Since 1910, when the Guide Association was established, Guides have worn many different uniforms. The colours and styles of each uniform reflect the fashions of the time they are from, while also being practical for guiding activities. Uniforms give the people wearing them a shared identity.
Guides wearing their uniforms represent their local unit, Girlguiding as an organisation and their place in history.
Girlguiding in the UK is divided into four uniformed groups: Rainbows, Brownies, Guides and Rangers.
Did you know that Brownies were originally called ‘Rosebuds’?
Rosebuds was established in 1914 for girls to join before they became Guides.
Just one year later, the name was changed to Brownies. Brownies are the second-youngest members of the Girlguiding family, for girls aged between 7 and 10. The colour brown might be in the Brownie name, but the uniforms have changed colour over time. Let’s travel back in time and see how Brownie uniforms have changed!
The original uniform worn by Rosebuds, and later Brownies, was dark blue with light blue hair ribbons and neckerchief. These girls wore a skirt, knitted jersey and a large hat called a tam. The tam is a style of hat inspired by two military hat designs; the tam o’shanter and the beret.
Why would Rosebuds and Brownies be wearing a uniform inspired by the military?
1914 was the year World War 1 broke out, and Guides were busy helping with the war effort. Older Guides were responsible for delivering important and confidential information for MI5. Some Guides used the Marconi Wireless Telegraph, a device which allowed communication over long distances with radio waves. The Marconi Wireless Telegraph did not transmit music or speech like a modern radio, instead information was translated into morse code. If a Guide learnt morse code and could make her own wireless receiver, she would earn her Telegraphist’s Badge.
Rosebuds and Brownies were also busy helping the war effort, collecting books for wounded soldiers and helping chemists by cleaning used medicine bottles to be refilled.
1910s Promise Badge
In 1914, Rosebuds promised: “On my honour I promise to do my best to do my duty to God and the king and to do a good turn every day”.
This was the first badge for the newly formed Rosebuds (soon to become 'Brownies'). It was designed by Agnes Baden-Powell, the founder of Guiding and sister of Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouts. The design, made of metal, depicted a rosebud.
By 1919, WW1 had ended and the Brownie uniform was updated. For the first time, brown was the primary colour of the uniform. Brownies wore a short-sleeve belted dress with pockets over a long-sleeve white shirt. Their chest was covered by a large, white bib with a brown border, where they would pin their Promise Badge. Instead of a tam, Brownies adopted a brimmed rush hat, (a hat woven from rushes), with a brown ribbon.
The image below shows the new Brownie uniform (far left) next to a similar outfit to the old Rosebud uniform (left), compared to two more proposed uniform designs.
This was published in the 1920 Girl Guides’ Gazette. The caption reads:
“Dresses which Brownies might wear. The first should be either brown or blue; the second and third blue; and the fourth brown. Nos. 3 and 4 are suggested as being the best.” From this, we can learn that the 1920s Brownie uniform was originally considered to be made in blue rather than brown, in keeping with the original Rosebud design.
After a long struggle, women had been given suffrage, the right to vote, in 1918 during the first wave of feminism. Women were gradually beginning to move towards gender equality with men, with more women entering the workplace after WW1. During the 1920s, women began cutting their hair shorter and wearing skirts and dresses with shorter hems: fashion trends reflected in Brownie and Guide uniforms.
1920s Promise Badge
In the 1920s, Brownies promised: “On my honour I promise that I will do my best to be loyal to God and King and to try to help others, especially those at home”.
The 1920s Promise Badge introduced the Brownie Man, a dancing figure of a folkloric Brownie wearing a pointed cap. The badge would attach to the uniform bib with a wire pin. In 1932, shortly before the uniform design changed, the original safety pin design was swapped for a metal bar to prevent breakages.
1930s and 1940s Uniform
1934 saw the introduction of yellow, or gold, for the first time to Brownie uniforms. Brownies had the option of wearing a brown, belted, military-style cotton dress with either a brown or gold neck tie. Instead of a rush hat, Brownies now wore a cloche hat, a type of fabric hat which sits close on the head with a small brim. This style of hat was particularly fashionable in the 1920s and 1930s.
In the 1930s, and through the 1940s, Brownie uniforms stayed the same. This was due to the outbreak of WW2, which limited the production of fabrics, and led to clothes rationing in 1941. ‘Make do and mend’ was a popular slogan during WW2, encouraging people to patch up old clothes to extend how long they could be worn for rather than buying new outfits. Even after the war ended, many people continued to reuse old clothes while the economy recovered.
1930/40s Promise Badge
In the 1930s, Brownies promised: “I promise to do my best to do my duty to God and the King and to help other people everyday, especially those at home”.
When metal was needed for the production of munitions and military vehicles, Brownie Promise Badges first simplified their design to use less metal, and then due to further restrictions, were no longer available to all Brownies. Instead, Brownies were encouraged to find alternative badges, and girls with older sisters who were Brownies before them may have re-used older badge designs as well as more Brownies wearing hand-me-down uniforms over the 16 year period.
The simplified badge featured the Brownie Man stamped on a brass rectangle, although as the war progressed, the design became smaller and an oval design was used to minimise the amount of brass used in production.
1950, five years after the end of WW2, marked a new era of Brownie uniforms. The style of dress remained similar, with breast pockets, belt and neck tie. The shade of brown changed to a lighter and warmer shade, and all neck ties became yellow. Instead of a cloche hat, brown woollen berets were adopted, reflecting the popularity of the hat post-war after its prevalence as part of military uniform.
The similarity in dress colours and styles from the 1930s to 1950s, despite the changing position of pockets, enabled the uniforms to be easily interchanged with older designs without the Brownie wearing them standing out from the rest of her unit.
Britain’s post-war austerity measures extended beyond the war as the economy recovered, as did the attitude to make-do-and-mend rather than buy new.
The black and white photograph above shows a Brownie in the 1950s wearing her uniform. You can see that she is wearing a different style of hat to the beret, and the colours of her uniform may be slightly different to those intended to be worn. The hem of her dress looks like it may have been taken up, adjusted from an older version of the uniform to look more modern.
For the first time, socks were officially the preference over stockings, and by 1964 Brownies could wear cardigans over their dresses.
The addition of a cardigan would have made the uniform slightly more casual and comfortable, moving away from the more militaristic uniform design.
1950s Promise Badge
The promise made by Brownies in the 1950s was the same as the 1940s promise: “I promise to do my best to do my duty to God and the King and to help other people everyday, especially those at home”, until 1953, when Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne following the death of her father King George VI. The promise then changed, replacing ‘King’ with ‘Queen’.
Post-war, the design of the promise badge returned to the Brownie Man on a pin, designed to be fastened to a Brownie’s tie.
1960s and 1970s Uniform
1967 saw the shortest skirt lengths yet, as miniskirts were the height of fashion. The straight yellow tie of the 1950s and early 1960s became a short cross-over tie. The shade of brown used for the dress also changed again, becoming more red in tone. While the beret remained popular, in the 1970s, Brownies swapped them for knitted bobble hats.
The more radical change in uniform design, compared to the previous 30 years, reflected not only changing fashion influences but also the recovery of the British economy.
By the 1960s, more families could now afford a brand new uniform, rather than wearing hand-me-downs, and a new design of tie to go with them than in previous eras.
This did not mean that all Brownies wore a brand new uniform in the 1960s. In the photo below, you can see an old Brownie dress has been altered to match the new 1960s uniform. While the dress has faded over the years, the original colour can be seen in the areas that were originally protected by breast pockets.
Made popular by designers like Mary Quant, the miniskirt reflected the growing youth population as ‘baby boomers’ born in the 1950s became entered their teenage years in the ‘swinging sixties’. Fashion moved away from the more conservative silhouettes of the 1940s and 1950s, and the second wave of feminism fought for increasing equality for women.
1960/70s Promise Badge
In the 1960s, Brownies promised: “I promise that I will to do my best to do my duty to God and to serve the Queen, to help other people and to keep the Brownie Guide Law”.
This was the first time Brownies were fully integrated into the guiding family, and the promise to keep the “Brownie Guide law” reflects this. The Promise Badges also changed to represent the new status of Brownies, with the Brownie Man depicted inside a Guide Trefoil. Made of a silver metal, two versions of this badge were made, the original with the space between the Trefoil and Brownie Man cut out, and a later 1971 revision with the space filled in and the letters “GG” for Girl Guides added.
During the 1980s, while the Brownie uniform remained the same as the 1960s design, a leisure wear option was introduced, featuring a bright yellow t-shirt and hat. Shorts, available for the first time, mark a transition towards girls making their own choices about how they wanted to dress while representing Brownies. Brighter colours were introduced as fabrics and dyes became much cheaper.
Leisure wear would be reserved for camps rather than regular unit meetings, where Brownies would be among other guiding community members rather than the public. As a result, girls dressing in a more formal uniform was unnecessary, and more shorts and t-shirts would be more practical for increasingly adventurous activities on offer to Brownies.
Today, Brownies can enjoy camp activities like abseiling, zip-lining and high-wire trails which are suited to leisurewear outfits and trainers.
Jeff Banks, fashion designer and presenter of popular TV programme ‘The Clothes Show’, was commissioned to create a radical new uniform for Brownies and Guides in the 1990s. Military-style brown dresses were replaced with a mix-and-match wardrobe of t-shirts, jumpers, trousers and culottes. Yellow became the focal point, with tops, jumpers and optional baseball caps contrasting with brown shorts and badge sashes.
Designed with versatility in mind, these uniforms reflected the growing demand for leisure wear as uniform.
Girls could choose how modest they wanted their uniform to be, allowing for increased religious and personal inclusivity.
This mix-and-match style of uniform drew influence from the American Girl Scouts, who had included greater variety in uniform choices since the 1970s.
Trainers instead of more traditional shoes, often school shoes, completed the transformation from military uniform to casual wear.
1990s Promise Badge
In the 1990s, Brownies promised: “I promise that I will do my best to love my God, to serve the Queen and my Country, to help other people and to keep the Brownie Guide Law”.
The line “to God” was replaced with “my God” to ensure Brownies of different religious backgrounds would be included in the promise.
In 1994, a new Promise Badge design was released, matching the new uniforms. A golden Trefoil with a 5-pointed star in the centre.
In 2002, fashion designer Ally Capellino redesigned the Brownie uniform, retaining the mix-and-match style of Jeff Banks. For the first time since 1918, light blue was reintroduced to the Brownie uniform. The uniform, which is still worn in 2021, includes yellow t-shirts with brown sleeves, long sleeve yellow t-shirts with light blue striped sleeves, brown hoodies and yellow gilets. Brownies could also choose between long flared leggings, skorts, shorts or trousers, all in brown. Sashes continue to be part of Brownie uniform, but are optional, as are the yellow baseball caps.
As with the 1980s leisure wear and Jeff Banks collection, Ally Capellino’s designs are versatile and practical without sacrificing comfort. Today, Brownies are encouraged to be adventurous and try new things, and their uniform reflects this. Compared to the original 1900s uniform, Brownies have changed a lot, and the uniforms have tried to reflect both the contemporary fashions and the functional requirements of a Girlguiding uniform.
2000s Promise Badge
In 2013, a revised promise was introduced, and today, Brownies promise:
“I promise that I will do my best, to be true to myself and develop my beliefs, to serve the Queen and my community, to help other people and to keep the Brownie Guide Law”.
For 99 years, Brownies pledged allegiance “to God” or “to my God”, as well as “my Queen” until Girlguiding reviewed the promise to ensure no Guiding member felt excluded, including Brownies of no religion.
Today’s Promise Badge design, similar to the 1990s version, features a golden Trefoil and star on a yellow background. The lines of the Trefoil have been simplified and no longer touch.
How do we know about old uniforms?
We do not have a time machine to travel back to 1914 to meet a Rosebud, so how do we know what their uniforms looked like?
Archives, like the Girlguiding Archive Resource Centre, keep collections of old uniforms and badges in a safe, closed environment. This means that the temperature can be controlled, neither too hot or too cold, and the air is dry to prevent mould or mildew from growing. The uniforms and badges are carefully stored, which preserves them for future study.
Collections are sometimes donated, which can provide a uniform or badge with a personal family story of who wore it and where. These stories help us learn more about how uniforms were worn in the past, sometimes by multiple people as hand-me-downs, and sometimes customised. Not all Brownies wore a sash to keep their activity badges on, and some sewed them directly onto their uniforms. This can help us date a uniform, as badges were introduced at different times and some have been discontinued. Adjustments to hem lengths can also tell us more about a uniform and its past, as hems may have been taken up and let down to account for changes in height or the fashions of the time.
The Girlguiding Archive Resource Centre also keep records of uniform catalogues, photographs from unit meetings and camps and recordings of oral histories.
Catalogues show the dates and styles of uniform items as they were introduced, and as they were intended to be worn. We also have fabric swatches that show colour palettes for the different uniforms. These would be made when creating a new collection of uniforms, and can be used to compare against old uniforms, photographs and catalogues to check if the colours are accurate.
Photographs of Brownies wearing their uniforms show us how neckerchiefs or ties were fastened and where badges were worn. Photographs can also show transitions between different uniform styles, where some Brownies continued to wear older styles. They can also show regional differences in uniform, as some units may have a distinctive way of wearing badges, or choose to wear a neckerchief beyond the 1980s.
Oral histories are recordings of people talking about their memories of the past. Photographs do not capture everything, and some people may remember how they customised their uniform, or if they enjoyed wearing their uniform or not.
Girlguiding: an international charity founded due to demand for a female equivalent to Scouts
Guide: a 10-14 year old member of the Guiding community
Unit: the term used to describe a local peer group of the Guiding community
Rainbow: a 5-7 year old member of the Guiding community
Brownie: a 7-10 year old member of the Guiding community
Rosebud: the original name for Brownies
Ranger: a 14-18 year old member of the Guiding community
Neckerchief: a small triangular scarf worn around the neck and secured with a knot or woggle, the colour of which can be used to designate a unit
Promise Badge: the badge awarded to Brownies or Guides who have participated in the Promise ceremony and have become full members of the Guiding community
Trefoil: the Trefoil is the symbol associated with Guiding and the Promise, with the 3 leaves representing the 3 parts to the Promise— faith or belief, national loyalty and service to others