By: Mike Walton (blackeagle)
Posted On: 2020-08-24
She calls them that so as to get a reaction from me - it never fails. She knows full well what they are and how they are worn; she used to be a Girl Scout. But then, Girl Scouts don't wear a NECKERCHIEF!
Wikipedia defines a neckerchief in the following manner: "A neckerchief (necko, necker, kerchief or less commonly scarf ) is a type of neckwear associated with Scouts, cowboys, and sailors. It consists of a triangular piece of cloth or a rectangular piece folded into a triangle. The long edge is rolled towards the point, leaving a portion unrolled. The neckerchief is then fastened around the neck with the ends either tied or clasped with a slide or woggle."
The neckerchief has always been the "identifier" of a Scout. Even when not wearing the uniform, one can tell a Scout from a distance simply because of the thing they wear around the neck... even illustrations bring home that fact.
Before Sir Robert Baden-Powell envisioned that young men would enjoy reading about his military exploits; and the skills and education needed to endure and overcome those many Army campaigns and battles -- young men in service to other people wore a colorful scarf around their necks. They would tie them in a knot or make a small band to keep the two sides together. There are accounts in various British publications of young men wearing scarlet or green scarfs -- "neckerchiefs" as opposed to "handkerchiefs" which are carried in the pocket -- as they assisted schools or churches with various projects.
In crafting the first uniform of the Scout, BP included the neckerchief and even explained how useful this item would be to the Scout: one could wipe one's brow (or someone's nose...I guess...*smiling*) with it; but more useful things involve it as a bandage, signaling item, strainer, and several other uses. The neckerchief would become unique to Scouting, along with the three-fingered Sign of the Scout. It became more or less the "social symbol" if not the actual "work uniform" of the Scout -- and his or her adult counterparts playing the Game of Scouting.
When William Boyce, a Chicago businessman, and industrialist, came over to England for a visit in 1909, he had an encounter with a young man wearing a neckerchief, guiding Boyce to an appointment during one of those thick fogs England is known for. This impressed Boyce so much that he asked that unknown Scout to please take him later to meet Baden-Powell and to learn about this citizenship game called Scouting. He returned to the USA and the state of Illinois with a trunk full of Scouting items, including several neckerchiefs of various colors and designs. Boyce shared them with others in creating what we know today as the Boy Scouts of America.
Over time, the neckerchief became "en-vogue" and "lame". In the 30s and 40s, if you did not have a neckerchief on, you were either new to the game, retired from the game, or you were a supporter of the game of Scouting.
In the 70s and 80s, the BSA de-emphasized the wearing of the field uniform and therefore the neckerchief quietly was retired in favor of the open-collared shirt. It came back in the 90s, mainly as other nation's Scouting associations were seen on television and in newspapers wearing their versions of this distinctive cloth.
In the United States, adults wear neckerchiefs more or less as a status emblem: "this is who I am and you're not" kinda thing. The most common neckerchief "faux pas" centers around those who have participated and completed the Wood Badge training sequence. Wood Badge -- the only training program common to all member nations of the World Organization of Scouting Movements, or WOSM -- has a unique neckerchief and slide which those who do not belong to a Scouting unit wear to signify their training accomplishment. Those Wood Badge graduates are supposed to wear the Wood Badge with their unit's neckerchief and slide, like this:
Some Boy Scout Troops wear neckerchiefs -- either home make or store-bought. The emphasis placed on the wearing of the neckerchief by the Scoutmaster is key -- and if he or she is wearing the unit's neckerchief often enough, the chances are that everyone else associated with the Troop will either wear or want to wear one too.
There are many Troops out there who do NOT wear a neckerchief (or any other kind of neckwear, like bolo ties).
Here's a couple of reasons why we wear neckerchiefs:
- it is the outward "symbol" of the Scout, worldwide. Every nation -- even Communist ones -- use a neckerchief for their Scouting program (or "youth brigades" or "youth service" or "youth support" groups). We in Scouting feel that the wearing of the neckerchief should spur a young person to positive action, to serve as a reminder of his or her commitment toward "helping other people" and "being prepared."
- it identifies us as a part of a specific unit within Scouting. There are 64 color combinations currently in stock at the BSA's national supply facility in North Carolina. A Scout Troop's leadership is supposed to choose a color combination in stock -- or develop their own color combination --and EVERYONE associated with that unit -- member, honorary member, contributors or "straphanger" -- is supposed to wear that neckerchief.
- as I mentioned earlier, the neckerchief is not just a "uniform item," but in it as itself a very useful thing to have handy -- like a pocket knife, back to that "being prepared" thing. A longtime friend of mine, Lewis Orans, once created a neckerchief page with all kinds of ways that the piece of cloth could be used for...on the web.
The BSA wants us to wear a neckerchief -- not just with the official uniforms, but now also with our "street clothes" while participating in Scouting-related things. Not fund-raising but the kinds of service things we are known for. To this end, they revised their official uniform and insignia guidelines covering the wear and usage of the neckerchief. Previously, the neckerchief and a slide was "only worn in connection with the official uniform and never with T-shirts or civilian clothing." The current policy is: "When engaged in Scouting activities, members may wear the neckerchief with appropriate non-uniform clothing to identify them as Scouts."