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The history of the nurses uniform

The history of the nurses uniform from humble beginnings

Clothing has long played a role in distinguishing professional roles, revolutionising uniforms in a range of different sectors. Not least of which is nursing, a profession that is easily identifiable by its garments. Below, we take a closer look at the history of nurses’ uniforms in line with the rise of this vocation, considering how they have changed over time to meet new trends and requirements.



1800s-1945: The rise of the apron and bonnet

In the 1800s, nursing became an acknowledged profession and largely a women’s role. In line with contemporary dress codes and to protect garments, the original uniform consisted of a high-collared shirt, tabard dress and bonnet to hold back the hair. Florence Nightingale’s influence in the Crimean War led to nursing becoming a respected profession, with the first register beginning in 1919. From 1914-1945, nurses’ uniforms were more practical and designed to differentiate nurse hierarchy, usually being white with a red cross pinned to the chest or arm.

1948: Founding of the NHS uniform

The NHS was founded in 1948, which brought with it a recognisable uniform for nurses 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.

1960s-1980s: Out with the caps in with the trousers

The mass production of washing machines and tumble dryers in the 1960s 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.

1990s-today: Colour-coded, easy-clean nurses’ uniforms

In the 1990s, theatre nurses transitioned from white uniforms to scrubs, which were easier to sterilise to provide virus mitigation and disease control. 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.

The history of the nurses uniform

How we help

Nurses’ uniforms have changed significantly over the years as the garments worn by healthcare professionals have adapted to the changing times and requirements. However, they’ve always been practical in focus while meeting the comfort needs of the wearer. Today, nurses’ uniforms are an easily identifiable symbol of the role, and continue to evolve in order to reflect the ever-growing respect for the healthcare sector. At HeathBrook Workwear, we provide quality uniforms for the nursing profession.  Contact us to see how we can help.