Sunday, April 08, 2001

Girl Scouts

To beanie or not to beanie?

        So the Girl Scouts are getting new uniforms. Cargo pants and polo shirts. They can trade in their beanies for floppy-brimmed bucket hats.

        Big deal, if I may say so.

        Uniforms are not mandatory. They're not even a big money maker. “Sales account for about 4 percent of our annual revenues,” says A.J. Office of the Great Rivers Council, which has about 23,000 members in nine Ohio counties in this area.

        Cookies are the cash cow, more than half the annual income for most troops. You don't need a uniform for that. You don't even need an actual girl. Most of the sales representatives standing by to take my Thin Mint orders are parents. And they are wearing Dockers and DKNY shirts.

Beginning with pearls
        The only really important apparel for Girl Scouts throughout history turns out to have been a pearl necklace. Founder Juliette Low sold it for $8,000 and used the money to start the first American Girl Scout troop.

        The founder “envisioned an organization that would bring girls out of their cloistered home environments to serve in their communities and experience the open air,” says the official history. The first troop of 18 girls in Savannah, Ga., in 1912 wore handmade, ankle-length blue skirts. By 1916, there were 5,000 scouts and they could buy ready-made khaki uniforms. By 1929, membership was over 200,000 and the khaki was replaced with green. Now there are more than 2.7 million members.

        Anybody can join, and a pin costs about $1. Scouting was there to teach us teamwork long before Title IX.

        Most of us never saw it as a fashion opportunity, although the old-style uniform provided an important life lesson. Girls in my troop quickly learned on Girl Scout day that we should avoid climbing the jungle gym during recess. Many of us would later enter the work force armed with the knowledge that as we climbed the ladder of success, we should be careful not to let the boys see our underpants.

        Full credit for this goes to the skimpy green uniform skirt, the only choice we had in those days. Now, there are 30 new items. And, as usual, Girl Scouts can choose not to wear any of them.

        “Girls decide,” A.J. says. I think she believes I'm asking all the wrong questions. She'd rather tell me about a Girl Scout Research Project, “Teens Before Their Time,” which polled girls 8-12 to “identify some of the issues, challenges and pressures” on them. She sends me a copy of the mission: “To help girls grow up to be caring, competent, confident women.”

Engineering badge
        Merit badges these days include things like chemical engineering. There are workshops in conflict resolution, school violence, eating disorders and breast cancer awareness.

        Rhonda Dase from Licking Valley Council, which serves girls in 12 Northern Kentucky counties, says scouts collect school supplies for children who can't afford them, personal care items for the elderly.

        Last year, Villa Hills/Fort Mitchell Troop 340 donated half its cookie money to the Children's Home of Northern Kentucky. Nearly 700 girls from 82 Northern Kentucky troops sponsored a book drive for area libraries, shelters and other agencies.

        They can do these things now wearing uniform parachute pants and sweat shirts, if they choose. But in the tradition of a founder who sold her pearls to buy camping equipment, Girl Scouts have always behaved as though the clothes — even the cookies — are incidental.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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