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From White Nursing Uniforms to Hello Kitty…

November 10th, 2010 by – Marijke Durning

Uniforms are a fact of life when you’re a nurse. Even if you wear street clothes to work, chances are you have your own certain uniform – types of clothing you’ll wear for work and other types that you would never considering wearing on the job. For the most part though, standard uniforms are the norm among nurses. But what is standard?

It was in the early 1970s that nurses in the United States began being vocal about their displeasure with the awful stiff and scratchy uniforms they had to wear to work. While they were acceptable in the day when there were no other fabric options, the newer fabrics made the old uniforms unnecessary.

Soon, we began seeing nurses in different styles of uniforms – still usually white – and sometimes, are you ready for it? Sometimes, we saw them in pantsuits! Yes, pants. At work. On a nurse.

Of course, it didn’t take long for nurses to realize that pants were much more practical than dresses for work, so they quickly became the default uniform, although dresses still might be seen from time to time. But then things changed again. Nurses didn’t want to wear just white. White got way too dirty too easily and it could be an uncomfortable color to wear, particularly at certain times of the month. Perhaps part of this realization came when some facilities instituted a color system, different staff members wore different colors. For example, in one hospital, certified nursing assistants (CNAs) may have worn green, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) blue, and registered nurses (RNs) white.

So, as the times changed, so did the white-only uniforms rule and nurses began wearing solid colors. We started seeing pastel colors, pinks, blues and greens. But alas, nursing fashion didn’t stop there. It seemed as if it was almost overnight when the traditional nursing uniform was replaced with scrubs, the loose tops and drawstring pants favored by so many health care professionals now. And, on top of that, the pastel colors started getting very unpastel-like and solid, brighter colors began to appear and after that – patterns: Stripes, shapes, designs…and cartoon characters?

The cartoon or happy characters first began in the pediatric units, where they helped the children as they recognized fun animals and figures. But again, just as the skirts moved to pants and white moved to color, the character scrubs moved over to the adult sections of health care too.

How would a nurse, who worked in the 1930s, feel if she came back to see how nurses dressed now? Would she feel that this was a fun and light-hearted approach to patient care or would she be horrified at the sight of professionals wearing tops covered with Hello Kitty or Christmas trees?

What do you think? Is the trend toward colorful and happy-looking scrubs a good one or would you be happy to see nurses going back to more traditional colors on their uniforms?

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Posted in On-the-Job Fears

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