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Scouting for a Restyle: Designing Uniforms

In 1980, the uniform of the Boys Scouts of America had a restyle. Its previous militaristic look, which hadn’t received a complete overhaul in over sixty years, had been reinterpreted by no other than the infamous fashion designer Oscar de la Renta.

Founded in 1907, the Scout Movement is a youth organization that welcomes boys and girls worldwide, supporting and educating them during their youth years through a program focused on practical and outdoor activities. Outdoorsman Dan Beard and illustrator Ernest Thompson Seton were the credited designers of the first uniform of the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. The uniform, ideated to promote equality among the movement members, is regarded as one of their characteristic elements, along with the handkerchief and campaign hat, the fleur-de-lis and the trefoil, the badges and patches.

'Escoteiros de Portugal', boy scout uniforms, designed Ricardo Falcao and Lito Lusitana, 1936 ca. Courtesy Museo del Traje, all rights reserved.

It took two years for Oscar de la Renta to finalize the reinvention of the Boys Scouts of America’s uniform. When he was asked to design the uniform in 1978, the Dominican fashion designer had to confront with many rigid criteria, most importantly with those of durability and easy care. The most noticeable changes the designer introduced in the uniform regards the two-tone colour scheme for the Boy Scouts and the adult Scouters; he abandoned the khaki green for a khaki tan shirt, paired with drab green trousers, both pieces made of polyester and cotton.

Photo of a boy scout. Courtesy Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation, all rights reserved.

The designer also took functionality into account: the shirts collars could be turned down when wearing handkerchief and epaulets were added to the shoulders to make easily identify the program division. Large cargo pockets, useful to store vital possessions, were added to both trousers and shirts. For thirty years, from 1980 up until 2008, the uniform designed by Oscar de la Renta had been worn by millions of American scouts.

Differently from the fashion designers’ common use of historical uniforms as references to implement or develop their collections and express their own design grammar, Oscar de la Renta blended his own point of view on fashion and clothing with the values of the movement itself; the result was a new uniform that represented the history and social values of the institution.

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