Friday, February 1, 2013

The History Of Nursing Uniforms

People often think of the white cap, dress, stockings, and shoes as the iconic nurses' uniform. This uniform wasn't the norm, though, for most nurses through history. Here's a quick rundown of the major changes in nursing uniforms over the past 150 years.

The long black dresses with white aprons and long head coverings worn by nurses from the 1850s to the 1890s made them look very similar to nuns. The long dress was standard for women at the time, which is part of why nurses also wore them. These long dresses were often called "fever shields" because the belief at the time was that they would protect the wearers from infections. Sadly, the two most important areas to cover (the hands and the face) were left exposed, so this did very little to decrease the spread of infection.

Nursing uniforms became more standard as nursing became a profession. While the color of the dress they wore changed from place to place, and over the years, nurses all wore white aprons and hats. Red cross-adorned arm bands were added in the late 1800s. The dress and the apron were believed to offer protection, still, but the hat and the armband were worn just to signify the wearer as a nurse.

For many decades, this was the basis for all nursing uniforms. The only changes were really based around the length and cut of the dresses nurses wore. Nurses switched to shorter dresses in World War II as their sisters in other professions did.

As the number of men in the profession grew in the 1960s and 1970s and fashions changed, nursing uniforms became less gendered. During these decades, skirts and caps were abandoned in favor of unisex dickies scrubs. This change had practical advantages for female nurses beyond gender equality. Scrubs allowed nurses to move in a way that made their jobs easier and eliminated the fears they might have had for their modesty in assuming certain positions. Scrubs, being easy to care for, also helped nurses by eliminating the time-consuming need for starching.

Scrubs have changed a lot since the 1970s, even though they are still the uniform of choice. Now, you can find scrubs in a rainbow of colors and a variety of patterns, from black to bright pink. Women's scrubs, especially, have changed even in how they are cut. Scrubs today are styled to better flatter women's figures, with shaping options that look better on a wider array of figures. You can even find scrubs designed and modeled after those worn on popular television shows.

Nurses are still subject to dress codes in some institutions. In some places, this means color-coding the plu size scrubs that different employees wear, with nurses in one color, techs in another, etc. Some hospitals require that nurses wear a certain color based on department. Some hospitals are even going back to requiring that nurses wear white, though they haven't yet returned to skirts, hats, and stockings.

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