How Medical Uniforms Evolved Throughout History

The aesthetic of the medical industry has certainly evolved over the years. This is particularly true when you look at the changes to the medical uniform.

Medical Uniforms in The 1800s

Before the 1800s there wasn’t much of a recognised medical uniform.

This was particularly true for women and nursing wasn’t even considered a profession until this point.

It was nuns who were responsible for looking after the sick and injured.

Indeed, this is the origin of calling a nurse sister.

They wore long aprons with a head covering and a cross to mark medical staff.

Florence Nightingale was the first time nursing was recognised as a profession.

In 1860, the training school opened under her name and it was here that a new uniform for nursing was created.

It was similar to that worn by nurses with an ankle-length pinafore and a hat.

Florence Nightingale in a nurse uniform

Interestingly, these original uniforms were used as a way to help ensure that nurses did not become infected or ill.

They were designed to be protective but at the time this was not successful.

A nurse named Caroline Hampton developed dermatitis, not from infection but rather the harsh chemicals that were used to keep hands clean.

This actually lead to the creation of both the latex gloves as well as surgical gowns.

This was also the creation of the first medical scrubs however they were still in the form of a long gown.

It would be several decades before this eventually changed.

1889 also marks the first recognized use of the white coat.

A photograph from this period shows doctors wearing short white coats over their typical clothes. Before this, doctors were dressed all in black in fully connected uniforms, again to prevent infection.

The Evolution of the Nurses Hat

The nurse’s hat was another key part of the medical uniform from the Florence Nightingale era.

It’s worth noting that this wasn’t used for any practical benefit.

On the contrary, the purpose of this product was to ensure that nurses were provided with the right level of respect and that their status was recognized by both other medical staff and patients.

WW! nurses in uniform The nurse’s hat would remain a key staple of the medical uniform for a number of decades until they were phased out around the ’70s.

By the mid 80’s they were no longer required as a part of the uniform in most hospitals.

Medical Uniforms in the 1900’s

The medical uniform changed once again around the 1940s.

It was during this time that different uniforms for different levels of nurses were introduced.

Some of the styles included short-sleeve uniforms and uniforms with cloaks.

By the Second World War, historians state there was a radical shift in the medical uniform.

It was during this time that there was an influx of injured patients on a level that doctors and nurses had never seen before.

The uniforms had to become more practical to cope with this change and ensure that they could move around quickly to treat as many patients as possible.

Medical Uniforms in the 1960’s

The medical uniform changed once again with the introduction of male nurses.

This brought an entirely new uniform into the industry and the option for male nurses was designed to be simple and minimal.

1960s nurse uniformsThey wore white jackets with a particularly high neck.

This was designed to provide a clean look while the neck was tight-fitting, once again in the hope of preventing the spread of infection.

Medical Uniforms in the 1970’s

Through the 1970s the medical uniform remained relatively unchanged.

However, stripes were introduced as part of the uniform in some hospitals and locations.

1970s nurse uniformsThe stripes were used as a simple yet effective way to show the status of a nurse or medical professional.

These were typically shown on the hat.

Medical Uniforms from the 1980’s To Today

By the 1980s the medical uniform had become far less formal.

Plastic aprons were used instead of the traditional cotton variety.

At the same time, the need for a formal uniform became far more relaxed.

The typical features of the nurse’s uniform, in particular, began to disappear.

From the 1990s onwards, nurses and medical professionals began to wear scrubs.

Scrubs are still favoured today because they are easy to move around in, come in a variety of colours and are simple, low-cost products that are easy to design.

While scrubs aren’t the only medical uniform worn today (there are also tunics and the standard white coat) they are the most popular.

They can be paired with trainers or comfortable shoes, once again to ensure that medical staff can move quickly in comfort.