Uniform Love Affair: Passing the Tenderfoot Test and Other Adventures

My father was a Boy Scout.  I grew up hearing his stories about climbing mountains, building campfires, and performing Boy Scout acts of heroism.  I would imagine my dad saving an elderly lady from a passing car or pulling a drowning kid from the local pool and hope the one day I, too, would live up to the Scout Oath and become “physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”  When my grandmother found my dad’s old knapsack in the attic, I proudly inherited the uniform of Boy Scout Troop 269 and absolved to pass the Tenderfoot Test.

I would tie the blue neckerchief the official “Boy Scout Way” and practice the Scout Salute and the Scout Handclasp.  My seven-year-old frame swam in the khaki shirt and pleated shorts, but there was something about wearing “the clothing of the outdoorsman” that thrilled me.

My love affair with uniforms of all kinds progressed as I grew up.  I adored the itchy polyester shorts I wore during my brief and rather embarrassing stint on the second grade basketball team.  I loved wearing my pleated poms skirt in junior high when when danced to “Walk This Way” at halftime. And though the black shirt and pants I wore for my first service job were unflattering and constantly spattered with tzatziki sauce, I felt a sense of self-importance each night I walked home, bleary-eyed and smelling of hummus, with a pocketful of tips.

I know I’m not alone in my love for the uniform.  But what draws us to uniforms in the first place?  I consulted the 1967 Boy Scout Handbook:

“To many a boy, putting on the Scout uniform for the first time is one of the greatest thrills of his life.  First of all, it shows that you belong–that you are a member of the largest youth movement the world has ever seen, that more than 9 million boys throughout the world consider you their friend and brother.  It represents the spirit of true democracy, bridging the differences between rich and poor, putting all on an equal basis in the feeling of real brotherhood.  It also helps build that all desirable thing–gang spirit–in your patrol and your troop.”

While rich kids wearing janitor suits probably won’t get us any closer to “true democracy,” the cultish sense of purpose and belonging that uniforms provide is a feeling people try to capture even when uniforms aren’t required in their daily lives.


We find all kinds of excuses to wear uniforms when they’re not officially designated.

The Gym Rat: Wears a cutesy matching gym outfit all over town.  Often complements pit stains with pearls.

The Outdoor Adventurer: Will wear safari gear for a half mile hike through the forrest preserve.
Wearing a uniform tells the world “I belong and I am POWERFUL,” which might be the source of all of those sexy feelings we associate with them.

What a beefcake.

Britney Spears bears her schoolgirl midriff circa 1999.

Incorporating uniform-inspired pieces into our daily wardrobes can give us a taste of the self-importance we desire, but I think we’ve overdone the miltary-style jackets and schoolgirl skirts.  I suggest that we take the following uniform pieces to the street:

The Park Ranger Hat

Practical and available in neutral tones to match any outfit, the ranger hat suggests knowledge of mushroom foraging and wilderness survival skills.

Fashion Scrubs

Comfortable, available in a variety of colors, fashion scrubs provide protection from those hard-to-remove blood and vomit stains.

The Stewardess Scarf

As blogger Michelle Tea pointed out in another IBC post, air travel fashion is undeniably fabulous.

The Den Mother Pin

For decades the Den Mother was the only position a woman could hold in Scouting.  Her opportunities may have been limited, but her outfit was badass.


About Malic White

After surviving a childhood in musical theatre, Malic White appreciates hyperbole and maintains a strict regimen of diva worship. At 5'2", he scours thrifts stores and Chicago sidewalks for anything that might be Malic-sized. His writings will cover glam rock, zombie fashion, the art of cheapskatery, and whatever the angsty teen boys are wearing these days.

One comment

  1. I find fashion scrubs problematic–rather than proudly owning what they are (scrubs! awesome!), they look kind of like maternity shirts for the non-pregnant. If I had a job that required a uniform, I would probably get a little bored wearing the same thing every day. But if the point of a uniform is to identify you as part of a certain spirited gang, then they all have to be, well, uniform.

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