How Nursing Uniforms Have Changed Through The Decades


Doctors and nurses are the ones who help us when we need it the most, but medical fashion hasn’t always been as functional as it is today! In fact, nurses’ uniforms have changed a lot over the years!

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The 1800s

Nursing officially started in the early 1700’s in Philadelphia, Pennslyvania and quickly expanded throughout the United States. When it came to fashion, nurse uniforms have evolved dramatically over the years. Not many people know that nursing was first considered a “street profession,” meaning that it was unsupervised, unregulated and not as respected as it is today.

The 1900s

Then, thanks to the outreach of influential women like Florence Nightingale, people around the world started to realize that trained nurses were vital to the health and success of their societies.

This newfound appreciation was eventually reflected in their uniforms. They got to ditch the servants’ outfits and wear light gowns with white aprons and cloth caps. Many nurses also wore capes that showed how trained and experienced they were!

The 1910s

With the increase in nursing schools and medical technology, the fashion had to cope with the changing standards. Nurses understood that the faster they could treat a patient was the difference between life and death, so designers added pockets and made it much easier to roll up their sleeves!

The 1920s

During World War I, chunky dresses were officially out, and shorter ankle-length dresses were in. The 1920s was when the most primitive form of the nurses’ dress we think of today came about!

The 1930s

Things didn’t change much for the uniforms from the 1930s to the 1940s. Nurses usually wore collared white dresses (still ankle-length) and a slightly larger fabric cap.

The 1940s

Fashion took a larger role in the uniforms of the late 1940s. These women depict the fashion of U.S. Naval hospital nurses during the 1940s.

The 1950s

Nurses’ fashion followed the women’s empowerment movement and the uniforms became shorter on both the sleeves and the skirt length. The large caps once worn by the women were replaced by smaller, more simple paper hats!

The 1960s

The sudden popularity of mechanical laundry machines in the 1960s meant that every piece of fabric in the hospital was now going to be machine-washed. So the uniforms were simplified and the fabric was easier to wash and iron.

The 1970s

Once again, reflecting the times, the uniforms became shorter and some nurses even traded out their skirts for more comfortable white pants.

Hats were made even smaller and a large portion of nurses were growing tired with having to wear them at all. It wasn’t long before their requests were heard and the hats were eliminated!

The 1980s

The most basic version of the “scrubs” we know today first came around in the 1980s. The fabric was now lighter and the dress was replaced with the separate shirts and pants!

The 1990s

Towards the end of the 1990s, different colored uniforms indicated where a nurse was working. The white uniforms would be for their daily rounds and they would change into blue scrubs when assisting in the operating room!


The same color-specific scrubs rule still applies today, but the doctors and nurses get to wear their own long-sleeved shirts under them if they’d like. There are also fun prints that they can wear to bring a little cheer into sad, chilly hospital rooms!

The Unsung Heroes

These men and women are making fashion history and helping their patients in the best way they know how! They work tirelessly to make sure we are all at our best and we will never be able to repay them!

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