One question about FNE that seems to come up often is: “Why shorts?” (In our boys’ program not only the boys but also the leaders wears shorts.) Some seem to think that shorts are unmanly, an attitude which seems to go back many years in the United States, while others think that shorts are children’s garb and not really meant for adults.
I do admit to having thoughts on the above lines myself, especially when attendance at Holy Mass is considered. Shorts are not ordinarily appropriate attire for Mass. However, one might say the same thing about hats (on men; they are always appropriate for ladies), and yet there are men (e.g., clergy, members of knightly orders, the Knights of Columbus) who wear hats for at least a portion of the Mass. So wearing shorts at Mass is not inappropriate, if those shorts are part of a uniform.
Shorts are essential to hard work, to hiking and to camping. They are less expensive and more hygienic than breeches or trousers. They give freedom and ventilation to the legs. Another advantage is that when the ground is wet, you can go about without stockings and none of your clothes gets damp.
— Lord Baden-Powell, Scouting for Boys, Campfire Yarn #3
One might ask, then, even we can say that shorts aren’t necessarily inappropriate, and there are good reasons for youth to wear them, why should adults? The answer lies in the fact that, in the educational method created by Lord Baden-Powell, a leader doesn’t ask a youth member to do anything he wouldn’t be willing to do himself.
Personally, I put on uniform, even if I have only a Patrol to inspect, because I am certain that it raises the moral tone of the boys. It heightens their estimation of their uniform when they see it is not beneath a grown man to wear it; it heightens their estimation of themselves when they find themselves taken seriously by men who also count it of importance to be in the same brotherhood with them.
I have been in the habit of wearing shorts instead of knee-breeches when in [Explorer] uniform, but I do it intentionally, not merely because I am much more comfortable in shorts, but because it puts me more closely on a level with the boys and less on the standing of an “officer,” as we understand him in the Army.
A [Explorer] official’s line is rather that of an elder brother or a father to his boys than of an officer or a schoolmaster. And the more he assimilates his inward ideas and his outward dress with theirs, the more he is likely to be in sympathy with them and they with him.
— B.P.’s Outlook, August 1913 [emphases added]