United States Boy Scout Uniform Garments: Berets

Figure 1.--The BSA approved a optional red beret (1972). Several individual American Scout troops adopted the beret. Here we see Scouts wearing it at the 1985 National Jamboree.

The red beret was one of the various types of headwear worn by American Boy Scouts. The traditional Boy Scout hat was the lemon-squeezer hat designed by Lord Baden Powell. (Americans now call it the Smokey Bear hat.) British, American. and other Scouts all over the world wore these hats for decades. This hat was adopted by the American Boy Scouts when the organization was initially established. It was worn through the 1930s. There were, however, problems associated with it. While it had considerable nostalgic value, it was expensive and was hard to keep looking smart--especially if it got wet. The BSA has since adopted different cap styles, including the campaign cap and finally the baseball cap currently used. The BSA during the 1970s and 80s allowed units to experiment with red berets in the 1970s. A number of units wanting a sharper look adopted it, but it was never adopted as the official BSA headwear. It could not be worn on a individual basis, only on a unit basis. Only a few units adopted it and after the mid-80s largely disappeared.


The traditional Boy Scout hat was the lemon-squeezer hat designed by Lord Baden Powell. Scouts wore these hats for decades. This hat was adopted by the American Boy Scouts when the organization was initially established. It was worn until the 1940s when American Scouts tried several different caps before deciding on the current baseball cap. Berets have never been the official American Scout headgear, but they have been worn by a number of Scout groups, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. Beginning in the 1940s, American Scouts experimented with different caps. The most popular was the campaign cap worn by most Scouts during the from 1940s-70s. Other styles experimented with included a fatigue cap. There was also a red winter cap with ear flaps for cold weather activities. The BSA introduced an optional red beret as part of the Improved Scouting Program (1972). This was part of a major overhaul of badges and other insignia, replacing many two color patches with multicolor versions. The Scout Handbook (eight edition, 1976-79) pictured Scouts wearing blue neckerchiefs and the red berets. Some American Scouts have worn red berets. While never the official headgear of American Scouts, quite a few individual groups selected it, especially during the 1970s-80s. The red beret has proven less popular in the 1990s and is now less commonly worn. They haven't made any since 1990 I think. I don't know of any place that sells official BSA berets, but there are plenty of places that sell generic berets in various colors. I've seen troops that buy berets and put BSA pins on them. I think this is probanly not technically correct for troop headgear, but some troops still do it. The red berets may still be available from a local trading post or Scout Shop, however they are not listed in the official BSA catalog. I'm not sure why the BSA discontinued them. One Scouter claims that the BSA discontinued the red beret because the Guardian Angels were buying them and cutting off the patch to use the beret for their own purposes. I don't know if there is any truth to this. Perhaps they just became less popular with the boys. The beret had a snappy look, and boys bow prefer the grunge look. Finally American Scouts in 1980 settled on the current baseball-style cap which has proven popular with the boys.


American boys never wore the large floppy berets worn by some European Scouts. It was a relarively small beret. This limited thge various ways that it could be worn. The beret was done in wool with leather trim and a silky lining. It had a small black streamer.


Almost all American Scouts choosing berets chose the red berets offered in Scout stores. A few Scout groups in an effort to stand out reportedly choose other colors, but this was not common. The only berets we have noted have been the standard red beret. It was a bright red which offered a little color to what was at the time a rather drab monochrome olive-green color.


The beret was worn with a gold diamond shaped patch with the Scout emblem inside.


Berets in America at the time Scouts were established were seen as a cap worn by girls or in some cases little boys. The beret became a very popular cap for girls in the early 20th century (1910s-30s). It was commonly called a 'tam'. And the Brownines (junior Girl Scouts) adopted the beret as part of their uniform. Thus most boys rather dismissed berets. This did not change until afterr World War II when military units such as the Special Forces (Green Berets) and paratroopers began wearing the beret--changing its image. As a result Scouts the BSA introduced a red beret as an alternative cap style (1972). It was an optional style to the campaign cap that was still worn. The campaign cap had been adopted from the U.S. Army during World war II, but it was not a practical style. Some units began to wear the beret as an alternative to the campaign cap. It was an optional style for units. A sCout could not wear it as an individual option. It was a unit decesion.

Figure 2.--The beret was not a garment American boys were used to wearing. Many American boys wore their berets rather nonshalantly.

Wearing the Beret

The beret was not a garment American boys were used to wearing. There were several different ways to wear it. American boys have tended to wear their berets in a kind of pan cake fashion, although some boys would wear their berets at a bit of an angle. It could we worn squared away on the head or at an angle. The angle could be varied quite a bit. The beret could aldo be worn back on the head a bit like the boy here (figure 2). Also the beret could be worn basically on top of the head or it could be pulled down a bit covering more of the hair. Sone nboys did not give much thought to this. Others were more interested in thrir look, opting for a jaunty look. This usually meant wearing the beret at an angel. Often the Scout master would seek a degree of uniformity, at least in unifirn inspections or group pictures.

Personal Assessments

A Connecticut Scouter tells us, "I am particularly interested in the beret as I was part of the only official contingent of the Boy Scouts of America to attend Expo 67 in Montreal, Canada. I was much taken with the Canadian scouts' red berets in contrast to our very drab and outdated overseas caps. A group of our senior scouts purchased Canadian berets and took color pictures that we sent to the National Office. I don't know if this made a difference but a few years later the red beret emerged as the standard headgear."

Current Situation

One Scouter reports that berets are hard to find for Scouts and special permission is needed to wear them. He reports that when the Scouts in Beaver Patrol wanted to wear red berets in the mid-1990s, the red beret is no longer an official BSA hat. They found red to be extremely hard to find, and that black berets were easier to come by. Since they couldn't buy real Scout-issue berets, when Beaver Patrol petitioned the PLC for permission to wear a beret, they decided to attach a brass "scout" pin to the GI surplus version they'd found in the 1994 U.S. Cavalry catalog. The Beavers were given condtional permission to wear them instead of their Troop hats. They had to become a B-P Patrol to earn the right to wear the beret, and they had to remain a B-P Patrol to keep wearing them.


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Created: February 12, 2000
Last updated: 4:55 PM 11/16/2010