United States Boy Scout Uniform Chronology: The 1950s

Figure 1.--

American boys clothing changed significantly during the 1940s. The 1950 were mostly a continuation of the trends that emerged after World WarII (1941-45). Knickers had disappeared. Most boys wanted to wear long pants, particularly jeans. Some mothers insisted on short pants for dressup, but it was becoming less and less common. Some younger boys wore shorts for play during the summer, but most boys played and especially went to school in long pants. This carried over into Scouting and most American Scouts and especially Cubs wore the long pants uniform. This was not universal, however, and there were some troops that did wear the short pants uniform.

Uniform Details

The two basic types of uniforms worn in the 1950s was the standard uniform with a long-sleeve shirt and long pants. The other principl uniform had a short-sleeved shirt and short pants and was worn with knee socks.


Outside of California ad the South, most of the boys we see wearing the short pants uniform wore them for summer camp and the Jamboree rather than the standard uniform worn for meetings and ordinary activities. The short pants uniform was the standard uniform for both summer camp and Jamborees. There are large numbers of Scout camps located throughout the country. Two jamborees were held in the 1950s, the 1953 Jamboree in California and the 1957 Jamboree in Pennsylvania.

Regional Trends

We note pronounced regional Scout uniform trends in the 1950s. We note Cubs and Scouts mostly wearing the long pants uniform. Here we are talking about general wear and not specialuniforms for camp abnd Jamboreess. This was especially true for the Cubs. We do se some boys wearing the short pants uniform, mosdtly in the South and in California. The short pants uniform in the South wre especially pronounced in Florida. The governing factore is presumably the warmer weather in the South and Clifornia, espdcially souther Cliforni. This corresponded with the general pattern for wearing short pants. In much of the country, boys dod not generally wear short pants, even during the summer. This is paricukarly notable in the school portraits taken at the time. Thus Cubs and Scouts in these areas did not generally wear the short pants uniform as they did not commonly wear short pants. I remember as a Cub nd Scout in Washington, D.C. I do not recall any of us wearing the short pants uniform, but did see it in the Boys' Life magazine.

Seasonal Wear

The Scout short pants uniform has become a kind of seasonal summer uniform. This does not seem to have been the case in the 1950s or at least it does not seem to have been very common. For one thing until the 50s, boys did not commonly have multiple uniforms. For many parents just buying one uniform was an expense and buying two was streaching the family budget. The prosperity of the post-War era was beginning to reach the average American family. But for the most part this was not the case in 50s.

Figure 2.--Cubs, Scouts, and Explorers mostly wore the long pants uniform during the 1950s. Scouts and Explorers wore the campaign cap, but Cubs continued to wear the traditional peaked cap.


Each of the different levels of Scouting had destinctive uniforms in the 1950s. This was a decesion made when Cubbing sas founded becuse the BSA believed that the older boys would not want to dress like the younger boys.


A Cub Scout in the early 1950s tells that he and his fellow Cubs all wore long pants even during the summer. Each Thursday was Scout day at his elementary school and the boy all dressed up in their uniforms--with considerable pride. The blue Cub shirts and pants had pockets with yellow piping. While some Scouts wore the short pants uniform, not to chool on Scout Day, relatively few Cubs wore the short pants uniform. Here there were some regional differences. We see some Cubswearing shorts in the South and in California.


I believe the Scout uniform changed somewhat in the 1950s, although the changes are not obviousespeciallfrom black and white photography. I'm not sure about the details. One 1951 report indicates Scouts were wearing a khaki uniform. Another report from the late 1950s indicated a olive green uniform was being worn. The pants had pockets with red piping. One former Boy Scout reports that, "When I was in Scouts, back in the mid 50's and early 60's, our troop's official uniform was the summer uniform with the short pants and knee socks. We were expected to wear the full uniform to each weekly meeting, and special scouting events. The only exception, naturally, were cold weather outdoor events like camping. Once a year, there was something called a "Red Star Inspection," where each troop from the district (there were about twenty or so troops) gathered at a local National Guard armory for a competition on scouting skills, and uniform presentation. The uniform inspection was the first item, because the following events might mess things up. Even though our troop was the only one who adopted short pants and knee socks as the official uniform, I don't think the issue of feeling out of place ever came up, even though we were the only group of boys with bare knees. Before the final presentation of our troop, we did, however, have the extra check by our leaders to make sure our knee socks were straight and evenly pulled up. Obviously, the other troops didn't have that final step. I do remember our troop winnning the inspection more than once, so I suspect the fact that we stood out as unique and attracted the attention of the judges."

Explorer Scouts

One report from 1951 indicates that Explorer Scouts wore the dark green uniform.

Unit Trends

Units varies some what in their approach to the uniform. Some units set a standard such as the short or long pants uniform and all the boys dressed a like. Other units allowed the boys to chose so we see griups woyh boys wearing both long nd short pants and different kinds of socks. This my have varied somewht depending on the activity in which the bots were engaged.

Decade Trends

The Boy Scout movement in America grew during the 1950s. Membership increased from 2.8 to 5.0 million boys. We notice a range of events in which Scouts participated in during the 1950s. The 2nd American Scout Jamboree was held in 1950 at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The Post Office released the first Scout postage stamp in 1950. The 3rd National Jamboree was held in 1953 at Irvine Ranch, California, The 4th National Jamoree was held in 1957 at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Scouts commonly participated in Arbor Day celebrations throughout the country. Scouts are usually active in 4th of July celebrations as well. Scout troops until the early 1950s, were not for the most part have the authority authorize merit badges and ranks. The general process was reviewed at a district or council Court of Honor. The Scout then normally was awarded his badge that same evening. During the 1950s troops gradually assumed the responsibility for reviewing achievements and presenting the badges and ranks. Awards were only presented at Courts of Honor, normally held four times annually. Scouts thus had to wait as much as 3 months to receive their new rank and merit badges.

Figure 3.--This boy wears his Scout uniform in an undated photograph, probably taken in the 1950s. I'm not sure what the "R" meant.

Personal Experiences

Many American boys growing up in the 1950s remember wearing their Cub and Scout uniforms. Many schools would have Cub or Scout day, usually Thursday, when the boys and girls would wear their uniforms. Many can remember getting their first Cub and Scout uniforms and the pride with which it was worn.

Cub memories

One American reader remembers his Cub Scout uniform. My pack, and later my scout troop actually chose to wear the summer uniform. Since I wore short pants suits exclusively till almost age nine anyway, it was no big deal to wear short pants and knee socks to scout meetings and events, but some of the other kids who's parents didn't insist on short pants for general wear, seemed to be uncomfortable with bare knees. At cub age, just the fact that the group was dressed alike, along with parental insistance on conformity, kept all the boys in line and compliant, but as scout age came on, it became more difficult for parents to insist on and enforce the dress code. As a result, the boys who continued on to scouting in our troop were the ones who weren't bothered by short pants and knee socks, or who's parents still had enough influence on them to keep them complant. My parents, my mom especially, wasn't content to just order a uniform thru the mail, or to go to a store and just pick up the size she thought I was. When we shopped for clothes, be they regular dress up or scout uniforms, I had to go along, and try things on for size. Every trip resulted in me standing in front of a full length mirror in the store, fully outfitted. Measuring took place, and minor adjustments, but the end result was me staring at my bare knees. As I got older, I was more concious of the looks some people gave me, but I accepted the fact that it was just something that I had to go along with. A summer scout uniform was one thing, but in the mid-1950's when I was still under nine, it wasn't that usual anymore to see a boy my age being fitted for, and wearing dress suits with short pants and especially knee socks.

Maryland Cubs

Chris recalls wearing long pants as a Cub in the affluent Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. during the 1950s. When he moved on to Scouts, however, the uniform was shorts and knee socks.

Looking back

I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for the original summer uniform that I wore as the regulation uniform in our troop during the 1950s. It may be unusual for me to describe, but I'll always remember the first time I had to dress up in my brand new short pants uniform. My parents and I went to the uniform shop, and I was fitted properly, not with the baggy look that you sometimes see, but nicely fitted, correctly for my size. Now you'll have to understand that I never went to school in Britian, so I had no idea about the need for, and operation of, the garters and tabs needed to hold up the knee socks properly. This need was eliminated with the new 1980's uniform, because the socks were woven with an elastic material near the top, but the older, all khaki socks that were in use all the way thru to the 80's, were just straight knee socks, and had to be held up with garters. When I changed into the uniform in the dressing room of the uniform shop, and came out to for "final inspection" by my parents, the knee socks, although pulled all the way up, immediately began to sag. My dad, at that point, sat me down and showed me how to feed the elastic garters thru the colored tab, clip them just below my knees, and turn the tops of the socks down properly and evenly. When I stood at the mirror after this final touch, I felt really proud to see myself looking sharp and completely outfitted, bare knees and all. Short pants and knee socks were not an issue that bothered me, because it was well known that our troop wore the summer uniform as standard fare, so all the boys (my friends) would be dressed the same way. I don't know why I remember that task being so memorable, but from that day on, when I suited up with the uniform, I always left the knee socks for last, and got a nice feeling by putting the finishing touches on the placement and adjustment of the garters and tabs on my knee socks.


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Created: November 15, 1998
Last updated: 9:55 PM 5/1/2015