Fashion has long played a role in professional development, revolutionising uniforms in a range of different sectors. Below, we take a closer look at the history of nurses' uniforms and those worn by healthcare professionals, considering how they have changed over time to conform to new trends and requirements.
Nursing became an acknowledged profession in the 1800s. Largely considered a women's role, the original nurses' uniform consisted of a high-collared shirt, a floor-length tabard dress and a bonnet. Not much is known about the fabrics used at the time, but it's believed that bonnets were worn to hold hair back and aprons were used to protect garments from medical substances and liquids.
The early 1900s
Thanks to Florence Nightingale’s influence, nursing quickly became a respected profession, with the first register beginning in 1919. Soon after, uniforms became much more practical and were used to differentiate between nurse hierarchy. Between 1914 and 1945, white was the primary colour choice for nurses’ uniforms and featured a red cross pinned to the chest or arm.
The NHS was founded in 1948, and uniforms really started to flourish in terms of style and colour. Short sleeves and shoulder cloaks were introduced for the first time, and hats were replaced with caps. Uniforms were also given more structure to match the growing reputation of nursing as a credible profession.
The 1960s - 1980s
The mass production of washing machines and tumble dryers in the '60s meant that uniforms could be made from more durable fabric, allowing nurses to wash and iron them easily at home. By the 1970s, the nursing cap had completely disappeared and nursing uniforms started to resemble regular clothing. Nurses were also given more options, with white pantsuits introduced alongside the traditional dress uniform.
The 1990s - modern-day
In the '90s, theatre nurses transitioned from white uniforms to scrubs, which were easier to sterilise. There is also a lot more variety today, with separate uniforms for different sectors of the health service. Although scrubs and tunics are widely worn, different colours are used to represent each role, including light blue for staff nurses, navy blue for ward sisters and black for matrons. Doctors and midwives tend to wear scrubs while therapists wear tunics.
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