Being a Girl Guide – it’s not all about the uniform!

posted in: History of fashion | 5

I read that they have designed a new uniform for the Guides. These girls look sweet in their long sleeved Ts and red and blue hoodies. But I do wonder what is the point? Paired with jeans they look comfy and casual but they lack any distinctiveness and a member of the public would be hard pressed to pick them out in an identity parade. If you have so little to say with your uniform why not just let these resourceful young women wear what they want?

two girl guides in blue and red top and hoody
2014 Girl Guide uniform, designed by students

In the past the uniform looked rather military, granted, but it was a uniform you could feel proud of. In 104 years the Girl Guides have only changed the design eight times, roughly once every 13 years. In the fast moving of women’s fashion that is an age. What’s wrong with the 1923 version, you may ask?  The hats might have needed to be jettisoned if the girls were putting up a tent, or traversing a river, but otherwise these loose fitting dresses would have been both comfortable and smart.

six girl guides in 1923
The 1923 version

When I started in the Brownies in about 1964 the uniform I wore was very similar, in its essentials to this version. I sorry but don’t have a photograph of me  in my uniform but this is what I wore. I was in a “six” called the Gnomes – a white fellow with a black brush – “helping others in our homes”.

!950 Brownie uniform
!950 Brownie uniform

Hurrah for the useful breast pockets that, as if we were young detectives, contained a note pad and pencil. The other one had plasters and a needle and thread. A pull-on, knitted hat (replacing the beret), a golden neckerchief tied in a particular way, and pinned with a brownie fairy brooch. One of the skills I learnt – never forgotten – was how to tie a reef knot behind my back – necessary for attaching the neckerchief. The dimensions of this scarf were such that it was designed to be used as a sling, in dire circumstances. Remember we were required to “Be Prepared”. A brown leather belt – and I remember mine having a special clasp and Brownie insignia – and a name tape to identify the Brownie “pack” we belonged to. I clearly remember my uniform being ironed and laid out on my Camberwick bedspread so I could change quickly when I got in from school on a Wednesday night. This girl, with her two sleeve stripes, was a “Sixer” – the leader of a small team. In my view there is nothing like teaching young people about taking charge of others, responsibility and the rudiments of management.

I didn’t take the Brownies very seriously, but I loved being a Girl Guide which I progressed to when I was about 12. My troupe was associated with a Methodist Church in Holgate, York.

Unfortunately the old-style guide uniform with a similar scarf, pockets and a lanyard (a lanyard! how I longed for a lanyard) was phased out just as I joined. I envied those older girls with their proper belted outfits and berets. Again I don’t have a photograph of me in my uniform although my mother kindly stored it in an upper cupboard  for years. This picture shows what I wore (probably with the same ghastly white knee socks).

1970s unifrom for Guides and Venture Guides
1970s unifrom for Guides and Venture Guides

This is more or less identical to my Guide uniform. A navy blue skirt, a blue over blouse, with the old style folded tie exchanged for a little pre-sewn version, secured with a trefoil badge. The hat was, to my mind, very cool indeed. It had a badge on it and it sat on the top of the head, with some shaping at the back to hold it on. I loved wearing the hat. Badges of various sorts were sewn on to the sleeves of the blouse (7/8th length) including a Diamond Jubilee special given to us all in 1970.

Girl Guides Diamond Jubilee badge
Girl Guides Diamond Jubilee badge

I worked hard for awards and badges. Never underestimate the power of competition and targets for motivating young people – and older ones too. I think we were allowed to do three badges twice a year. Despite badge gathering being rather obnoxious to the founder Baden-Powell I found the opportunity enchanting.  It was an interesting challenge to try to get as many as I could. Cook, Camper, First aider, Toymaker, Needlecraft, Knitter, Basketmaking, Life saver, Rambler, Commonwealth Knowledge, “Friend to the Deaf”, and eventually “Queen’s Guide”. I did so many things I would not have otherwise have done – camping, rambling, orienteering, crafts, visiting old people, cleaning up the environment. Nearly everything I did took me out of my comfort zone and taught me resilience. I attended church every month, I carried the flag, I read from Pilgrim’s Progress at the funeral of a local guide leader. Eventually I progressed to the Venture Guides. The girl in the middle of the photograph above is wearing the Venture Guide uniform. The gorgeous, sophisticated eau de nil blouse, and an even more amazing foldable hat was quite a thrill. I didn’t stick it out. By now boys, music and surreptitious smoking were more intriguing and they didn’t do badges in these subjects.

The new uniforms have been designed by design students who are more concerned with body image issues and consultation with the girls than with producing a stylish outfit. Back in 2000 the Guides asked  Jeff Banks to design their uniform. His was a hybrid between tradition and modernity. And rather ripped off from the American Girl Scout, with the sash and baseball hats.

Girl Guide uniforms by Jeff Banks design 1990
Jeff Banks design 1990

And Ali Capalino was responsible for the the Brownie outfit which doesn’t do much for me either, with its gym skirts and gilets.

Ally Capellino design 2002
Ally Capellino design 2002

I feel like an old fogey celebrating the vintage outfits, but I can’t get excited about the modern incarnations. I don’t even know why I dislike them. Style has been compromised for comfort certainly and all the modern outfits are variations on sportswear and “street” fashion. I am not sure I would have been keen to join a movement where you had to dress like Vicky Pollard.  I think it is something to do with pride and belonging. What do you think about uniforms for youth and the designs featured here?

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5 Responses

  1. This is very interesting, Kate. I was both a Brownie and a Guide and have some good memories of both, although I am a very strong introvert and going door to door to sell cookies was torture for me. On the positive side though I remember wonderful camping trips and pursuing badges as well. My mom was often a volunteer with our troupes and so it was nice to be able to spend time doing things with her as well. One notable thing I remember about being in the Guides was doing some campaigning against Quebec separation, of all things.

    I agree with you that the new uniforms lack distinctiveness, although I don’t know much about youth these days and so I don’t know if more traditional uniforms would be a big deterrent to participation.

  2. Oops..I don’t think I meant “troupe”!

  3. […] London won the Olympics the team were unmistakable. In their matching Jeff Banks (who also dressed the Brownies, remember?) stone wool-linen blend tailor-made suits David and Sir Steve looked impressive. Their […]

  4. I’m a current Leader in Guiding. I was a Brownie in the era when we wore thin cotton frocks (even in the depths of winter) and a Guide when we had to wear cotton blouses and skirts (which weren’t practical for any of the outdoor activities we did). How we rejoiced when they were replaced with warm sweatshirts and practical trousers. Although the latest incarnation of the Guide uniform split opinion when first launched, many of those who now have it like it – the fabric is practical for outdoor activities, it launders easily and wears well. Seen en masse it looks good, and is distinctive. And it’s what the girls think which matters.

    • fabrickated

      Thanks for your interesting feedback Leslie. I am glad the young women like the new uniform.

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