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Our defining uniforms – yesterday, today, and tomorrow

Blend Images Photography | Veer + AbleStock | Thinkstock

“Clothes make the man” (or woman).

I, for one, can’t wrap my mind around the concept. But whether I like it or not the ‘clothing’ of a nurse has definitely ‘made’ them.

What other profession out there can solely be recognized by a uniform? I mean the word/term ‘nurse’ and its profession conjures up all those wonderful images of the traditional white uniform, the hat, the skirt, the white pantyhose, the white shoes, etc.

Before I became a nurse I sheepishly equated nurses/nursing to good ole’ Nurse Ratched (sorry!).

Uniforms of old

Isn’t it funny how in the beginning of our profession, the uniform was designed to signify and separate us from the un-trained? In the first years of Flo’s nursing school, the uniform communicated respect and formal ‘training’. Centuries later the uniform still does that very thing — with the added flare of controversy (the debate of color coded care).

Uniforms today – fit and function (finally!)

Over the years (thankfully) the ‘style’ of our uniform has definitely evolved to meet the needs of our evolving responsibilities and diversity. The ‘fit and function’ of the original left a lot to be desired. These days the ‘fit and function’ of my scrubs are THE reason I wear them. With the million and one things we do every day I need my uniform to ‘stand the test’ so to say. Yes, I’m happy to report I never had to wear a skirt. Although as a nursing student I DID have to wear an all white uniform! I was a walking Q-tip (with my shiny bald head)! Needless to say, I vowed to never wear all white again.

Uniforms tomorrow can scrubs do it all?

It begs the question: What will the uniform of the future bring us? I, for one, would like to see the ‘fit and function’ part of our scrubs taken to a new level.

  1. How about a nursing uniform that doubles as a protective gown (for all those patients in precautions)? Could you imagine the amount of time and energy we could save if something was devised that eliminated the ‘gowning up’ procedure??
  2. Some sort of cool stain-resistant feature would be worth it’s weight in gold. Hey, maybe we should consult NASA?
  3. Heck, maybe even extend it a little further. What if we had a pair of scrubs that worked as a protective gown for our ‘precaution’ patients, but then somehow had a built-in set of ‘gloves’???

Whoa. Now that would be awesome (OK, so I’m a sci-fi fan – how’d you guess).

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20 Responses to Our defining uniforms – yesterday, today, and tomorrow

  1. Sarah

    How about gloves that go up to our elbows sort of like the “calfing” gloves a vet would use? Sometimes when you are elbow deep in you know what you really wish for a bit more protection.

    • dac2215

      I agree whole heartedly, Sarah! Administrators have NO idea what we do “in the trenches” so to speak. There is little else that can be off-putting than to tackle that ‘code brown’ on an extremely large patient who is either too weak or is sedated on a ventilator and try to reach everything to properly clean the patient. After 36 years I don’t know why we can’t have those gloves…we even asked.

  2. kws87RN

    When I first started nursing school in 1985-we wore baby blue & white striped uniforms & was psyched to finally get to wear my “whites” upon graduation!! When I worked on the floors-the only people who wore colored scrubs were RNS who worked in the:ER,OR,ICU units & they all wore blue!!! Now I can’t tell who is an RN,CNA or housekeeping!! When our DON left after 35 years-Oh boy-it was a free for all on different colors,patterns,etc…Call me old school but @ least when you wear all white-everyone KNOWS YOU ARE A NURSE!! I also know that it is easier to get stains out too-just bleach them!! My biggest pet peeve is how sloppy or provocative fitting some scrub wearers are!! My final truth word-Since I have been doing homecare my #1 complaint from patients is they DON’T KNOW WHO IS A NURSE ANYMORE!!! It’s so sad because you work so hard to get that RN license but I feel the pride of being an “identifiable,proud,cohesive group” feeling is gone-I guess it’s just the times-I’ll always will wear white when I get back on the floors again!!!

    • Springkeeper RN

      I wear white dresses or white scrub top and skirt with white shoes and hose every day at work on my med-surg floor. My favorite comment from nurses is: “I would never wear all white because you can see all the dirt”. My response: “You’d really rather walk around with [body fluids] on you all day and not be aware of it?” Patients consistently ask me if I am in charge and my geriatric patients especially love what I wear and tell me how professional I look. I do not think what I wear should be mandatory for all RNs and I really like the fact that our local hospitals give a choice (white and/or green, white and/or purple, etc., depending on the hospital). I think scrubs that fit properly and don’t look they were retrieved from the bottom of an overcrowded laundry basket are also appropriate attire for nurses (especially men;) ).

    • dac2215

      Yes, KSW87RN, If it gets posted, I wrote about “color coding” the scrubs by profession. Personally I look dead…zombie like in white. But I firmly believe RN’s should have some sort of uniform designation that separates us from other ancillary professions. Debbie

  3. Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

    @ Sarah HAH! Boy wouldn’t that be interesting.

  4. Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

    @ kws87RN We all have our preferences. The evolution of our profession is continuing to change. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Pam HOULIHAN sprenger RN BC

    i LOVE FASHION,….AND AS A PSYCHIATRIC NURSE, WE OFTEN WORE STREET, CASUAL ATTIRE, AS A MANAGER I WORE SUITS GREAT LEATHER SHOES, MATCHING HANDBAGS….NOW BACK INTO A MEDICAL/PSYCHIATRIC MODEL ON AN INPATIENT HOSPITAL UNIT …UNIFORMS ARE MANDATORY, HATED IT AT THE START, BUT AS TIME HAS PASSED I SEE WHY THE WHITE IS A GREAT IDEA TO IDENTIFY YOURSELF AS AN RN !!! AND PROUD OF MY STATUS, THE HARD WORK TO ACHIEVE MY TITLE AND EVEN MORE GRATEFUL FOR THE GRATIFYING LOOKS FROM PATIENTS ANDTHIER FAMILIES AS THEY QUICKLY ID ME AS AN RN…….PLS LETS BRING BACK A BIT MORE STYLE AND FITTED UNIFORMS, AS WELL AS SCRUB DRESSES, AND VARIATIONS OF. IF ANYONE KNOWS WHERE I CAN GET NURSING SKIRTS AND DRESSES STYLISH OF COURSE PLS E-MAIL THANKS IN ADVANCE, AND KEEP SMILING, AND DOING WHAT YOU DO BEST PROVIDE QUALITY COMPASSIONATE CARE. WE ARE PRIVILEDGED AND SHOULD WEAR OUR UNIFORM WITH PRIDE!!!!

    • dac2215

      Yes, Pam, in the “good-old-days” when I was in school (1976) we used to joke that the only way to tell the nurses from the patients was that the nurses wore white lab coats. I believe that a good psych RN is worth their weight in gold!! If you can’t find the professional yet comfortable work clothes you desire I suggest finding a good seamstress and have them made. I had to make all of my own scrub tops because I required a collar-my neck would break out from my stethoscope touching it. Bless you and good luck! Debbie

  6. Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

    @ Pam Good luck with your search. I believe we’re all proud of our title.

  7. Maureen McCafferty

    You can get nursing dresses and skirts at http://www.allheart.com. Not a huge selection, but I find that dresses and skirts aren’t widely available anymore.

  8. kws87RN

    Thank you Pam for backing me up-it seemed like Sean made me feel like I went to school w/Florence Nightingale & that my comments from ACTUAL PATIENTS was a joke!! I also feel that fashion is great too but on your OFFTIME!!. Again, kudos to your great,insiteful email

  9. nan

    I was just telling a friend the other day that when I graduated from nursing school in 1973, we had on all white-from our cap, dress, hose and shoes. There were no sneakers, either. The only thing I didn’t like was the occasional dress with static cling.
    We then graduated to white pant suits, and on with the changes. I left the patient bedside in the mid nineties, and haven’t kept up with what is worn now. Call me old fashioned, and you probably will, but like KWS, wearing white was a way to denote to patients and other personell that we were RN’s. I remember ordering the white uniform I was to graduate in (I went to a 3 yr school of nursing. Try to find one of THOSE any more) and the entire class wore matching dresses. WOW, memories…..

  10. Ellen Algava

    I’m from the age of white polyester, white support hose and that horrendous hat that made me look like a French chamber maid. I was so glad when we could get rid of it. I like scrubs; they’re comfy and a lot of ids have the initials RN on it, so there’s no confusion. Besides the patients like the different colors. Since I work in the OR, I don’t wear hats that have food images on it. I would like to see people being allowed to wear their own scrubs to work, as the hospital issued are often ripped, and dirty. I would like to look half-way decent when I get to work.

    • Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

      @ Ellen I think the hospital issues them to account/prevent infection maybe? Thanks for commenting.

  11. KES5011

    I’m from he days of white uniforms and hats. You EARN the right to wear white and the hat,and many of us were proud of this. Many of the uniforms were more fashion fitting then the scrubs of today. With that said the hat was not practical and was a nuisance. Scurbs make it easier/safer to do the job. Many hospitals are going back to the white uniforms for the RN and finding patients love it and it has brought back some of the unity/respect that has been lost over the years.

    • Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

      @ Kes5011 sorry you feel that respect has been lost. Thanks for sharing.

    • jadetheCCRN

      As a travel nurse, I have to wear whatever is required when I take on a new contract. I started working at a major metro hospital in a large city recently and had to start, “rock in’ the whites” again. I’m a “messy Marvin” so I was really worried about staying clean all the time. I wasn’t prepared for the positive community, patient, ancillary staff, and other support I received being seen in an all white uniform. It makes you a real, “head-turner” and commands a lot of respect wherever you are. I pretty much do that anyway by my demeanor. I had no idea just wearing this color would make such a difference to me and those around me in a profession I hold so dear everyday. I didn’t know it could get any better or sweeter after 14 years. I may just continue to, “rock the whites” for fun after this contract is over because it’s made such an impact for me. Thanks, y’all! Nurse (not murse) on!

  12. DCRandRN

    Boy, Sean, it looks like you’ve stirred the old girls up! I graduated in 1982, still all in white. I still wear white pants and a white warm up jacket. My tops are pastels. People approCh me first because they think I look like what a nurse should look like ( I work mostly with the senior crowd). I think people respect you more all in whites. It identifies you and yes, even though you wear a giant badge some people can’t read it. Just like a policeman is readily identifiable (I’m not pulling over for some guy in jeans and a tshirt I don’t care what he’s driving).

  13. dac2215

    I worked at a (very nice) hospital that had color coded uniforms. They (whoever the “they” was) picked out great colors! RN’s were royal blue; LPN’s were purple; CNA’s were “ceil” blue (you know-that light blue…); radiology services were emerald green; OR had a combo of green and navy blue…can’t remember all of them. I was resistant at first, then had the experience of being in the ED with a family member at another facility. It was actually very stressful-especially because I was trying to “advocate”- [read throwing my nursing weight around] due to my family member’s needs not being met. I had to ask to talk with the charge nurse-and I was speaking with a social worker! Sometimes it works against you to identify yourself as a critical care nurse other times, such as this, it helps to get a timely CT scan for a head injured teenager. I had to argue…
    My point is-“color coding” employee uniforms by profession within the facility can be a good thing. Of course if the upper management picks brown and black and white…not so good. Happy scrubs to you. Debbie

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