Vintage Nurse Uniforms

Historic Nursing Uniforms

Vintage nurse uniforms are one of the most sought after of all types of older uniforms, especially when you take into consideration the early 19th century versions. Before this time, nursing uniforms were not thought about. Rather, being a nurse was nothing more than woman's work.

The History of Vintage Nurse Uniforms

Prior to the 19th century, women, and more prominently, nuns took care of the sick and those who were injured. As a woman, it was also thought of as your duty to provide care for men, children and other women who were sick. However, once the profession of nursing became more dominant, nurse uniforms also became commonly worn.

Since nuns were the primary care givers in hospitals and medical settings, the first nursing uniforms copied the look for a nun's habit. Even trained lay nurses wore habit-like uniforms to distinguish themselves from those who did not have any medical training.

From this point, the nurse's uniform changed. Florence Nightingale established one of the first nursing schools and one of her first students, a woman named Miss Van Rensselaer, is credited with the design of the uniform that all students at the nursing school would wear. This uniform was mainly blue in color but had many of the same design features of the nun's habit. Very few changes to the uniform occurred prior to the 1940's.

In the coming years, hospitals would make changes to the uniform to fit their own dress codes and desires. Many hospitals required a nurse's cap to be added. There were various versions of these caps, but they were often white and much like that of a habit headpiece.

Changes to the nurse's uniform did occur in 1948 when Britain put in place a national uniform for nurses. This uniform, simply called "national," was one portion of the National Health Care.

In the coming years, the uniform would change even more. In the 1960's, with the women's movement in full motion, open necklines became prominent in these uniforms. The next decade would see the institution of disposable components of the uniform for sanitary reasons. Most notably, the cotton hats were replaced with paper versions. In the 1980's, nurses would switch to plastic style aprons. This helped with sanitary conditions but it also helped to reduce the frequency with which the nurse's uniform would need to be replaced due to outwearing.

Today's nurse uniform is the scrub style. This version became popular during the 1990's in Britain, though the first versions of scrubs were seen in the United States during the same time period. Today, many of Britain's nurses still wear a dress style uniform though most United States nurses wear scrubs.

The Candy Striper Uniform

Another popular vintage style uniform for nurses is that of the candy striper. This name came from the uniform that hospital volunteers used which were striped red and white and resembled a candy stick. These volunteers were trained by auxiliary personnel and aided in a variety of hospital jobs. Some vintage looks still have this red and white coloring to them.

Purchasing Vintages Uniforms

If you are considering purchasing vintage nurse uniforms, consider the time you would like to purchase them from. You can find a variety of nurse style uniforms in costume shops, especially during the Halloween season. Vintage Costumers is one resource for numerous female nurse uniforms and other historical outfits. The student nurse uniform offered is an older style nurse uniform featuring a pinstriped dress and white apron/bib combination with a white cap.

Another great resource for vintage uniforms including older nurse uniforms is The availability and assortment of options changes often at this site. In addition, if purchasing a true collector's item, it is best to have the product authenticated before purchasing from the site.

Was this page useful?
Vintage Nurse Uniforms