Scout Shirts

Cambridge District Scout Archive

The headline photograph is from 1917

In the beginning

The description in Scouting for Boys below is a reasonable starting point for a brief overview of Scout shirts.

‘The Scout Shirt or Jersey is a free and easy thing, and nothing could be more comfortable when the sleeves are rolled up.  All Scouts have them rolled up because this tends to give them greater freedom, but also as a sign that they are ready to carry out their motto.  They roll them down only when it is very cold or when their arms may become sunburnt.  In cold weather the shirt can be supplemented with warmer garments over or, better, under it.’

The original shirts could be of many colours but uniform to a troop.  The 1912 Cambridge lists (below) give khaki, grey, green, dark green, blue, navy blue and dark blue. The HQ Gazette was selling shirts in khaki, navy and blue.  All these are mid to dark hues, colours for working clothes.   The finish on the cloth of the era softened the tones and the result was a soft working outfit not a dress uniform. 

Some early Troops altered shirts several times.  This change could be readily achieved, if necessary, by dyeing the shirts, a standard home skill. The 1st Cambridge changed shirt colours three times, the last on becoming Sea Scouts in 1913. 

Many photographs of younger Scouts show large shirts, hand me downs or bought for growth. Those below, showing by the sleeve length that they are the right size for the boys, are clearly cut to allow layering beneath.

Extra layers under, as advised C T Wood’s album

Some early pictures show the bulk of ‘tucked in’ shirts. Note the high waist, the cut of the times, which allowed room to grow but also provided a solid overlap and ‘kept the kidneys warm’, a concern of the era.   As late as 1947 the idea of abdominal chilling as a factor in illness was the subject of a British Medical Journal paper. Mothers retained this belief for many more years.

The thickness of early shirts and the generous cut encouraged them to be worn as intended, as an outer layer, with extra garments under if required. 

Shirts were usually depicted as tucked into the shorts. However this is not always the case. Tunic shirts, buttoned at the neck but not down the front, were also worn.  They can be seen on the cover of Scouting for Boys and in this 1931 picture of the B-P family.  In 1939 the ‘Victory of the Shirt over the Tunic’ was announced.

The introduction of new sections brought variations as regulated by POR, not least the sea scout jersey. The shift of materials was not regulated. New manufacturing techniques were developed which gave strength without bulk and a greater national wealth allowed summer and winter uniforms for some. The styles sold in the Scout Shop showed the way.


Dated c 1928 – badge types from both before and after this date co exist on this shirt from the 9th Cambridge. Short sleeved it is thick and has a robust construction.
This shirt of the 13th Cambridge, with Senior Scout epaulettes, is from the years between 1946 and 1967. Short sleeved it is thinner.

‘Guinea Pig’ shirts for Scouts were advertised in the 1930’s; they have no tail and can be tucked in without an unsightly bulge, sacrificing warmth for style.

Cambridge Archives

1925    Wide game on the Gogs with 9th and 7th (Ken with 13th) …all three troops wore grey shirt and blue shorts at that time.                  Ken North

The colour of shorts is rarely noted.

1936    ‘Gilcraft’ wrote in the Cambridgeshire County Gazette, that we should roll our sleeves up, but that he preferred his cut to the elbow. 

Details of Uniforms of Cambridge Town 1912        (Based inside the town boundaries)

ShirtScarf
1stKhakiCambridge Blue
2ndGreyChocolate
3rdDark bluePink
4thnot givenBlack
5thGrey Purple (school colours)
6thGrey Chocolate/ light blue
(school colours)
7thBlueClaret
8thGrey Dark blue
9thGrey Dark Green
10thGrey Mauve
11thGrey Khaki
12thGrey Light and Dark blue
13thGrey Brown
14thGrey Red
15thGrey Silver Grey
16thGrey Red

Cambridge District 1910 to 1913 as Troops were formed. (Outside the town boundaries)

1stDark Green Dark Green
2ndNavy BlueBlack/ white
3rdDark Green Grey
4thKhaki Red
5thGreyHeliotrope
6thKhaki Khaki
7thKhaki Khaki/ blue
8thKhaki Red/ Grey
9thKhaki Khaki
10thKhaki Dark Blue
11thKhaki Orange
12thKhaki Khaki
13thDark BlueLight Blue/ Crimson
C T Wood’s album 1914 Several Troops with differing shirt colours

See also ‘Shirt sleeves’

JWR Archivist Feb 2019