Nurse in 1900 with a baby

Fashion isn’t just seen on the catwalk, looking back through history we can see professional work fashion develop and change in to what we commonly see worn today.

Here we take a look at the history of nursing and how nurse uniforms have changed through time. Some of the changes were for practicality or to conform with new rules, however some were influenced by fashion and trends from that specific time.


Although nursing has always been around in some form or another, nursing as a profession didn’t exist in the 1800’s, in fact it was often left for women considered to be lower class or peasants to look after the ill or injured.

Nurse in nun style uniform


Nuns were also responsible for looking after the sick and many characteristics from this have been taken and used from the very first ever nurses. As the first nurses took over the duty of care from nuns it is no suprise that the uniforms were very similar to a nun’s as they took over the same practices the nuns had always used. Phrases such as ‘sister’ are still commonly used today which were rooted from when nuns played the part of a nurse way back in the 1800’s.

1854 – Florence Nightingale


Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale is famous for her work in the Crimean War and it is because of her that nurses became recognised as an important part of the military for the very first time. Four years later in 1860 the Nightingale Training School for Nurses opened at St Thomas’s Hospital in London. This meant that nursing was for the first time seen as a profession and a uniform which was still similar to a nuns attire was worn, it had a ankle length pinafore and a hat.


Nurses uniform in 1800




In 1919 the first ever nurses register began, soon after this nurses uniforms became more practical and for the first time ever uniforms were used to differentiate between nurse hierarchy.

Nearly thirty years later in 1948 the National Health Service was founded and nursing uniforms really started to flourish with a range of new styles being worn. This included short sleeves which had never been used before and shoulder cloaks were now worn by all nurses. The hats which were worn previously were replaced with caps.

Nurse uniform in 1950


The 1950’s uniform is probably one of the most iconic as it was seen in popular TV shows, such as Heart Beat, and is recognised as one of the more stylish nurse uniforms throughout the years.

Another pivotal change for the nursing profession was in 1960 when men started working as nurses. There uniform was more simple, a white jacket that had a high neck.

Male nurse uniform in 1960

The popular nurse uniform continued into the 1970’s with little change, although stripes did start to be worn on nurses caps to show how many years experience a nurse had.

Nurse uniform with stripes


1980 to the present day

Prior to 1980 ‘The Golden Age of Nursing’ were now coming to an end as plastic aprons started to replace the more traditional cotton style and strict uniform rules were relaxed quite a lot. Nursing uniforms became overall more casual as nurses were allowed to wear jewellery and makeup which were forbidden in previous years. The common nurses belt was also forbidden to be worn when lifting patients because of this nurses stopped wearing it altogether and the belt as a nurses accessory was no longer seen.

Modern nurse uniform with apron



Nursing uniforms from 1990 to today have become ever more varied, whereas before there was a regimented uniform for all with only small differences to show hierarchy, today there are different uniforms for many areas of the health service. Scrubs and tunics are commonly worn, with different colours to recognise different nursing roles, for example: midwife, healthcare worker, staff nurse, specialist nurse and ward sister.

Todays modern nurse uniform


Other sectors of nursing and care such as looking after the elderly or care assistants wear a more relaxed uniform of trousers and top with a nursing tabard for practicality. This shows how far nursing has come from once not being a recognised profession back in the 1800s to having a range of health care professions throughout the NHS and the community.

For a selection of professional healthcare, nursing and doctors uniforms visit our website where we have a range of clothing specifically designed for the healthcare industry today.


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