- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2001

The Girl Scouts are getting more grrrrr. Millions of young ladies will soon slip into new uniforms that are somewhere between the mall and the military: The girls are going khaki.

There will be parachute-style cargo pants and shorts, stretchy navy blue shirts and zippered sweatshirts. The baseball caps of yore are gone, replaced by brimmed hats that have a definite Desert Storm appeal.

The new uniforms "will help dispel the notion that it's not cool to be a Girl Scout when you're in your teens," said executive director Marsha Johnson Evans, who is a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral.

"Our goal is for girls to have a comfortable uniform they're proud to wear as they grow into strong, confident and capable young women," Mrs. Evans said.

And while the nation's most beloved cookie sellers may soon resemble commandos, the group says the uniforms are meant to help the 2.7 million members to be "successful as well as stylish."

"You can't even tell they're Girl Scouts," noted one giddy 15-year-old on seeing photos of the new duds, which are still under wraps.

Traditionalists can take heart over one thing, though. The old Brownie beanies will stay at least among the very young. Uniforms for the 6- to 8-year-old set won't change. That particular demographic, in fact, gave an emphatic "No" to a change in headgear, according to Mrs. Evans.

The new Girl Scout collection it is, after all, a collection is the biggest overhaul of the group's sartorial side since World War II, and is a byproduct of focus groups, surveys and other savvy marketing devices.

Essentially, the girls redesigned the uniforms themselves. There are, however, no midriffs showing, no platform shoes. The group struggled for three years to find designs that girls liked and parents would tolerate.

Seventeen new Girl Scout badges have also been added, including one awarded for coping with stress, and another inspired by former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.

Both the collection and badges were introduced over the weekend during a meeting of 800 Scout leaders in Savannah, Ga. birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, who founded the first American Girl Scout troop in 1912.

She had much inspiration.

After meeting Sir Robert Baden-Powell, who founded the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides in Britain, she telephoned a friend and announced, "I've got something for the girls of Savannah, and all America, and all the world, and we're going to start it tonight."

Mrs. Low's bravado has not been forgotten. A special edition Juliette Gordon Low doll was introduced last weekend as well, wearing the tailored green Scout jacket and long skirt of her own days in wood and glen. On her death in 1927, in fact, Mrs. Low was buried in her uniform.

Meanwhile, the Girl Scouts are crafting a hip outreach to girls swayed in recent years by Britney Spears or the dubious offerings of MTV. Scouting ads in the past year have featured girls with green hair and tattoos of the Scouts' trefoil symbol, complete with the slogan, "Yeah, we still wear green. But a lot else has changed."

There's the $500,000 grant from Intel, for example, for girls interested in engineering. There are workshops in conflict resolution, school violence, eating disorders and breast cancer awareness.

Some think the Girl Scouts are floundering, though.

In an Organization Trends article earlier this year, National Review editor Kathryn Jean Lopez criticized the Senior Scout handbook because it has hints for pregnancy termination and offers advice on creating an event "to make people aware of gender bias."

She also noted that national director Mrs. Evans had boasted, "We're not your mother's Girl Scout group," and that the group was edging toward "radical feminism."

But traditional underpinnings survive amid the turmoil of political correctness.

The Girl Scouts still offer badges for religious study, pen pal writing, volunteer work and citizenship, and a new program encourages older girls "in the spirit of philanthropy."

While the Girl Scouts' Web site (www.gsusa.org) has items that flirt with the no-nos of sexuality, abusive boyfriends and parental drinking, the organization advocates a return to the simpler life, particularly among younger members.

The group was cited by the Minnesota School of Public Health, for example, because Girl Scouts were 15 percent less likely to be preoccupied with dieting than their typical peers.

A study by the Girl Scout Research Institute last year found that popular culture turned little girls into "teens before their time," and robbed those between the ages of 8 and 12 of "a relatively idyllic stage of life.

"Being Britney Spears would be nice because you could wear a bikini without a big fat tummy sticking out all over the place," one 8-year-old told researchers.

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