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Girl Scouts’ iconic uniforms get a makeover

Forget the standard uniform: Girl Scouts’ new collection encourages mixing and matching.

Girl Scouts of the USA are getting a makeover. On Tuesday, the organization unveiled a brand new line of clothing for its older members. And for the first time in its history, it’s introducing a collection of 18 garments rather than a fixed uniform.

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The collection still features a vest and sash to display badges, but there are also items like joggers, hoodies, and a denim jacket. “We wanted to give them apparel [that’s] what they need right now, which means things like leggings and pockets for their cell phones,” says Girl Scouts of the USA CMO Kelly Parisi. “We only redesign the uniforms about once a decade, so we did not take this process lightly.”

[Photo: courtesy Girl Scouts of the USA]
Unlike Girl Scouts uniforms of the past, which were highly standardized, these new outfits encourage members to mix and match and reflect their own tastes. The clothes are grounded in the green color palette, which has been the Girl Scouts’ uniform color since the organization arrived in the U.S. in 1912, but there are also pops of lavender, sky blue, and black. “We wanted to complement items that were already in the girls’ wardrobes,” says Nidhi Bhasin, one of the collections’ designers, and a former Girl Scout herself. “We wanted the clothes to represent what girls wear today, while also highlighting aspects of the Girl Scouts heritage.”

[Photos: courtesy Girl Scouts of the USA]
To create this new aesthetic, the Girl Scouts partnered with the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). Three fashion students—Bhasin, along with Jenny Feng and Melissa Posner—took the lead. The designers, who graduated in May, looked through the archive of Girl Scouts uniforms of the past. They also carried out focus groups with current Girl Scouts, which highlighted three main priorities: technology, personalization, and sustainability. “It was really important for us to try to ensure that the clothes reflected their values,” Bhasin says.

On the sustainability front, the students took advantage of software that let them design the outfits virtually, which meant they were able to significantly cut down on fabric waste. Michael Ferrero, director of FIT’s DTech Lab, says FIT is currently working with the Girl Scouts of the USA to develop a supply chain that will allow the organization to make certain garments on demand, which will also reduce inventory waste.

Parisi says part of the point of creating stylish, wearable clothes was to encourage older girls to remain in the Girl Scouts, since there tends to be some attrition once girls enter middle and high school. To that end, the organization is ramping up opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math; last year, more than a million girls earned badges in everything from robotics to creating algorithms. The Girl Scouts is also deepening its civics curriculum to appeal to young women who want to engage in politics and activism. “The uniforms are just one way to keep up with this generation,” says Parisi.

Over the past century, the Girl Scouts uniform has evolved to keep up with changing fashion and gender norms. In the early years, the uniforms were inspired by the prim militaristic dresses that women wore to take part in war efforts. In the 1960s, the outfits were reminiscent of fitted flight attendant attire, and featured a beret, a popular hat at the time. The 1980s uniforms were created by fashion designer Bill Blass, featuring bright kelly green dresses with wide shoulders and trousers. These looks are iconic, and with the new collection, the designers know they, too, are making history.

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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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