Scrubs and Shoes: A Brief History of Nurses’ Uniform

Nurses Uniform for Nursing Students and Others

Scrubs and Shoes: A Brief History of Nurses’ Uniform

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Scrubs and shoes are such an integral part of a nurse’s role that, beyond worrying about how to get those tough stains out, they’re rarely given a second thought. However, there’s plenty of history behind those humble garments, and as you might have guessed, the mother of all things nursing, Florence Nightingale, had a huge part to play in their development.

Here, we take a look at how 200 years of evolution has given us the nurses scrubs and shoes we know (and love?) today, along with a look at what the future may hold for these most practical of garments.

The Origins of Nursing Attire

Before Florence Nightingale, the nursing profession didn’t exist, and subsequently, there was no nursing attire to speak of. In many cases, nuns and monks took up the role of nurses, and their traditional religious habits were the closest thing to a uniform of the day. However, all this changed during the 1850s and the onset of the Crimean War.

Nightingale recognized the importance of the role of nurses and set about reforming and professionalizing the role. Early experiments into nursing uniforms took inspiration from those religious habits, however, these were soon replaced by Nightingale’s gray tweed dress, gray jacket, plain white cap, and short woolen cloak.

Nurses' uniform clothing then and now - brief history with Nightingale
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These uniforms instantly gave nurses a more professional look, however, they were also early examples of nursing uniforms and shoes that were designed to minimize the spreading of infection while also protecting both nurses and patients from unsanitary conditions in the field. Additionally, it has been reported that the rather conservative aesthetic was also favored by Nightingale to ward off amorous soldiers in order to protect her nurses’ innocence.

It’s All White

Over the next 50 years, nursing uniforms were gradually adopted by nurses around the world, and by the 20th century there had already been significant changes made in how nurses presented themselves. White was now most definitely in vogue, giving a clean, sanitary, and scientific impression. In part, this was to do with the improvement in conditions in hospitals and the now widely accepted link between dirt and germs.

At this time, nurses’ uniforms were still long and billowy, and it was another war which kickstarted the next evolution. For nurses working out in the field of World War I, the ability to move freely and speedily trumped the conservative notions of staying covered. Hems were raised, sleeves were rolled up, pockets were introduced, and red cross armbands were used as identification.

World War II saw hems raised further, skirts and sleeves were shorter still, and while there were many variations across the globe, the white fabrics and red armbands remained a core element of nursing uniforms until the middle of the 20th century.

Synthetic Fabrics and New Designs

Up until 1960, nurses almost always wore starched white dresses and white leather shoes. However, as the textiles industry began to introduce synthetic fabrics and nurses were increasingly in control of what they could wear, a whole range of new designs began popping up. This once again kickstarted the evolution of nurses’ uniform until, in the 1980s, the iconic nurses’ scrubs became popular.

Scrubs for nurse uniform clothing
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Among the many reasons scrubs have been so ubiquitous over the past few decades, discounting their comfort and flexibility, is that they put nurses on a level playing field with doctors and other healthcare personnel, as well as ending gendered uniforms that had become problematic as more men entered the profession. Additionally, scrubs were cheap, easy to clean, and disposable enough to ensure that they could be replaced in the event that they become irretrievably soiled.

The Future of Nurses’ Uniforms

Today, nurses’ uniforms come in a huge range of different styles and an almost unlimited number of colors. However, what does the future hold for the humble nurses’ uniform? Well, as advanced fabrics are developed and smart technology becomes more prevalent, it’s easy to imagine self-cleaning uniforms or garments that integrate useful devices to increase functionality further through a range of diagnostic and communication tools.

Whatever the future of the humble nurses’ uniform, you’ll find all the latest styles from the most celebrated brands at MEDSHOP. Additionally, for an extra 10% off your total order, enter code MEDShop-10. Discounts are limited to one use per customer and valid until the 31st October.

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If you think your friends would like this too, I'd love you to share it! Thanks!♥
Who's in for a healthful life? I guess we all do! Hi! I'm Sandra — a medical doctor from the Philippines and this is my humble abode in the WWW. Here you will find anything rad — from stories about health, lifestyle, productivity hacks, to study tips, food, travel, and even snippets of my so-called Med Life. know more →

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