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The History of Nursing Uniforms

The History of Nursing Uniforms

July 12, 2011

Nursing Uniforms in the 20th Century

In the 1900s, nursing uniforms started looking distinctly different from servant uniforms. Nursing uniforms came with pockets for keeping things on hand, a button down style top and pointy collars that differentiated them from other clothing. A white bib covered the nurse’s torso till the waist, where the bib’s folds were gathered and let down as an apron.

The nurse’s dress was made of solid color fabric, and was tailored well. The tailoring, the style effects, the pockets and bib aprons ensured that the nurse would not be confused with a regular domestic servant.

Nurses started wearing large hats in emulation of a nun’s starched high hat and veil. Emulating a nun’s uniform brought the nursing uniform a further semblance of borrowed respectability. Sometimes nuns used to operate as nurses and nurses opted to become nuns and serve in the nursing field. Therefore, many churches had trained nurses who would be asked to help during times of sickness and community diseases.

The First World War brought about great changes in the nursing uniform. Design aspects and distinction took a back seat, and functionality became the most important feature in a nurse’s uniform. Nurses had to be fast and provide quick care for the many casualties they had to tend during the war. Sleeves were rolled up for easier movement, bulky aprons were taken off and shirts shortened for convenience. After the first world war that nurses realized they needed a uniform that combined functionality with femininity. The resultant look is the precedent of the white nurse’s uniform that we know as the standard nursing image now.

By the 1950s, paper hats and simple folded hats replaced the large, elaborate crown-like caps that were worn by nurses during the first world war. The simple paper hats were more comfortable. The policy to use hats to denote seniority level was abolished, since the morality of nurses was affected by the discrimination. Dresses also evolved, since no one has the time to launder elaborately tailored clothing anymore. Dresses became less form fitting and were easy to wash, iron and wear.

The nursing hat disappeared completely in the US by the late 1970s. male nurses started wearing nursing scrubs, which soon became the new fashion trend. Nursing uniforms started to resemble regular clothing and nurses appreciated the informal and casual feel of the clothes.

Nursing Uniforms Today

Today, only name tags differentiate nurses from doctors and other staff. Most medical staff wear nursing scrubs at all times to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Health care centers sometimes specify different colors or patterns for the scrubs worn by nurses and doctors. Other than this, the scrubs are usually of loose drawstring pants coupled with casual V-neck t-shirts. Nursing scrubs are now available in many colors, patterns and fabrics.

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