Top 10 Most Ridiculous Uniforms in Nursing History

October 6th, 2009

Since the secular nursing profession was officially started in the 1850s, nurses around the world have worn all kinds of uniforms. Some decades were kind to nurses and allowed uniform fashions to progress by introducing short sleeves, shorter hemlines and lighter-weight dresses. Other eras, however, restrained nurses in heavy materials, frilly hats and impractical uniforms. If you think you have it bad in your scrubs, read on to learn about the top 10 most ridiculous uniforms in nursing history.

  1. World War I Nurse’s Uniform: Nurses who served during World War I wore ankle-length white dresses with long sleeves and a dark blue, red-lined cape that fell to mid-thigh. This silhouette and layering technique was surely impractical for busy nurses in a field hospital, and hemlines were later shortened to make it easier for nurses to walk around.
  2. Muffin caps: Slide four in this presentation shows muffin caps from 1899. These caps were designed to hold a nurse’s hair at the top of her head, and early versions covered the entire head. Later, muffin caps were smaller and were perched on the top of the head in the middle. Nurses who had to wear muffin caps reportedly disliked them greatly.
  3. 1906 Nursing Uniform: In 1906, nurses wore frilly uniforms with puffed sleeved petticoats and aprons on top of their dresses. Hats sat on top of their heads and came to a point, almost like a cone-shape. Nurses at this time were gaining more respect for their chosen career path, but their uniforms are still impractical and heavy.
  4. 1940s caps: By the 1940s, nurse caps had evolved and were designed in an elaborate, pointy fashion. Caps were worn further back on the head and stuck out several inches behind the nurses. Stripes on a cap denoted a nurse’s rank.
  5. "Golden Age of Uniforms": During the 1950s, nurses experienced a "Golden Age of Uniforms" as uniforms were designed with short sleeves, and nurses no longer had to wear old-fashioned, heavy aprons on top of their uniform dresses. The overall silhouette of the nursing uniform mirrored the popular dress fashions of the day, including a nipped waist and A-line skirt.
  6. Bib-front styles: Bib-front styles emerged in the 1940s, became popular in the 1950s and lasted well into the 1960s. Replacing aprons, bib-front uniforms were more practical and probably cooler for nurses, but the plain white front is still impractical and unhygienic for a nurse who is caring for lots of patients at once.
  7. WWII Summer Suit: Nurses during World War II wore all sorts of uniforms depending on their location, specific field and the season. The general summer suit was made of a gray wool and rayon fabric with a military-inspired jacket and matching skirt. While the uniform was very professional and sharp looking, nurses must have been hot, stiff and uncomfortable as they tried to care for patients dressed in a skirt suit.
  8. WWII Motor Corps Service: Nurses who worked in the motor corps wore very heavy duty coat dresses that resembled long military coats worn by men. The double breasted style was featured on coal gray uniforms and worn with a black tie and black belt, much like a male soldier would have worn.
  9. 1980s Pleated Dresses: In the 1980s, nurses began to wear more comfortable dresses with short-sleeves, button-up collars and a looser silhouette. The pleated dress, however, fell to the knees and is a generally unflattering style that looks hopelessly outdated.
  10. White cuffs: Over the years, many nursing uniforms — especially in the early days of nursing — featured long sleeves that had white cuffs. These cuffs were to be starched and buttoned, but they must have been impractical. Keeping cuffs buttoned at the wrist clean and white while taking care of patients all day must have been nearly impossible and exhausting.

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