Back in the 1800s, before the efforts of Florence Nightingale made nursing being recognized as a profession, it wasn’t something that was viewed upon with a lot of respect. Nursing was meant for women who could do nothing else. A nursing position was even offered as an alternative to jail at times!So, nurses did not have proper uniforms back in the day, even though Nightingale had re-introduced aprons and caps for hygiene purposes. 

Finally, Euphemia van Rensselaer made the first nursing uniform at the first nursing training school of America at Bellevue in New York.However, the nursing uniform has seen a significant transformation from its early days to the present times. Today, we’ll take a look at four of the most interesting things to know about this transformation. So, let’s get on to it!

  1. The First Distinguishable Nursing Uniform

The dedication and effort shown by Florence Nightingale at the time of the Crimean War made nursing become a respectable occupation. She also formed a nursing school in the late 1800s for taking care of the injured and sick.The first Nursing Uniforms aimed to distinguish qualified nurses from those who did not have proper training. The uniform had a long dress with a frilly cap and an apron.

  1. The Standard Nursing Uniform

Throughout history, the typical nursing uniform includes a cap, pinafore apron, and dress. Additionally, nursing students in some medical colleges and hospitals also wore nursing pins. Some of the nurses wore a pinafore style apron that was later substituted by cobbler-style aprons.Traditional uniforms are common in many parts of the world, with some differences being noticed in North America and Western Europe.

The tunics or scrubs have become the most popular choice in these regions. The scrubs were originally a kind of uniform that was mainly worn in emergency rooms and operating rooms.

  1. Evolution of the Nursing Uniform

The nursing uniform has undergone significant changes since its inception. So, here’s a brief outline of the noticeable changes from World War I to modern times.

World War I

Nurses needed speed and efficiency during the war, as many wounded and sick people kept coming in at the hospitals. So, skirts replaced the bulky aprons. The military nurses also resorted to tippets cape-like, short garments. The garments had badges sewn on them for representing the professional status.


Greater improvements and functionality came to the design during World War II. The main goal for the uniforms during this time was to increase the awareness about infections. The nurses were more cautious about not contaminating their clothes. The apron became the chief part of the uniform because it was easy to get off and replace. Nurses could launder the aprons easily. 


The major changes during the 1950s were related to the hats and skirts of the uniform. Nurses began wearing simpler hats that could be folded rather than those elaborate and large hats of the previous times. Some of these were paper hats. Both the skirt and sleeves’ length became shorter.


Open necks in the nursing uniform first made their appearance in the 1960s. Nurses increasingly preferred the open neck design over the conventional ones as the dresses became more comfortable to wear and wash.


The biggest change in the 1970s was related to the cap. The cap was already turned into a piece of folded paper, but during this time, some nurses completely stopped using the cap.


This was the year of the hundredth anniversary of the inception of the nursing uniform. Nurses started using plastic aprons in spite of traditional dresses in the 1980s. The outerwear also vanished at the same time. Pants and open-neck shirts started coming into the scene.


The nurses started feeling that their present outfit is difficult to sterilize and clean. So, the pants and outfits were upgraded to scrubs. Scrubs were more comfortable, practical, and cheaper than any of the options that came before them.


After scrubs were introduced in the 1990s, the nurses across the medical facilities and hospitals started resorting to scrubs. The best part was that the scrubs are now available in many fabrics, shapes, and colors. So, the nurses had more choices.

  1. Factors That Led To the Transformation of the Uniforms

The key factors given below played a major role in driving the change of nursing uniforms over the years.

  • Mobility: Nurses have always prioritized mobility because they need the dresses to have enough room to let them run from one ward to another in doing their job.
  • Ease of maintenance: Nurses need to work in hospitals full of all kinds of infections and viruses. Thus, they have always tried to make uniforms easier to clean.
  • Comfort: It has always been essential for the nurses to be comfortable in their uniforms so that they can do their duties properly.


All the changes in a nursing uniform that happened throughout history was to enable the nurses to offer uninterrupted and hygienic service to the patients. So, the transformation of these uniforms is one of the proudest chapters of history that teach us the value of dedicated efforts and thoughtfulness to ensure human welfare.

About the author

Tammy S

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