Scout Shorts

Cambridge District Scout Archive

Shorts were not usual for men or boys in 1907.  Shorts for sport and breeches for cycling, riding or golf are depicted in 1907 Gamages and Army and Navy Catalogues, but not short trousers unfastened at the knee.  Shorts came into general use in Britain in the 1920’s.

Joshua Taylor’s sale 1922

W T Thurbon in Archaeology of Scouting (A Cambridge history) writes of the beginnings of Scouting ‘this was an age when shorts were rarely worn’.

1907                In Part 1 of Scouting for Boys B-P describes the clothing for a Scout patrol not belonging to any other a uniformed corps.  In the very early days it was assumed that Scout Patrols would be formed within groups such as the Boys Brigade, as indeed they were.  For Patrols that formed independently the proposal was – Shorts: Trousers cut short at the knee.  A kilt if you are a Scotsman.   Stockings, with garters made of green braid, with one end hanging down one inch.

 For leaders B-P later clarified “Scoutmasters should dress as much like the Scouts as possible – of course substituting riding breeches for shorts, although even these should be worn in camp.” 

C T Wood album c. 1918

The early depictions of shorts show a minimal gap between sock and short, always long socks held in place with a garter.

B-P wears shorts that show a minimal gap between sock and the bottom of the shorts in the pictures from Brownsea Island. A slightly larger gap is shown by the one Boy Scout wearing shorts.


Cambridge Archives

1911 The list of troops participating at the 1911 Cambridge Rally in front of BP listed the colour of shorts – which was blue for 16 of the 17 and khaki for the 1st Newmarket (along with their khaki neckers and shirts). Shirts were more varied being khaki, light khaki, dark green, and, predominately, grey.

Cambridge c. 1914

Note below 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.  During this time society was moving towards a greater appreciation of the open air for health and in contrast to the fug of slums. In Cambridge the Shirley and Sedley schools were designed as ‘Open Air Schools’.

Cambridge 1917

1920’s   Scouters originally wore tunics and slacks or Norfolk suits; then in the 1920’s, as the influence of Gilwell spread, first scouters adopted shorts, and then abandoned tunics.              WTT Archaeology 1978

D C Professor Howard Marsh c. 1912

1931                B-P in 1931 with his family.    Peter wears his tunic shirt un-tucked with a belt over the top.

1932                Shorts had become a standard item of boy’s attire.  In letters to The Scouter it could be asserted and not contradicted that ‘every boy has shorts and jersey’.


An ideal from ‘The Rover’ 1934

1942                Concern was expressed by the Mid Cambridge LA that without extra coupons for uniform the Scouts, who were in long trousers all day, were increasingly reluctant to wear their (now) small old clothes that they could not replace.

1954                54th Cambridge           Court of Honour          ‘It was decided that we wear Grey flannels for winter.’

1961                Long trousers became an option for Senior Scouts and Rovers

1964                The Revised edition of ‘Running a Senior Scout Troop’ observed: ‘Many shorts do not seem to have loops for the belt and before long the result is almost indecent.  Insist on their being put on.  Most shorts are too long and need severe pruning. Although we do not need to copy the abbreviations prevailing in some parts of Europe where the gap between the bottom of the shorts and top of the socks is measured in meters…  It should never be necessary for Scouts to turn up their shorts – a practice that should be stopped in no uncertain manner.’              The long trouser option was not mentioned by this traditionalist.

Cubs retained shorts, still the social norm for boys who only moved up to long trousers as they neared the transition to secondary school.

1966                The Advanced report of 1966 changed the uniform to ‘mushroom’ trousers for Scouts and leaders, commenting that the ‘wearing of shorts by members of the Movement is one of the most damaging aspects of our present public image.’

1973                Shorts are no longer uniform but clearly getting shorter still when used for activities.

1974    CSG      ‘It is accepted that long trousers for Cubs will eventually be…’

2017                Shorts of many lengths and functions have returned to common use.  No longer Scout uniform but also no longer for school or just children’s clothing.  Shorts now carry overtones of being physically active and an outdoor lifestyle.  Perhaps this is not so far from B-P’s original intention.

JWR Archivist Feb 2019