Whatever happened to …

… white nurse’s uniforms?

Thanks to Alfred Thompson for the idea. If you have an idea of your own for a future post, please reach out with it.

Did you ever do a “what ever happened to” on white nurse’s uniforms with white caps? Seems they all were “scrubs” in different colours and designs these days. More practical I guess.

This post will be a little different as I’ll have an expert read and fact check me before I schedule it later this morning. You’ll have to appreciate the risk I’m taking as this is going to require attention to detail and proof that I’ve been listening. I’ve been doing research in the pool as we deal with the heat just to refresh my memories

Years and years ago, I was in university and my wife was in college/hospital learning to be a nurse. As Alfred notes, nurses were dressed in white back then. I never fully appreciated all that goes into looking professional as a nurse but I sure did then.

The uniform was indeed white. White cap, white dress, white pantyhose, and white shoes. The cap was made of cotton and it was common when visiting her to see it dipped in starch and water and stuck to the fridge door until it dried and then folded properly before being worn. The dress and pantyhose were pretty nurse-like. The shoes looked like a solid military boot. They also had to be cleaned and polished so that they were sparkling white. Until this, I had no idea that you could buy white shoe polish.

Of all this, the shoes seemed to be the ones that were most important. First, working eight-hour shifts and then twelve hours, nurses were constantly on their feet. It wasn’t uncommon to have breaks or meals shortened or lost because of emergencies on the floor. I remember the eight-hour shifts:

  • Day shift – doing patient care for “their side” of the hall and being expected to react quickly when a doctor made rounds – charting
  • Afternoon shift – all of the above plus dealing with the public during visiting hours – charting
  • Midnight shift – all of the above plus extra care when a bell rings so that the patient didn’t wake up the others in the room or all – charting – missing a good next day as you slept during the daylight hours

Except for the charting, all of the work was standing up on a terrazzo floor and walking from patient to patient.

Then, there was the hat. It was mostly white but qualified people had a band on it. Black for Registered Nurses and green for Registered Nursing Assistants. Student nurses had no band! You could tell immediately by the hat who was giving you your care.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

As Alfred notes, that’s not the way that things are done these days. When you see today’s nurses in action, they typically wear scrubs. Colourful and comfortable is the rule of the day. Before this, only nurses who were in pediatrics would be allowed to wear something other than white.

Those white boots are replaced with running shoes typically. They’re far more comfortable for standing for long times. In education, we often complain about being on our feet but we do get to sit down periodically, have preparation periods to sit at a desk, and a scheduled lunch break. So many teachers today opt for the running shoe anyway for comfort.

I’m told that scrubs are so much better because:

  • you don’t have to iron them
  • they don’t show stains
  • they’re cooler and if you get cold, just throw on a sweater
  • they’re more cheerful looking
  • you don’t have to wear pantyhose

Hats were never a thing in class for teachers and you don’t see nurses wearing them these days either.

For a Sunday, your thoughts…

  • Do you remember a time when nurses were dressed in white?
  • RN and RPN are terms that have been replaced by others as responsibilities have changed. What are they called now?
  • If today’s nurses don’t wear hats and hat bands, how do you know who is caring for you or the person you’re visiting?
  • Have you ever worked the midnight shift? How did you handle things the next day?
  • What’s the best way for your feet to recover after a twelve-hour shift?
  • Jewellery and finger nail polish was strictly forbidden – except for one thing – what was allowed?

BTW, I passed the test. She even laughed while proofreading! Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I know that she’s looking forward to reading your thoughts.

This is a regular Sunday morning article. All of the previous ones are here.

12 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. Good article. I guess he did listen all those years of good or horrific shifts. One thing he didn’t tell you-if you’re married to a nurse you don’t get much sympathy when you’re sick because we’ve always seen far worse.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I had aunts that were nurses at Catholic hospitals, run by nuns. I’m not sure if nuns had to follow the same dress code or not.

    In terms of the one thing that nurses were able to wear, there were two things that came to mind. Either a wedding band or, back to the nuns, a cross? I’m thinking that the wedding band might be my final answer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My consultant indicates that it’s the wedding band. But, she didn’t work in a Catholic Hospital so there may be other answers.


  3. Hi Doug,

    I have a student who’s a nurse and she has different colours of scrubs: purple, dark blue, burgundy…she told me once that some of her patients wait every day to see what colour she will be wearing and they have funny conversations about it, which also helps the patients with their mood a bit!

    I do remember the nurse at the pediatrician’s office where we went when we were little. She was always wearing white with the white hat! I can’t remember her name but I remember the doctor’s name: Dr Anglin – he was great!

    Have a great day,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m smiling here, Vicky. Such is the style today that you could mix and match and get away with it! I used to keep my dress shirts sorted so that I could dress in the dark and be coordinated.


  4. Very interesting topic! I always wondered if medical “coats” and uniforms were white so stains could be bleached out better — and all about the sterile look! I became very curious about nurses’ hats and searched more info about purpose and history. Found one claim that they stopped wearing them in 1970. I trust your wife would be a better expert on this!

    Liked by 1 person

Please share your thoughts here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.