
The evolution of the Brownie uniform demonstrates these changes.
Evolution of Brownie Uniform, 1927-today
The Minimalist “Un-Uniform”
Uniforms all but disappeared in the 2008 catalog. Official, Girl Scout-produced uniform components were reduced to just a sash or vest, worn with any white top and khaki bottom. “Uniformity” now meant standardized across all age levels.
Girl Scout officials believed most girls would already have white shirts and khaki pants, perhaps as part of a school uniform, and would not need to purchase additional items.
Although any white shirt was acceptable, new Girl Scout uniform white shirts and bandanas were available for purchase.
GSUSA also introduced a new line of “official casual” uniforms in a separate fall 2008 catalog.
Some old-timers believed the movement had finally caved to the demands of the many members, especially teens. Many of these girls believed they would absolutely and totally DIE if their friends knew they were Girl Scouts.
The un-uniform decision had two consequences. First, uniforms were one of the few dedicated revenue streams at the National level. Revenue from merchandise sales, according to annual reports, dropped from $45.7 million in 2006 to $20.7 million in 2011.
Second, many Girl Scouts disappeared from public view. It became difficult to recruit new members for this phantom organization.
The generic uniform design also contradicted the first strategic priority adopted at the 2005 National Council Session.
Transform the Girl Scout image with a compelling brand that resonates with girls of all ages and cultures, that makes girls feel proud and excited to join.Leader (Winter 2005): 11.
The change to minimal uniforms evidently was not popular with all of the membership. The more traditional Brownie and Daisy uniforms reappeared in the 2010 Girl Scout uniform catalog.
The pendulum swung in the other direction following the 100th birthday celebrations in 2012.
Options expanded with two new uniform shirts: the “shorthand” polo in 2013 and an “activity shirt” in 2017. The activity shirt touted its moisture-wicking fabric, acting as a successor to the long-retired camp uniform. New coordinating neckerchiefs, slides, and hats completed the look.
Volunteers had their own shorthand shirt, neckerchief, and slide.
If the latest designs leave you underwhelmed, you and your troop can always go retro. Girl Scout shops have the shorthand and activity shirts on clearance.
Another option is to go vintage. It is perfectly acceptable to wear a uniform from the past, although you should pick one style, not mix-and-match decades. Check thrift shops, family attics, and your local Girl Scout historians.
After all, once a uniform, always a uniform.
©2021 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian