I Promise to do my best: A Brief History of Brownie Uniforms

2014 marks the 100th Anniversary of the Brownies, and to celebrate this I wanted to write about the evolution of the Brownie uniform. Like many women in the UK I was a Brownie and have now been in guiding since I was 6, even going on to become a Girl Guide Leader. I was lucky enough to visit one of my Girl Guider's collection of uniforms, badges and guiding paraphernalia; where she was able to talk through their history and importance.

I was able to look at some early examples of Brownie badges, including the 1918 'Brownie Man' badge, tin promise badges from the Second World War and traditional six emblems. The early badges were made of brown felt, backed on light canvas, with embroidered symbols; later on the words 'Brownie Guide' were added and the edges of the badge were over sewn to reinforce them. Many of these early badges used threads and felt dyed with vegetable dyes, this meant that they had to be removed from the dresses before washing, and then all sewn on again before the next week's Brownie meeting! During the Second World War to save on using threads some badges were changed so they were just plain triangles of coloured felt instead, similar to the Cub Scout badges of the time.

The first Brownies or 'Rosebuds' did not have an official uniform, but the Girl Guides Gazette suggested that a dark blue pleated skirt, blue knitted jersey, brown edged blue wool cap or 'tam', brown or blue tie and a belt would make a suitable uniform. The brown cotton dress with a tie that we associate with the Brownies was introduced in 1917, with the style barely changing until 1990.

The first photo shows what a 1940s uniform would have been like. The cotton shirt dress was produced in one length and each girl was expected to shorten it to the required length, the example I saw had a 3” deep hand sewn hem. This meant that in theory one dress would last the girls all their time as a Brownie, unlike the casual trousers and t-shirts of the modern uniforms. Until 1967 the dress had button down pockets on the bodice with either a brown or golden yellow tie, commonly worn with the end folded up. A variety of hats accompanied this dress over the years, the cotton hat from the first photo replaced a rush version in 1936, which was then replaced by a wool beret as seen in the second photo.

The third and fourth photos show the uniform from 1973, the dress has changed to having the pockets on the skirt instead, as well as the lapels being longer as was the 1970s fashion. The cross over yellow tie was introduced 6 years earlier, the wearing of knee length socks was still common, and the infamous woollen bobble hat was adopted. To begin with the hats had to be knitted by the girls themselves but were later available to buy along with the rest of their uniform.

My Mother wore this 1970s uniform when she was a Brownie; however the uniform radically changed in 1990 meaning that I was to wear the yellow and brown uniforms that were designed by Jeff Banks. This newer uniform was a lot more practical and hard wearing, and like the current uniform it comprised of a combination of items for a 'mix and match' outfit. As we can see the Brownie uniform has come a long way from the heavy woollen skirts and jerseys of 1914 to a uniform more comfortable and suitable for the 21st Century girl. The uniform is due to change again this year, I wonder how much more it will alter in the future?

Girlguiding UK, Uniforms in Guiding, Girlguiding UK Posters. [09/05/14]. Available from the World Wide Web: <http://www.girlguiding.org.uk/pdf/Guiding_wear_history.pdf>

Girlguiding Scotland, Brownie Uniform over the Past 100 years, Girlguiding Scotland Archives. [12/05/14]. Available from the World Wide Web:http://www.girlguidingscotland.org.uk/aboutus/100yearsofguiding/brownieuniform>

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