Why Do Scouts Wear Neckerchief Scarfs? (And Their Symbolism)


Have you ever wondered why boy scouts wear that triangular piece of fabric (called a neckerchief) around their necks? When getting ready for your weekly troop meeting, you often dress in your full Class A uniform: a buttoned-down collared shirt, loops on shoulders, your rank displayed properly on your lower shirt pocket, your belt, your pants, your scout socks, and of course your neckerchief with its slide! 

PS. This article is based on the experiences and research of Eagle Scout, Kevin A and Cole

As a boy scout, I was always confused as to why I needed to wear a scarf as part of my uniform (talk about being uncool 😛 ). However, after doing some research, I found that there are actually very good reasons as to why scouts wear neckerchiefs! That being said, if you were really opposed to wearing a neckerchief, you could technically change your uniform by a troop vote (more on this later in the Frequently Asked Questions section). 

Hold your horses though! Before you try and hold such a vote, I urge you to read this article to learn the reasons why Scouting founder Lord Robert Baden-Powell wanted scouts to wear them. The history of neckerchiefs is rooted in Scouting values, and is much more symbolic (and practical!) than you might think. 

If you’re interested in Scouting history and fun facts, I’d highly suggest checking out my article on The History of Scouting Around The World!

So how did the neckerchief, one of the universal symbols associated with Scouting of all kinds, become part of the Scouts BSA uniform? To discover the origins of the neckerchief, we’ll have to go back to 1908, when Lord Robert Baden-Powell first published Scouting for Boys. 

Why do Scouts Wear Neckerchiefs? 

The origin of the scout uniform can be linked to the South African Constabulary (peacekeeping group) Baden-Powell commanded while overseas. According to Scouting for Boys, the uniforms they wore were “comfortable, serviceable, and [offered] good protection against the weather.” And they wore neckerchiefs! As such, he thought scouts should have a similar uniform. 

Note: For this section of the article I’ll be referencing quotes from Lord Robert Baden-Powell’s book, Scouting for Boys (Amazon referral link) that was published in 1908. Whatever quotes I put in this section, unless specified otherwise, will be coming from this historic book!

In addition to the sharp look that the neck scarfs gave his unit, Lord Baden-Powell noticed the practicality offered by neckerchiefs, especially when first aid was required. If a scout was in a pinch and needed to make a splint, a sling, or a bandage for themselves or someone else, their neckerchief could be used! 

Picture sourced from Scouting for Boys by Robert Baden-Powell, 1908

The neckerchief was also commonly used to protect scouts’ necks from sunburns, as well as used as an emergency rope in some cases. However, the neckerchief wasn’t just a practical first-aid tool, it was also used symbolically in several ways! Lord Baden Powell once stated: 

“Every Troop has its own scarf colour, and since the honour of your Troop is bound up in the scarf, you must be careful to keep it clean and tidy.” 

As you can see, your troop’s honor was “bounded” by your scarf, meaning it was very, very, very important that you kept your neckerchief clean. Neckerchiefs are a representation of your troop’s honor and, by extension, your own honor. Letting your neckerchief be dirty would mean you’re dishonoring your troop (unless it were being used in an emergency first aid situation). 

Neckerchiefs were also tied in a knot to remind the scout of the Scout Slogan: Do a good turn daily.” 

If you weren’t already aware, helping others at all times is one of the core values of Scouting. By serving as a reminder for scouts to do a good turn daily, neckerchiefs can help scouts to stay true to their values and better rememer the Scout Slogan. Lord Baden Powell went on to say:

“Make each Scout tie a knot in his neckerchief every morning as a reminder to carry out his idea of doing a good turn every day, ’til it becomes a habit with him.” 

With such symbolism originally associated with the neckerchief, it was only a matter of time before its symbolism was extended even further. Below is an excerpt on neckerchief symbolism by John Herrholz from Baloo’s Bugle (a monthly Cub Scouting program designed to help Cub Scout leaders): 

“My first Scoutmaster taught the importance of the Scout Oath and Law using the Neckerchief… He said that it was no coincidence that the neckerchief had 3 sides, just like the three parts of the Scout oath… 

The first and longest side is to remind you of your long-standing duty to God. This whole side is hidden from view, just as your faith is deep inside you. But without that faith, there is no strength for the rest.

This shorter side is to remind you of your duty to help others. Remember it is some of this duty that shows to others, just like part of this side of your neckerchief shows.

This last side is your duty to yourself… you are a young man who is physically fit. Has a strong moral foundation and who is not apt to fall into the temptations of drugs and alcohol.”

Of course, the neckerchief’s association with the Scout Oath and Law was not intended by Baden-Powell, but it just goes to show how important the neckerchief is to Scouting! 🙂

Before we get into the FAQs, I just wanted to reiterate that there is a lot of history and significance associated with a scout’s neckerchief. Out of all the different parts of your Class A uniform, your neckerchief is one of the pieces with the richest history and most powerful symbolism. I charge you to wear it well!

Frequently Asked Questions About Boy Scout Neckerchiefs

Do Scouts Have to Wear a Neckerchief? 

Scouts are generally required to wear neckerchiefs, as they are part of the official Class A uniform. However, in the case of a unanimous troop decision, you can go without wearing a neckerchief. According to page 13 of the BSA’s Official Guide to Awards and Insignias

“Scout neckerchiefs are optional. Troops choose their own official neckerchief. All members of a troop wear the same color. The troop decides by vote, and all members abide by the decision. If the neckerchief is not worn, then the shirt is worn with an open collar. Scout and Scout leader neckerchiefs may be worn in a variety of plain colors and contrasting borders.” 

In my opinion as an Eagle Scout, I would strongly advise against going to these lengths to avoid wearing your neckerchief. There is so much symbolic meaning to the neckerchief, and to not wear one means you aren’t going to be reminded of that symbolism. (Plus, the practical aspects of having a neckerchief are also hard to argue against!)

Your neckerchief is also one of the only things that you wear with your Class A that can distinguish you from other scouts. Your neckerchief is unique to your troop, and your troop only! It’s something that you can be proud of when participating in Summer camp competitions and other such activities!

Of course, this is 100% my own opinion. If you have strong feelings or reasons as to why you shouldn’t wear a neckerchief, then go for it!

Should a Scout’s Neckerchief be Worn Over or Under The Collar?

Whether you wear your neckerchief over or under your collar is up to your unit. However, once a decision is made, it will become your troop’s official neckerchief policy. BSA’s Official Guide to Awards and Insignias, page 13, states:

“The unit has a choice of wearing the neckerchief over the collar (with the collar tucked in) or under the collar.”

In my own troop, we wore our neckerchiefs front-and-center, with our collars tucked in. However, I’ve seen it done both ways so I can personally attest that either method will look great!

When Should I Wear my White Eagle Scout Neckerchief Instead of my Blue Eagle Scout Neckerchief? 

There’s no hard-set rule about when you should wear your blue Eagle Scout neckerchief versus your white Eagle Scout neckerchief. It’s up to you! Generally though, Eagle Scouts wear their white neckerchiefs to ceremonial Scouting events and wear their blue neckerchiefs to everything else. 

My Troop Wants to Change its Neckerchief Insignia! Any Ideas on What we Could Change it to? 

When thinking of ideas for a neckerchief design, a good go-to option is the Scouting Fleur-de-Lis, as it has a rich history for boy scouts. Wondering how this might look? Your troop could have a Fleur-de-Lis with your troop number listed somewhere above or below it. 

However, there are many other options you could go with as well. For example, my troop used one of the religious symbols that was a major part of the church our troop was associated with!

Should our Troop use Neckerchiefs Slides or Just Have Them Tied in a Knot? 

Whether you use a neckerchief slide or simply tie your neckerchief in a knot is up to you and your troop! Slides have the advantage of making your neckerchief look more consistent within your troop, and they’re also cool items to trade with other troops at Jamborees and Summer camps. 

However, I’ve personally found that neckerchief slides can be quite easy to lose :(. If you misplace your neckerchief slide, then you’ll have an incomplete uniform and fail your uniform inspection. On the other hand, a unique neckerchief slide (Amazon referral link of an interesting example slide) can give your troop uniform more personality and troop spirit!

Baden-Powell originally wanted scouts to tie their neckerchiefs into knots, and it’s a great option to go with! It makes your uniform cost less and you won’t have to worry about misplacing your slide. However, not having an official slide will make it harder to trade slides with other troops, if that’s something you and your troop are interested in. 

How Should I Store my Neckerchief to Keep it From Getting Dirty? 

To keep my neckerchief clean, something that I’d always do when going camping was I’d store my neckerchief in gallon-sized Ziploc bags! The only way dirt could get on my neckerchief was if I had dirty hands or the bag opened and dirt got in. It worked really well, and I rarely ever had a dirty neckerchief!

Eagle Scout Pro Tip: Store your belt, merit badge sash, and neckerchief in the same bag so that you know where everything is when you need to put on your Class A in a jiffy. Uniform inspection winner, here we come!

Conclusion 

From serving as emergency bandages to reminding scouts of their duty to do a good turn daily, neckerchiefs have many important uses in Scouting. Now that you’re a neckerchief expert, I hope you’ll appreciate this aspect of your Scouting uniform just a little bit more! 

If you liked this article, you also might like my Ultimate Camp Packing List For Scouts where I’ll give you tips on some unexpectedly awesome things to bring to your next campout.

Also, I’d highly recommend signing up for my newsletter, The ScoutSmarts Scribe for Scouting tips, freebies, and weekly notifications whenever I post a new article. No spam, guaranteed!

Thanks for reading. Come back to ScoutSmarts soon and, until next time, be the best scout you can possibly be! 🙂

Cole

I'm constantly writing new content for this website because I believe in Scouts like you! Thanks so much for reading, and for making this world a better place. Until next time, I'm wishing you all the best on your journey to Eagle and beyond!

Recent Content