Careers & Education

What do nurses wear?

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nurse in colorful scrubs
The days of starched white nurse's uniforms are gone
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Wondering what do nurses wear now? Uniforms are different than they used to be!

A few decades ago, the answer to the question "what do nurses wear" would have been easy.

White starched dresses. Winged white nurses' caps, folded and striped to represent their nursing college. Clunky white tie shoes and thick white stockings. If it was chilly, a blue cape or sweater completed the outfit.

It didn't matter whether they were working in pediatrics or a doctor's office -- the uniform never varied.

Hats went first, becoming rare by the late 1970's. But even as late as the early 1990's, a few nursing schools and hospitals still mandated traditional white uniforms for nurses, although women did get to opt for pants instead of a dress in many hospitals.

Not so today! Nurses have left behind the stiff and uncomfortable, and embraced the colorful and easy-to-wear uniform. Pants now outnumber skirts or dresses by a huge ratio. And now more than ever, their uniforms reflect where they work.

The modern nurses' scrub

Scrubs started out as surgical wear. They were easy to put on, easy to remove if they got soiled, and sturdy enough to stand up to harsh hospital laundry services.

Nurses who struggled to keep their pristine white dresses clean envied the comfort and convenience of surgical garb. So it's not surprising that during the 1980's and 90's, many nurses started to adopt scrubs as their daily wear.

Over time, the solid blue, green or red of surgical scrubs evolved into pastels, jewel tones, and finally, prints.

Today, male and female nurses are able to choose scrubs that reflect their patient group (for example, cartoon characters for a peds unit), holiday scrubs (yes, there are Christmas and Valentine's Day and Fourth of July scrubs!), or their own unique taste (including cheetah or zebra print scrub tops, popular TV character scrubs and even superhero scrubs.)

Tops and bottoms

A recent increase in patients who can't tell nurses from housekeeping staff as prompted some hospitals to limit the color of nurses' pants to one or two colors, while housekeeping staff members wear another. This puts a cramp in the freedom of expression many nurses have come to expect in their choice of scrub pants. 

But in most settings, the tops are still a matter of taste, as long as the scrubs are appropriate in design and fit.

What about the shoes?

Nurses shoes used to be easy to recognize. If you saw thick, white ugly shoes with sturdy laces, you could be pretty sure a nurse was nearby.

But like the caps and capes, those old ugly shoes are a thing of the past. Today's nursing shoes come in white, black, pink, blue and even cartoon prints. The styles are different, too, with well-padded clogs from big names like Crocs leading the way, although some nurses wear professional versions of  Birkenstock sandals, Mary Janes and athletic shoes.

But no matter what they wear as a uniform ...

Now more than ever, the most important thing a nurse wears is his or her commitment to exceptional patient care. And fortunately for all of us, they continue to wear that with pride, no matter what scrubs or shoes decorate the outside.

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