Leslie's Guiding History Site


Brownie Uniform

Brownie (and Rosebud) Uniform

When Rosebuds first started, the uniform instructions were vague.  Written instructions, only occasionally aided by sketches, meant that a lot was left for the Guiders to interpret, or use their best judgement on.  So far as the instructions went, they were for a navy jersey and skirt, and a navy tammy-style hat.  As the Guides wore a pale blue necker with their navy uniforms, some Guiders thought that perhaps Rosebuds were intended to do likewise - it was only later stated that they were not.  The Rosebud's Promise Badge, which was in brass, was worn on the hat.  

As the Girl Guide Gazette of June 1914 stated "a Rosebud may not wear a Girl Guides uniform hat.  Neither may she wear any Guide's badges.  A Rosebud has her own brooch badge.  She may not salute with three fingers, for a Rosebud only has two Promises to make, therefore her sign is the holding up of two fingers.  A Rosebud cannot have the sky-blue neckerchief, but she may tie her hair back with sky-blue ribbon.  When a Rosebud is to be enrolled she has to make two promises, and says:  On my honour I promise that I will do my best: 1. To do my duty to God and the King; and 2. To do a good turn to somebody every day."

The name change to Brownies in 1915 led to a change of uniform too.  

In June 1915 the Girl Guides Gazette stated  "Brownie brooch to be a metal acorn brooch bearing the letter B.  Uniform to be brown overall, skirt & jersey or Holland blouse, brown belt, brown shoes and stockings, brown hair ribbon, hat trimmed with brown."  However there isn't any evidence of a badge being produced which had the letter B on it - surviving badges show only an acorn on a white background, in a brown ring.

In December 1915 there was further clarification: "Uniform: brown overall and belt, brown hair ribbon, rush or felt cap or hat trimmed with brown, with green leaf of Patrol on left side of hat, or - dark blue Guide blouse, dark blue skirt or tunic overblouse, brown belt or brown braid sash.  Brown tie & hair ribbon.  Badge: Acorn badge on tape.  Tests: Entrance, 2nd class (acorn badge on tape with leaves), 1st class (acorn badge on tape with leaves and motto).  Brownies are 11 years and under.  Six or eight Brownies to form a Patrol and assume the name of a British tree, under the Patrol leadership of a head girl, who should, where possible, be a selected and efficient Girl Guide.  The head of a company consisting of not less than two Patrols shall be called a Company Leader and shall be at least 17 years of age.  The company must be registered at Headquarters.  A Brownie shall not pay for her own badge, she must return it to her company leader on leaving the Company."  The acorn badges took the form of round celluloid discs with a hole at either side, which allowed them to be stitched on, but easily removed for laundry.  But in spite of the adjustments, Brownie uniform hadn't yet been settled for the long term.

The lack of satisfaction is best demonstrated by the sketches which were published in 1917 as proposals for Brownie uniform.  There clearly still isn't agreement within headquarters on whether the uniform should be brown or blue, nor on which style of tunic should be worn, nor again on which style of hat.  Meantime, Leaders used their judgement as to what they thought best.  

And yet, though this rough sketch of possible options is confusing, from it most units opted to adopt the simplest of the suggested options - the brown cotton dress with a 3 or 4 button opening at the neck, patch pockets at the chest, and the shape given by the belt which cinched in the shift frock at the waist.  Although blue continued to be advertised as an option for a number of years, it's use quickly died out, and by 1921 was gone entirely.  From then on, Brownies wore brown.

With the brown frock was worn a folded brown tie similar to that of the Guides, a bucket-type hat in straw or canvas or a knitted woolen hat, and black stockings.  From June 1917 the Patrols were renamed Sixes, and the emblems for them were changed from trees to 'fairy folk', and in January 1918 Brownie Service Stars were introduced, on a brown felt ground.  In August 1919, as wartime metal shortages eased, the temporary fabric tenderfoot badge was replaced by a 'Brownie man' in brass on a pin, worn on the tie. 

So in 1918 the approved uniform was: 

Tunic - Brown or Navy blue with patch pockets (or Jersey and kilted skirt).

Knickers - Brown or Navy blue.
Cap or Hat - Knitted cap or Rush hat with brown ribbon band.
Belt - Brown leather.
Tie - Brown triangular.
Shoes and Stockings - Brown.
Hair Ribbon - Brown.
Badges - Worn on left breast.

Sixer Distinguishing Marks - Two Armlets of Brown Braid, 1/2 inch wide and 1 inch apart, worn 5 inches above left elbow.
Second Distinguishing Marks - One Armlet of Brown Braid, 1/2 inch wide, worn 5 inches above left elbow.

Following this, over the next 50 years or so, the tweaks were minor.  In August 1928 the option of brown stockings or socks and brown shoes was added to the Brownie uniform, and a 3rd year star introduced for Brownies, which could be transferred to Guide uniform to show the years of Brownie service upon it alongside the stars for years as a Guide.  In December 1930 the Brownie emblem moved to being worn over the right pocket rather than beside 1st and 2nd Class.  In October 1931 it was announced that "The new woven badges are guaranteed fadeless and washable.  Therefore, if they are carefully buttonholed on to the overall sleeve when new they need not be removed when the garment is washed.  There should then be no difficulty with regard to the badges fraying."  In April 1934 a new Brownie summer uniform was introduced - similar to the Guide Camp dress, it was a short-sleeve dress with a V-neck which could be worn with or without the tie at pack holiday or at summer meetings, with it was launched a new brown camp hat in 'casement cloth' to join the existing options of rush hat or knitted cap.

For a time, there was an alternative to the cotton frock - in the form of a knitted jumper with a deep fold-down collar, and a 'bodice skirt' - the plaited skirt was attached to a vest-type garment in a thin fabric, which had sets of buttons at the shoulder.  The sets of buttons were arranged on the shoulder straps in rows so that as the girl grew the next set up could be used, allowing the length of the skirt to be adjusted, to vary how much of it hung below the jumper, thus allowing adjustment for growth.  This option ceased to be popular around WW2, when clothes rationing meant that buying two garments instead of one cost more precious clothing coupons than a single frock as well as more money.

But there were some minor tweaks to uniform.  In January 1938 the option of a pack wearing old gold-coloured ties instead of brown was introduced, and many opted for the brighter colour.  Sixer and Second stripes, too, moved from being brown braid to gold.  The rush hats had also been dropped, the options now being a brown knitted cap, or a bucket-type hat in brown cotton or Melton cloth.  And the option of white socks appeared alongside the brown stockings or socks.

There was a significant change to the Proficiency Badges for Brownies.  So far, they had been split into four colour-coded categories, but in February 1939 it was announced that "When the present stock of Brownie Proficiency Badges is exhausted, these badges to be embroidered in gold on a brown background."  

WW2, also, brought minor changes, in this case out of necessity - The Promise Badge was too fiddly to manufacture, and too wasteful of materials with it's intricate cut-out shape.  So it was replaced with a design stamped out of brass sheet, first in an oblong shape in 1940 - and within a year by an oval shape which used less brass.  This latter design seems to have continued in use for some years after war ended.

More generally, uniform became hard to source - the raw materials such as cotton for dresses, felt for making hats and metal for belt buckles all became harder to source, and with so many factories being turned over to war production of uniforms and munitions - and many factories and warehouses (and their contents) being damaged in bombing, together with the loss of raw materials transported by merchant shipping - there were regular shortages of one item or another, sometimes for many months at a time.  The other big factor resulting from this was clothes rationing, which affected Guiding uniforms from July 1941: 

The July 1941 edition of "The Guider" gave details of the impact of rationing on uniforms: Guide and Brownie sizes - Mackintoshes - 11 coupons, Coats, Showerproof or Pilot Cloth - 8 coupons, Overall - 4 or 6 coupons (4 for up to 39" size), Skirt without bodice - 5 coupons, with bodice - 6 coupons, Blouse or Jumper - 3 coupons, Knickers - 2 coupons, Stockings - 1 coupon (up to 9.5"), Ankle Socks - 1 coupon, 2 Handkerchiefs - 1 coupon, Triangular Ties - 2 coupons, Gloves - 2 coupons, Slippers or Shoes - 3 coupons.  Cotton Fabric 36" was 2 coupons per yard, Woollen Fabric 36" was 3 coupons per yard, Knitting wool was 1 coupon per 2-ounce ball.  

It's worth bearing in mind that initially, adults were allowed a total of 60 coupons for all their personal clothing needs, and children 70 coupons (because they would outgrow clothes during the year).  This was later reduced to 48 coupons per adult, and the rationing continued long after the war finished.

By September 1942, wartime shortages were biting.  "The Guider" magazine advised "Owing to the difficulty in obtaining badges, Brownie Packs may invent a substitute for the Recruit Badge for the Brownie to be enrolled and to wear until a metal one is available."  In November there were further shortages: "The Board of Trade can no longer release supplies of leather for Girl Guide and Brownie belts, and at present no further orders can be taken.  We are still hoping to secure material for a substitute, and as soon as possible further information will be published in The Guider."

Post World War 2, the shortages continued, in some cases rationing became more strict, as the need to rebuild after the war and for the country to pay war debts put pressure on business.  

The changes in this era were minor - stockings being dropped in favour of white socks, the return of woven badges rather than 'felt', and the return of the cut-out Brownie Badge, albeit the figure was mounted on a more sturdy brass bar rather than a fine safety-pin style fastening.  In January 1950 Brownie Berets became now official wear for Brownies as an alternative to caps provided that the whole pack wore the same.

So, 50 years on from it's introduction, in 1957, the uniform was: 

Dress - Brown, short sleeves optional in summer, or Kilted Skirt and Jersey - Brown

Knickers - Brown

Tie - Brown or gold; triangular

Belt - Brown leather

Cap - Brown, plain knitted, or Beret - Brown

Hair Ribbon, Slide (if any) - Brown

Socks - White or fawn

Shoes - Brown

Sixer Distinguishing Mark - Two horizontal gold stripes, above left elbow

Second Distinguishing Mark - One horizontal gold stripe, above left elbow.

It was in October 1967 the new Brownie uniform was launched.  For Brownies it still meant a brown cotton frock, but now in a brighter red-brown shade, and the pockets moved from the chest to the front of the skirt.  Out went the complicated folding of the tie in favour of a stitched yellow cross-over shape, which was fastened around the neck at the back with a button instead of a reef knot.    

Dress (official pattern) - Brown; short sleeves optional in summer

Tie (official pattern) - Yellow

Beret - Brown, or Cap - Brown, plain knitted

Promise Badge - Chrome

Emblem - According to Six

Title Tape - According to Pack registration

Cardigan (if any) - Brown

Knickers - Brown

Socks - White or fawn, or Tights or Stockings - Fawn or brown

Shoes - Brown

Hair Ribbon, Slide (if any) - Brown

August 1973 - "Due to the great rise in the cost of wool, the Executive Committee has been concerned that the cost of certain uniform items should not cause hardship to parents, and has decided that the Brownie Guide Beret will be discontinued when current stocks are depleted, and the present alternative (Courtelle) cap will be the official headgear for Brownie Guides."  "Knitting instructions and recommended Courtelle for caps are available on request"

April 1978 - "New Uniform Items.  The Trading Service now has in stock: Leather Brownie Belts - small and large.  Leather Belt Purses.  Leather Guide Belts - small, med and large."  

With Brownie Pack Holidays becoming more common, garments were introduced for wearing there too, with a selection of t-shirt and shorts or trousers, in yellow and brown.  These weren't uniform, and couldn't be worn instead of it, but were helpful in eking out uniform at residential events.  Many units who went on camps and holidays regularly opted to buy sets of these clothes for the unit, and issue them to the girls attending a holiday.  In the 1930s a brown cotton open-necked frock with short sleeves, in the same style as the camp dress, as was a cotton bucket-style hat. 

In 1967 the options were: 

Dress (official pattern) - Brown short-sleeved; no tie

or Shorts or Jeans - Brown

with T-shirt - Yellow

In the 1970s a yellow t-shirt with Brownie logo was introduced, as shown.

This continued broadly unchanged until 1990, when the more relaxed style of the normal uniform (and the shorter duration most holidays were held for) meant that separate garments for Brownie holidays were not required.

By the late 1980s, there was increasing pressure for uniform change in all sections, including for Brownies.  Thin cotton frocks were all very well in summer in the south of the country, but the majority of Brownie meetings were not held in summer, and cotton frocks on winter evenings did not make sense, especially in the north. So Brownies were part of the new uniform design scheme which launched in 1990, designed by Jeff Banks of 'Clothes Show' fame.  

July 1990 - "All the main items in the new uniform ranges for the girls' sections should be available on September 1st."  "There had been some difficulties in obtaining the waterproof jackets and some of the adult range but these should be ready by November 1."

Instead of one garment for all, there was a mix-and-match range of garments - polo shirt, sweatshirt, jumper or hoodie, culottes or joggers, baseball cap, and a sash for badges.  

October 1998 - "Brownies should be allowed to wear unit neckerchiefs, as an alternative to the yellow one.  It was agreed that wearing unit neckers would help with identification at large-scale events.  However, it is up to each Brownie to decide whether to wear one or not.  The decision on whether or not a unit should have neckerchiefs should be taken during a pow-wow.  The pow-wow should also decide whether they should be yellow or in unit colours.

Though popular, the time came for a change, and by 2002 new designs were launched, with trousers, leggings, cycle shorts or skort, long-sleeve top with striped sleeves, t-shirt or polo shirt, and a zip hoodie or gilet, in a brighter shade of yellow and darker shade of brown.  These have continued as uniform to the present day.