Nursing Uniforms: Five Ways They Have Changed Over Time

NursingFebruary 12, 2014

Nursing uniforms have undergone a huge transformation from the profession's start to the present day. The modernization of the uniform has followed the innovations in nursing science, as well as cultural transformations. It is a fascinating topic because it reflects the role of women in society, as well as the developments in the fields of medicine and nursing. The evolution has not been consistent throughout the world, or even within countries, because of the strong traditional feeling toward the nursing uniform. Here are just a few of the ways that nursing uniforms have evolved.

The Creation of a Uniform

Believe it or not, nursing has a rather checkered beginning. Nursing of the sick was a duty relegated to nuns or seedy individuals, like prostitutes. The care given was seen as lower than servants' work, and it required no skills or training. When Florence Nightingale came on the scene and demanded training for nurses and a hygienic environment for patients, a new profession was born. This birth fostered the development of a new uniform that highlighted the differences between the newly trained nurses from the lay nurses of the past. The uniform was a long dress with long sleeves, an apron and a cap. Typically, these uniforms were blue. Sometimes they were pink. The outfit made it obvious to everyone that the nurse was a trained professional.

World War II and Nurses

The war effort heavily utilized nurses on all sides of the conflicts. The nurses' uniforms changed from long gowns to a shorter and more manageable skirt length. A cape, called a tippet, could be worn to denote their rank. The nursing cap remained, but it became a heavily starched structure, rather than a full hair covering or frilly puff.

Pants for All

The reexamination of gender roles in the late 60s and 70s brought a cultural revolution of fashion:in the form of the pantsuit for women. The introduction of the pantsuit would forever change the uniform for nurses. The white polyester crispness remained until the advent of scrubs.

Operating Room Scrubs

This movement began as operating room nurses shifted from white uniforms to scrubs, which were easier to clean and sterilize. Scrubs then spread throughout the hospital and to other medical professions, like veterinary medicine. Their convenience, comfort and easiness to clean enhanced their popularity and use.

The Elimination of the Cap

The once ubiquitous cap was phased out in the early 80s. The technology and physical nature of nursing has made the cap more of a hassle than anything else. 

Nursing is a proud profession, one which is proud of its past and its future. The uniform tells a story of the work women did and the important function that nurses play in today's health care system.

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons