Nurse Uniforms - A Look Back at the History

We have always been interested in the history of uniforms. Nurses’ uniforms are no exception. Did you know that today’s nurses uniform was originally based on a nun’s habit? There’s no doubting that a nurses uniform is one of the world’s most iconic uniforms. Designed to be practical and hygienic it’s essentially the same the world over.

So what about the origins of the uniform? Well going back to the 18th century it was nuns who took care of the sick and injured and it’s therefore no coincidence that nurses adopted the rank of “sister”.

The origins of today’s uniform are believed to lie in a design by one of Florence Nightingale’s students - Miss VanRensselaer. That original design was for the students at Nightingale’s school of nursing. The original dresses were blue (just as many of today’s dresses are) and stayed pretty much the same until the 1940’s when some alterations were made. Although each hospital was free to choose its own design in practice nurses uniforms were very similar.

But nurses dresses did become more modern but first came more standardisation with the advent of the National Health Service in 1948 and the introduction of the Newcastle dress.

The 1960s and 1970s saw further changes as dress styles changed and a greater range of low cost materials became available. More open necks were being worn and disposable paper caps replaced the old fashioned cotton ones.

These advances meant nurses’ uniforms became more comfortable and practical. And as more modern materials became available, plastic aprons replaced cotton ones in the 1980s.

But probably the greatest change took place in the 1990s when scrubs became widely used by nurses although many prefer a more traditional uniform.

Today, nurses’ uniforms are more stylish and practical than ever.
 Thanks to advances in design and materials nurses uniforms can be both comfortable and hardwearing. Hospitals and clinics also like to add their logo to nurses uniforms which some manufacturers add at no extra cost.

So nurses uniforms have come a long way. We like to think we’re one of the companies blazing a trail. But Florence Nightingale and her counterparts would recognise today’s uniform as a direct descendant of the original design.