The History and Evolution of Nurses Uniforms

It goes without saying that the NHS is a British institution that we should be overwhelmingly proud of. Every nurse and doctor working within it are a credit to the country and at Alsico we’re proud to be suppliers of their healthcare workwear.

For centuries, nursing has been a vital profession and it has presented the world with some of the most iconic workwear.

For this reason, we’ve taken a look into the history of nurse uniforms to appreciate the journey the industry has taken since the profession began.


The first nurse uniforms

Before the 1800s, there was no formal uniform for nurses as these roles were reserved for an in-house wet nurse or as a service to the church. However, as the 1800s dawned, nursing became an acknowledged profession, birthing the first nurse uniform.

Predominantly a female role, the original nurse’s uniform consisted of a floor-length tabard dress, high-collared shirt, and a bonnet.

From the little insight we have into this period of time, there were no strict rules about what fabrics and styles could be worn as part of the uniform. Nonetheless, it’s presumed that aprons would have been worn to protect the clothes from substances and liquids, whilst the bonnet would hold their hair back.


Wartime nurses

Between 1914 and 1945, the UK endured two World Wars. In this time, nurses were crucial in reducing the number of fatal casualties. Their presence at the battlefield and at home signified a symbol of unity and strength for each community, attributes that were vitally necessary at the time

Consistency amongst nurses’ uniforms was key during this period of time to ensure nurses were recognisable throughout the community. Therefore, white was selected as the primary colour choice for nurses’ uniforms and the familiar red cross was pinned either to the chest or arm of the wearer. An emblem for the military medical services, the red cross symbolised protection and neutrality.

For nurses working on the frontline, it was common for them to wear a version of the uniform used by the serviceman. Suitably termed the ‘British Battledress’, the uniform shared the same distinctive khaki material worn by soldiers and featured a red cross around the sleeve. This enabled nurses to be compact and flexible without compromising their most recognisable feature.


1940s – 1980s

Interestingly, the fashion industry revolutionised nurses’ uniforms. Evolving alongside one of the biggest and quickest series of fashion trend developments any century has seen, in just 40 years, the 80s style nurse’s uniform was the polar opposite of the 40s style uniform. 

This period of time saw sleeves and skirt lengths gradually get shorter. At the same time, the style of nurses’ uniforms became more structured and chicer to match its growing reputation as a credible occupation.

A mass production of washing machines and dryers brought the option of industrial laundering for many companies, including the NHS. This meant that uniforms were required to be made from a fabric that could endure a more intense level of cleaning. It was ultimately this requirement that meant nurses’ uniforms came to be made from durable fabrics and cut in more structured styles.


Modern nurse uniforms

Despite all the different styles of nurses’ uniforms, perhaps the most recognisable version associated with the NHS is the modern-day matching top and trouser sets. Unlike previous designs, this new age of nurses’ uniforms has been designed in response to the ever-growing recruitment of male nurses.

To maintain consistency across all nursing uniforms, there is a high demand for unisex work clothes in the healthcare industry. As a result of this, it is down to workwear suppliers like us to offer both choice and comfort when it comes to unisex healthcare uniforms.


So, what nurses’ uniforms do we have available?

  1.      Nurses tunics

Out of all the healthcare garments available, tunics are definitely the most identifiable pieces of a nurse’s uniform for both those who don’t work in the NHS and those who do. Due to being available in various styles, nurses’ tunics are popular within the health industry as they provide maximum comfort by accommodating your frame, both male and female tunics are on sale at Alsico.

Female Tunic (210gsm), £17.95 -

Male Tunic (210gsm), £17.95 -


  1.      Nurses dresses

If you prefer to keep it traditional and are a fan of the 1800s trend of nurses’ uniforms, we also have nurses’ dresses available in all the conventional healthcare colours. A contemporary take on this quintessential work uniform, short sleeves and falling just below the knees allows nurses to remain modest and comfortable on the job, as well as encompassing the conventional nurse look.


  1.      Scrub suits

For a flexible, durable and comfortable healthcare uniform, try out our modern take on nursing scrubs with the 4-Way Stretch Scrub Tunic. Available for both men and women, years of experience and vigorous testing has lead to durable uniforms being created out of a combination of polyester, rayon and lycra for optimum results.

Has lead to the use of stretch fabrics to allow optimum comfort and flexibility for the wearer.

To increase productivity at work, we’ve incorporated an abundance of visible and concealed pockets to allow staff to carry all the necessary tools at all times.

Female 4-Way Stretch Scrub Tunic, £21.95 - 

Male 4-Way Stretch Scrub Tunic, £21.95 –


It’s fair to say that over the span of a 100 years, the nursing industry has seen and been a part of some of the most poignant moments in history. This history can be easily mapped onto the shifting style of their uniforms. From the high-collared, floor-length dresses of the 1800s, the structured and suit-like co-ords in the 60s, to the unisex scrub sets in the present day. Nurses’ uniforms have certainly come a long way in the last century, but the principle and distinguishable features have been carried from one style to another.