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Why Did Nurses Stop Wearing Caps?

When nursing first started, women wore kerchiefs to cover their hair. These kerchiefs were worn for practical reasons, and evolved into the nursing caps that are now recognized the world over. The starched white caps, perched on the top of the head, used to help identify nurses, including where the nurse went to school and what rank she held. Every school had its own cap, some simple and some quite elaborate, even with wings and peaks.

The Disappearing Nursing Cap

The cap meant a lot to the nursing students and nurses. By graduation, the coveted, but impractical, cap was worn with pride. These caps, white and starched, couldn't be washed every day. Since they were worn every day by the nurses, they harbored bacteria that could spread.

But there are other reasons why caps went out of fashion:

  • Gender equality: Men who entered nursing didn't wear caps, so it hardly seemed fair that women would have to.
  • Convenience: As life got busier, nurses were no longer single women or married without children and caring for a fiddly cap was one more thing to do on a long list of chores.
  • Professionalism: It's often been said that the caps go back to the day when nurses were considered on par with servants. If you look at some models, they do look like the caps that maids and housekeepers wore. As nursing gained in professionalism, the look with the cap didn't match the image these professionals were aiming to portray.
  • Symbolism: One of the biggest meanings behind the cap was to identify where the nurse went to school, and what her hospital affiliation was. Nurses used to train in a hospital school and, most often, continued to work there. Now that colleges and universities have replaced hospital nursing schools, most nursing students train at a variety of facilities and may end up working in a completely different one.

If you ask, most nurses would likely tell you they are glad they don't have to wear a cap. However some do remain wistful, remembering how the cap united nurses by symbolizing the accomplishment of completing nursing school and working together in this important profession.

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