How many men and women can say they own a custom Oscar de la Renta design? Very few. Yet Scouts across the country are among the select crowd touting ownership over the fashion icon’s coveted designs. And in celebration of the legendary designer’s birthday (today, July 22), we’re taking a look at how de la Renta shaped Scouting history with a surprising transition from couture to campsite khaki.
Not just a matching set of clothing, the Boy Scout uniform is a symbol of Americana which holds a very special place in the hearts of millions of Scouts and Scouters across generations. Since the first uniform inspiration emerged from the experiences of Baden-Powell, the shorts, neckerchief and knee-high socks have become one of the most recognized and admired American emblems in history.
A New Look for Scouting’s Most Beloved Symbol
In 1978, the BSA realized the uniform needed a refresher and reached out to none other than famed Dominican fashion designer Oscar de la Renta. Although the designer typically reserved his creations for the red carpet or catwalk, de la Renta volunteered his keen eye to a two year uniform redesign with the BSA that would catapult the organization from early twentieth century military-style to contemporary 80s cool.
“We felt the uniform should meet several criteria,” de la Renta told Scouting Magazine in the 1980 September issue. “It should be equitable for strenuous activity; it should be made from an easy care fabric, and at the same time the wearer should still look like a Scout.”
Taking a modern twist on traditional Scouting attire, the designer opted for a brighter color scheme for Boy Scout, Cub Scout, Explorer, and Scouter uniforms. Khaki green shirts were replaced with khaki tan shirts which included collars to be worn with or without neckerchiefs. The shirts received additional embellishment with the introduction of colorful epaulets, specifically designed for the Scout’s program placement: crimson for Boy Scouts, navy blue for Cub Scouts, and green for Explorers. The shoulder epaulets also offered a practical advantage for Arrowmen keeping the OA sash in place. Khaki green pants shifted to an olive green hue with the addition of utility pockets, while baseball-style caps were chosen in lieu of visored hats. Lastly, the old-fashioned garters and tabs got the boot and red and green socks with elastic cuffs took their place.
And the women of Scouting also proudly donned the de la Renta numbers. Fashioned in a vivid lemon yellow signifying happiness and good cheer, the Cub Scout leader uniform included an option for women to wear a blouse designed to be crisp yet feminine, along with either slacks, shorts or a skirt. The approved signature scarf and hats accessorized the look. With no seam left unsewn, Oscar de la Renta revamped all versions of the Scouting uniform from head to toe.
de la Renta’s Scouting Legacy Lives On
Marking the most significant uniform redesign in nearly 60 years, de la Renta’s imaginative creations represent an innovative period in Scouting history. With the introduction of the Centennial uniform in 2008, the Scouting uniform once again transformed into what Scouts wear today. Nixing the vivid palette of reds, the centennial outfit was fashioned with more muted tones like forest green.
In October 2014 de la Renta died at 82, leaving behind a Scouting legacy never to be forgotten. The designer’s seamless reconstruction on a Scouting classic will be remembered in history as one of the designer’s most charming and iconic contributions to American culture. But great style is always in fashion. Despite it’s retired state, the de la Renta uniforms can still be worn today as an authorized Scouting uniform.
So if you’ve got the uniform, wear it! You’ll no doubt have an extra bit of panache sporting the designer number at your next Scouting event while also appreciating a little piece of Scouting history. Do you or know someone who owns an Oscar de la Renta uniform? Let us know in the comments below and share what the uniform means to you!