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Oscar de la Renta, designer of Scout uniforms worn by millions, dies at 82

de-la-rentaOscar de la Renta, the renowned fashion designer who reimagined the official Scout uniform into a look that became synonymous with Scouting, has died. He was 82.

De la Renta’s design for the Scout uniform debuted in 1980 and was the official uniform for nearly three decades. That means his design was worn by millions of boys, girls and adults through the years.

De la Renta worked with BSA leaders for two years on the design. And the result was much more than just a new look. It represented an important shift for the organization from the military-centric uniform of the past to the tan-on-olive look still in use today.

Of course, de la Renta wasn’t best known for his work with the Boy Scouts of America. He designed clothes for luminaries like Jacqueline Kennedy, Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, Taylor Swift and Amy Adams. Most recently, he made headlines for designing the gown worn by Amal Alamuddin for her wedding to George Clooney.

But in Scouting circles, de la Renta will be remembered for his groundbreaking redesign of the Scout uniform. It was the organization’s most complete overhaul in nearly 60 years.

“We felt the uniform should meet several criteria,” de la Renta told Scouting magazine in our September 1980 issue. (Read the full story below.) “It should be suitable 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.”

De la Renta’s first big change was to the color scheme of the Boy Scout uniform. He chose khaki tan shirts instead of khaki green ones. The shirts were given collars that could be worn normally or turned under for use with de la Renta-designed neckerchiefs.

Instead of khaki green pants, de la Renta introduced “olive drab green trousers.” Baseball-style caps replaced the old visored ones.

Epaulet shoulder tabs were added, revealing the wearer’s program at a glance: red for Boy Scouting, blue for Cub Scouting and green for Exploring.

Even the socks were reimagined. No more garters and tabs; the red-and-green socks had elastic cuffs designed to keep them up.

Cub Scouts got uniforms that looked a lot like the new Boy Scout ones, but in navy blue. And female Scouters were given a range of blouses, skirts, shorts and scarves in the appropriate program colors.

The fabric of it all — polyester and cotton — was made to be durable, stain-resistant and easier to care for. All while looking sharp.

But in fashion, no design lasts forever.

The Centennial uniform builds on de la Renta’s design

In 2008, 28 years after de la Renta’s design was introduced, the BSA released its Centennial Boy Scout uniform. That’s the uniform design still in use today.

(Important note: A uniform never becomes “unauthorized” for wear. Any uniform that was ever official is still official today, including those from the “de la Renta years.”)

The Centennial uniform used quick-drying fabric made to be worn in the elements. Though de la Renta said one of his goals was to create a uniform “suitable for strenuous activity,” many Scouts felt his design was better suited for just standing around.

The redesign also overhauled the color scheme de la Renta had created. Instead of lots of reds and bright colors, the new Boy Scout uniform had a more subdued color palette. Epaulets, troop numbers, socks and the official Scout hat were stripped of red in favor of forest green.

Even the webbed Scout belt got a change: The shiny brass gave way to metallic gray.

Still, traces of de la Renta’s work remain in today’s Centennial uniform. He’ll forever be remembered for creating the foundation on which today’s uniforms are built.

Related links

Scouting magazine’s October 2002 article on the history of the Scout uniform

Scouting magazine’s September 2008 article about the Centennial Boy Scout Uniform, which replaced Oscar de la Renta’s design

Scouting magazine story announcing the de la Renta design

Click images to enlarge.





33 Comments on Oscar de la Renta, designer of Scout uniforms worn by millions, dies at 82

  1. Having heard from many of my fellow female scouters, I think they would like a return of all of those female clothes options.

    R.I.P. Mr. de la Renta.

  2. As a man, I’d like a return to those uniforms, too! I feel like a baggy fisherman in the current kit … especially all the gusseted pockets! De la Renta proved the uniform could by respectable and functional.

  3. Hmmmm, didn’t know that. Personally, I like his so-called “cartoon color” uniforms better than the current subdued pallette, but meh, it’s the uniform, I’ll wear it 🙂

  4. Bryan wrote: “The Centennial uniform used quick-drying fabric made to be worn in the elements. Though de la Renta said one of his goals was to create a uniform ‘suitable for strenuous activity,’ many Scouts felt his design was better suited for just standing around.”

    The same is true for the Centennial uniform. It won’t be worn for what it is designed for — strenuous outdoor activities — as long as (a) it costs a fortune to replace, and (b) it has all the big, colorful, glitzy patches, badges, loops, danglies and pins all over it.

  5. The uniform is outdated and needs to be reinvented. Otherwise, troops will reinvent it themselves, which some are already doing. The BSA needs to act on this problem now — not in 10 years.

  6. We need a rugged Boy Scout Uniform that is worn ALL the time, that doesn’t make us look like bus drivers. I’m all for going back to the uniforms that worked for so long that made us look like Scouts. Uniforming, one of the methods of Scouting!!!

    I don’t blame de la Renta for the “bus driver” current uniform, I blame folks for adopting it.

  7. Still feel like a french military and not us military in the uniform. Worn the uniform since 69 and still do not like it. I also wish it was made in the USA and not china. And designed for Michigan winters not Texas summers

    • Actually, at that time in the 1970’s the USAF, US Army, US Navy, and US Marine uniforms all went to two tone uniforms as well, with similar lighter color shirts and darker color trousers.

      The military colors were light blue/dark blue, light green/dark green, white/navy blue, and tan/Marine blue respectively.

      BSA uniforms never were designed to look like fatigues or combat uniforms.

    • In 1969, you would have had a uniform that was all olive green – not the design of Oscar De La Renta. There were some tweaks in the uniform in 1972 – you could drop the neckerchief for the first time. (Which is a shame) The red piping on the scout pants pockets disappeared. The uniform changes on a regular basis. But De Le Renta oversaw the biggest change at one time.

    • cubmaster in arlington // October 21, 2014 at 12:52 pm // Reply

      i wish the current uniform was more outdoor friendly. there are a lot of great outdoor shirts that dont restrict movement. the centennial uniforms are not in that group.

    • The shirts are way to hot for Texas summers.

  8. “It represented an important shift for the organization from the military-centric uniform of the past to the tan-on-olive look still in use today.”
    You mean from the class-A/military-dress pants of de la Renta to the mlitary-esque baggy pants that match the current baggy pants of the today’s Army in style? What’s this “shift” that you’re talking about? “Well, the shirts don’t look the same as military dress uniforms today.” Oh? Don’t they? “Ok, well, the main difference is that the military shoulder flags were accidentally sewed them on backwards for the first test batch of 1,000 and they decided to say that they meant to do it that way rather than admit that they were wrong.” Yeah, I’ll give you that, but the Scouting uniform is still really military-centric. That’s it’s charm, that’s its history, that’s its style.

  9. I’ve always blamed Oscar De La Renta for creating a smaller neckerchief that slipped under the collar. Up until his redesign, the neckerchief was worn over the collar and was substantial in size – and functional. Since that time it is a handkerchief and useless. But looking at the artwork above, it wasn’t Oscar De La Renta’s design that caused this shift. It must have been some other influence? Does anyone know?

  10. Glad to know that the old uniforms can still be worn. I have my Great Grandparents Cub Uniforms from this line, you can bet I will be wearing them!

    • Your great-grandparents were Cubs in the 1980s? Not from this line.

  11. His uniform is the only one I’ll wear, I hate the new look. Red epaulets forever!

    • Laurie Beckett // October 21, 2014 at 7:31 pm // Reply

      Indeed… I’ll die in my red loops.

  12. too bad the photo on the top is entirely wrong .. a boy scout of the rank of scout can not belong to a oa lodge

    • I don’t think those are lodge patches on their shirts. I suspect they are camper awards that some scout camps give out. Camp Tolochee in Georgia was such a camp. I can’t make out their CSP’s to be certain. But your point is correct – the patch doesn’t belong. It would be nice if scout camps would not make patches for inappropriate positions on the uniform.

  13. Fu fact: In 2012, our then-Scoutmaster declared that the boys could no longer wear the 1980s de la Renta Scout shorts that populated our uniform exchange–he deemed their length inappropriate (too lascivious) for Scouting.

    I liked the appearance of the OdlR uniform, but the fabric was a pain. The pants melted under the iron, and the shirt was too hot for hiking.

  14. Whatever happened to the necktie for male scouters? (pictured above in the first illustration)

  15. Although I wear the (almost current) uniform now for years, back in the 1970’s and 1980’s I frequently wore uniforms from the 1920’s and 1930’s and still wear some of them today-lace up breeches, original 1930’s knee socks and all. Even in my modern uniform I always wear my magnificent 1935 era campaign hat. I have always felt the “original” BSA uniform was a great garment, especially as it was designed and worn from 1920 until the late 1940’s. But I understand the need for updates. What is interesting is how many Scouts love the look of the old uniform.

  16. The de la Renta Uniform is so much better than the current ones. The colors made it easy to distinguish ranks, program, etc. The modern “subdued” color schemes are just too bland.

  17. I know you didn’t ask, but the bagginess of the current uniform, with its oversized shirt pockets makes it difficult to iron and keep looking nice for formal occasions. Flat pockets on the shirt are much sharper. Remove the pocket on the sleeve, too. Our council exec made a point of tracking down the old shirt and pants so that he looks professional in his uniform when interacting with the (donating) public. I’m sure he’s not the only one.

    While the expanding cargo pockets on the pants/shorts come in handy while camping, those also look too baggy at the Court of Honor. There has to be a happier medium. Further, Scout Shop staff in my local council push the “relaxed fit” uniform, which looks frumpy on most body types.

    I have yet to speak with a scouting female who is happy with the fit of the ladies’ sizes. That alone should be enough for national to revisit the uniform. (Even if only the sizing and cut.)

    As long as I’m asking for things that won’t ever happen, include a sewn tag in the Scout shirt that says “This shirt is designed to be buttoned and tucked in” …. /s

  18. Cherish Benge // October 21, 2014 at 7:14 pm // Reply

    I wish they were made in the USA. Unless you are super fit, the fit of the pants are bad. I haven’t met a boy yet that really likes them. The same is especially true for the ladies. The waist is too high they look horrible thru the tummy, butt and thigh. They are too expensive and they wear out fast. I like all the pockets. They are very user friendly.

  19. The last time I went to buy Scout pants, about three years ago, I had to buy a pair of pants where the waist was two inches too big — it was literally the only way to find pant legs that were big enough to fit over my thighs. Maybe National is designing adult pants for “adults with stick-thin legs and big guts, all from not exercising enough” but I run enough that my body is pretty straight and I don’t really have curves. And, yes, I tried both styles of pants.

    The new shirts are really hot and, unlike the de la Renta shirt, don’t breath except out of the back vent. (I’m not sure why some people are saying the de la Renta shirts were too hot — have they not tried the microfiber shirts?) And if you want to wear a camelback or a regular backpack to hold some water bottles or whatever, then the back vent becomes completely useless.

  20. Back in my day, Scouts wore knickers with leggings, a button-down choke-collar coat and the campaign hat 😆

  21. Scott Fitzhugh // October 22, 2014 at 8:12 am // Reply

    I have uniform shirts, pants, shorts, and socks that my brother & I wore in the 80’s, when we were Scouts. I have 4 boys in Scouts now and they have wore these old uniforms. They are still in better shape (especially the pants) than the new uniforms we have bought.

    The old uniforms were definitely sharper looking. They looked much better for formal occasions, like an Eagle Court of Honor.

    I have never figured out why it is an either/or question. Can’t they offer the Centennial pants AND the older style dress pants?

  22. The shoulder tabs, added in the 1980 design, provided another practical advantage for all Arrowmen: Keeping the OA sash from falling off your shoulder! I wonder if de la Renta planned it that way, or if it just happened.

  23. The older uniforms were more comfortable and looked better. I have 15 year old, 100% cotton Scout shirts that I take to the cleaners, they add extra starch which helps to repel dirt and wrinkles. Those shirts still look great.

  24. BTW, the Centennial uniforms are on clearance on
    I wonder why…. NOT!

  25. Very very disappointed!!! Both of my Sons were in Scouts Tiger-webelos.unfortunately my oldest son is no longer with us. I’m making a memorable quilt for my youngest son.I donated the uniform after they out grown it. Went to buy a wolf scarf to put on quilt and when got home to fine out the scarf is cut in half and also made in China!! We are a GM family, our oldest son worked for GM. Debating if I should take the scarf back and tell them stick this scarf up where the sun doesn’t shine in China!!! Living in Flint Michigan and buying MADE IN AMERICA!!!

  26. Dwayne Lunsford // November 14, 2014 at 2:34 pm // Reply

    This isn’t meant to disrespect a dead man but the current uniform is dysfunctional and uncomfortable. If I were starting my own Venture crew I would go with some of the more basic shirts, shorts, pants offered by 5.11. And why in the world hasn’t the BSA gone to velcro patches like the military at least for those areas of the shirt that change often (rank patch area)?

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