The Incredible Evolution Of Nurse Uniforms In The Last Century

When Florence Nightingale was nursing in the 19th century, no formal uniform had been created for nurses as modern nursing was not yet in existence. But in the years after she established the first nursing school, the nurse’s uniform has evolved.


Florence Nightingale: Photo credit: Wikipedia

In the 19th century, nursing was not a defined profession. Most nurses wore uniforms, which consisted of a full black or printed gown with a cap and an apron.


The first nurse uniforms were derived from the nun’s habit, which is why they usually were black with a cap and apron. One of Florence Nightingale’s first students (Miss van Rensselaer) designed the original uniform for the students at Miss Nightingale’s school of nursing.


As nurse’s training became more widespread through schooling systems, uniforms for nurses began to develop.

Trained nurses began to wear lighter-colored gowns with white aprons and caps to indicate that they were nurses. The dresses were still long and synched at the waist.


With World War I, nurse uniforms had to change to adapt to conditions on the battlefield. Uniforms got pockets and sleeves were made so they could be rolled up for hygiene and so they would not get in the way of their work.


After the war, dresses became lighter and fell only to the ankles.


Hemlines went up a few centimetres but overall the uniforms with collared white dress and cap were similar to the 1920s.


World War II brought further functionality and improvements to design.

Increased awareness of microbiology and infection also lead to greater awareness to not contaminate clothing. Aprons were much simpler, easy to remove and replace and could be laundered more easily as result.


In the 1950s, skirts and sleeves became shorter, and folded hats were also simpler.


From the 1960s, open necks began to appear. Modernized laundry (mass produced washing machines and dryers) meant nursing uniforms were made even simpler to be able to wash and wear.


In the 1970s, white disposable paper caps replaced cotton ones and skirts got shorter.


In the 1980s, plastic aprons displaced the traditional ones and outerwear began to disappear. Open-neck shirts and pants also began to appear.

1990s to Present

From the 1990s, scrubs became popular, having first appeared in the USA. They come in a variety of colors and fabrics and are worn by both male and female nurses.

That’s quite the evolution! Share this pictorial history of nurses with your friends!

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