Nurses’ Uniforms, Hats & Shoes, 1960

When someone says “nurse”, this is still what comes to mind:

Sears Fall Winter 1960 catalog

Sears Fall Winter 1960 catalog

When did they stop using the traditional, identifiable uniform? It was sometime during my adulthood, but I didn’t notice at the time. All of a sudden I realized that I couldn’t tell the doctor from the orderlies, or the R.N.s from housekeeping.

In fact, when I went in for one of the tests before surgery, there was a whole group of people in scrubs in my … well, it’s not really a room; it’s a curtained off part of the pre-surgery room. Anyway, I was talking to a woman who I thought was a nurse, but in fact, she was the radiologist M.D. who was going to do the procedure. We’d never met before and she didn’t introduce herself, and I’m too embarrassed to stare at the name tags. I must have said something about wondering when the doctor was going to get there because all of a sudden everyone was kind of shuffling their feet and Joe said “She’s the doctor.”



Filed under 1960, 1960's, Fashion, Hats

18 responses to “Nurses’ Uniforms, Hats & Shoes, 1960

  1. I totally agree, Carla. I like for people to “dress their part”. And even though I’m not Catholic, I liked nuns who looked like nuns!

    I’m not sure why society has decided it’s better for everyone to dress alike — sloppy!

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  3. In Guatemala where I was born I remember I was a patient in a hospital it was 1987, and as I kid I just saw a bunch a ladies with White dresses and white starched caps, they were the RNs, and the CNAs wore a baby blue dress with a starched baby blue colored cap. They all had their hair pull back and they would put their hair inside the caps. It was nice I did not know they were nurses at that time but just by seeing them it made me have respect for them, I mean their immaculate image demmanded respect from my part. Until this day they still wear the same uniforms, although now must nurses wear pants white for the RNs and Baby Blue for the CNAs and they still wear the caps (LVNs-LPNs do not exists in Latin America.) the CNAs are called in Guatemala; Auxiliar de Enfermeria. Nice to know that in some countries of the world nurses still look like nurses and wear a nice uniform unlike here with their pajamas, although now I have noticed that hospitals put the nurses title in red or blue and the initials of what they are, like RN or CNA or LVN, but that does not come close to the whole uniform.

    • Very interesting – I didn’t know that the nurses in Guatemala are still wearing the traditional uniform. It presents such a dignified appearance to the patient.

      Your comment about the “pajamas” is right on target; I’d never thought of the current garb as that, but it is very accurate.

      Thanks for visiting!

  4. Tracy Shirley

    I started out “old school” and loved wearing my white uniform and cap–it seemed like people respected me. But, after getting my hair half pulled-out by running into tv’s, IV poles, othe people’s heads, etc, it didn’t seem quite so glamorous! Plus, the “stains” were not always easy to get out of a perfectly white uniform. And there are some stains that you encounter that you cannot even imagine where they came from. When I specialized in Pediatrics, we were not allowed to wear white anymore. It was too upseting to the kids—they reacted better to cats, dogs, kites and teddy bears much easier. (and the stains come out easier with the new fabrics.)
    When I was small, my mother had to go into restaurants to see if the waitresses wore white because I was born with Cystic Fibrosis. I was in the hospital ALOT and was afraid of the “white” clothes! I guess it is a matter of perspective and experience. I still don’t like the sloppiness of many of the scrubs they now wear. AND, it is just rude to not introduce themselves to each person in the room. Old school rules should still apply.
    BTW—I am now 50 yrs. old and cont. to be in the hospital alot and cringe at many things!!!! But nurses are still WONDERFUL!!! 😀

    • Tracy, thanks so much for the really interesting comment.

      As I said on Pinterest, the nurses nearly always introduced themselves, but there are so many other hospital employees and most of them didn’t.

      My dentist’s office is a bit swanky, but he’s started requiring that even the office ladies wear scrubs, which is crazy. He lost one of his best employees (who dressed beautifully) because she wouldn’t wear scrubs. They fulfil a function for the technicians but it almost seems like a socialist thing that everyone must look alike.

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  6. morganminpin

    For many years back in the ’60s and ’70s when RNs were really unhappy about their roles (and pay!) I maintained that if they wanted respect they needed to get out of the little white uniforms. But it turned out I was wrong, because what I had in mind was street clothes with a white coat or jacket, and whoever above said that what they wear now looks like pajamas is right, and this isn’t a look designed to invoke respect. I’ve had nurses tell me that on National Nurses Day (May 6th) they get out their old white uniforms and shoes and wear them to work, and the patients ask if they can have the “real nurse” assigned to them! Seems like there might be some middle ground of uniforms that would look professional and yet not scare the peds patients…

    • The white uniforms, stockings and caps look so dignified and professional to me. I can see where it might possibly have an intimidating effect on children, but there’s also something about it giving the nurse a trustworthy look.

  7. Hilde

    bacteria survives longer on polyester than on cotton….still most of our scrubs are “blends”…i guess we still have some ways to go!!!

    • Hilde,

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, and please forgive me for taking so long to reply.

      I understand the convenience of fabric blends, but I still don’t like them. Your point about bacteria was one I didn’t know and I’m glad you shared it!

  8. sdaven5191

    Just found your blog, as a link from something else on Pinterest. I understand the frustration everyone has expressed regarding not being able to tell the nurses from the lab staff from the housekeeping staff from the doctors. I see this expressed everywhere! I mean everywhere. I here it in conversations in medical facilities of all kinds. And I agree. Since the whites and caps went out the window in favor of the scrubs, it’s been a common complaint from patients, and even some staff, that in spite of layers of plastic badges, with big black, or red, or bright blue capital letters showing professional titles, which very frequently get flipped over backwards during the activities of the busy work day, it is still difficult to know who is who. And staff who refuse to adopt the simplest level of professional behavior and introduce themselves to their patients and the patient’s families when attempting to provide nursing care make it harder and more frustrating. I have been in the medical profession for a good portion of my life, and I feel the same, having experienced the same things. In fact, being extremely sensitive to such behavior made me even more conscious of my own, and determined that I would not be one of “those staff members” that we complain about!
    Not being a nurse, since having left nursing school in 1978 due to health teasons, didn’t mean I forgot everything I learned while there. I was able to rejoin the medical profession as a Certified Surgical Technologist some years later ~ it became the career I was really seeking from the beginning ~ and gave my patients the best possible care I could the short time I had them in my OR. I was complimented many times by patients, family members, coworkers, supervisors, medical students who came to my room on their OR rotations, and CST students and nurses I worked with, teaching them the scrub role in the OR, on my friendly demeanor, professionalism, and ability to put people at ease. The very first thing I did in every case was to introduce myself, especially if meeting them from behind my mask! I always let people know my job was to do everything I could to help them, and make sure they were cared for. No uniform could change how I felt about my job, my responsibility to my patients, my coworkers or my students. I wore scrubs provided by the hospital, because of infection control regulations, and never wore them home. But the nurses on other units besides the one I worked on ~ Labor and Delivery on my last position ~ could wear their own scrubs to work. I saw various levels of professionalism displayed by those nurses, some of them rather troubling, others were quite good examples of neat, tidy, well dressed professionals. The hospital system in charge of the one I worked in, as well as two others, tried several times in a short span of years to establish identifying dress codes, regarding color and styles of scrubs and IDs. Most of the time it generated a good bit of grumbling on the part of the many staff members who had to keep buying new scrubs and getting stuck with unusable ones. It seemed the patients remained confused, because the changes were not clearly communicated to patients and familes as to who wore what. The big badges weren’t much help to patients who weren’t completely aware of their surroundings, or who couldn’t wear their glasses for whatever reason, those too upset or disoriented to their surroundings, or when so many of them got flipped over, making them unreadable. That seemed to happen a lot.
    I had a frustrating experience in our own ER after a work-related injury, with being abandoned by a nurse who was supposed to be admitting me and helping me get out of my scrubs and into a patient gown. I got wheeled into a room, the nurse was called away and I was left there alone, behind a closed door. Nobody came to me again until I saw an xray tech who was looking for me and was given the wrong room number. I was still in my scrubs, had not been completely admitted, no pain meds, nothing. The tech helped me get into a gown, got me xrayed, and told the nursing staff on my return that I still hadn’t had any pain meds.
    A half hour later, a woman came in my room (not the same nurse as before, who had left for the day) handed me a cup of water and some pills in a cup. Her badge was below her waist and turned over, she did not introduce herself to me, explain what she was doing, what medication she was giving me or what it was for. I had to interview her to find out! After she left the room, I pulled out a pen and piece of paper, and started to make notes. After I had been told (very wrongly) by a Physical Therapist who came to put me in a sling, that my shoulder injury was likely just a strain and I’d be fine after some therapy, I went home with my husband who finally came to get me.
    I ended up with a 3 centimeter long full thickness tear in my right rotator cuff. Not “just a strain” and it did not get better with therapy. An MRI done later, after the therapy failed to improve anything, but made it worse, revealed the damage. After a year, two surgeries by a shoulder/sports medicine specialist, 10 months of physical therapy, I have a permanent partial disability in my dominant arm, and lost my career and many previous hobbies. And a rather inconsequential settlement from Workman’s compensation, which did little to compensate me for such a loss.
    Regarding my frustrating and potentially dangerous experience in the Emergency Department of my own employer’s hospital, I contacted the Director of Nursing Services, the ED Director, and hospital administration with my carefully documented notes. I was fortunately treated with respect and patience, and was contacted back a few weeks later by the Director of Nursing, on behalf of herself, and the other administrators I had spoken with. The first nurse, who abandoned me, was reprimanded and given time off without pay. The second nurse who failed every step of patient care protocol, apparently was a “frequent flyer” in that respect, had been reprimanded before, and this time had been dismissed. Word was she had not only left the hospital, but the state, and nursing in general. Some people simply aren’t suited to the profession and can take some of that skill set into another area and be much safer. The physical therapist was reprimanded regarding attempting to diagnose an injury without appropriate diagnostic information, and had overstepped his bounds by doing so before ever discussing any of it with any doctor. The xray technician I asked to be commended on his caring manner and professionalism in taking over where the nurses had dropped all the balls, helping me get changed, and reminding staff I had not had any pain control measures of any kind. This of course was done, and in writing.
    Nurses can be as professional as they decide to be, no matter how they are dressed. While it’s good to be able to tell who the players are without a score card, patients have got to be, or have, their own advocates, and when you can’t tell who someone is, speak up and ask. Introduce yourself to them, and ask for the same from them if they don’t offer it.
    The old white uniforms and the caps are pretty much gone, unfortunately. The caps went by theway side due to bacterial issues. Regular handling, putting them on and taking them off, replacing them after getting them knocked off by curtains, IV poles and bags, TVs, orthopedic equipment, etc, but not washing them on a daily basis like uniforms get washed, turned them into bacteria farms. Infection control in many hospitals tested caps and discovered they were carriers of serious bacteria, and ended up outlawing them in the early 80’s. So they are likely to be gone permanently, at least in the USA. Other countries which still not only allow them but require them, are the more patriarchal societies, where women aren’t as aggressive about approaching equal rights, and are still doing traditionally feminine jobs. Another consideration is that the nursing profession is not exclusively female here. There are many more men in nursing now, and they have never worn nurses caps at all. Requiring women to wear them, while the caps serve no other purpose than ornamental now, and not requiring it of men, smacks of a double standard that should not even be considered.
    White dress uniforms on hospital staff nurses are very inconvenient, uncomfortable, difficult to keep absolutely spotless in light of the many types of body fluid and chemical stains they can be subjected to. An expensive white uniform with a big Betadine stain on it is unwearable, even if it is structurally perfect. While the same can be said of scrubs if the stain won’t come out, they are now bring made of fabrics that release stains, and even are resistant to bacterial contamination.
    The answers to the problems are yet to come I’m sure. In the meantime, if you are confronted with difficult situations regarding identifying staff, document what happens, and address your concerns to the administrative staff of the facility in question. Directors of Nursing are generally a good place to start. If you feel like your concerns are not taken seriously, especially if they involve patient safety issues, then take a step up the ladder and go to the facility administrators. Many facilities take their patient care standards quite seriously, and have surveys sent out by impartial third parties after treatment has been completed. Those scores are important in many respects and can affect everything from patient staffing to employee salaries and bonuses! And that’s patient care staff salaries and bonuses ~ not administration! If you get those surveys ~ Press-Gainey is a popular company that is frequently used ~ fill them out and send them in! That includes if you have kudos for staff too ~ not just complaints. If given by specific name, those can also go in staff member’s personnel files, and can have a bearing on raises and promotions. I have worked where this is the case, and it really is a big deal.
    Well, this has turned into a novel where I only intended a few paragraphs! Sorry for the length, but I hope I have given some helpful information, and perhaps some things to think about. I’d be happy to answer any questions about this message if there are any.
    Best regards!

    • Very interesting comments! Thank you for visiting.

      I’m not a person who values fads, whether it’s contemporary music at church, education experiments on children in public schools, or nearly anything new in medicine. Of course, I don’t mean that I disregard new medications, but I am highly suspect of changes in healthcare – and by that I mean nearly all of the changes.

      Almost nothing seems to be in the interest of helping the patient. And most of it doesn’t seem to be helping the nurses, so I don’t know who it’s for.

  9. I am a registered medical assistant and as proud as I am to where my uniform every day even if it is scrubs I would love to have had some kind of dress/formal with a cap instead. I still have my heart set on a white cap. I just don’t know if I have what it takes to rake on nursing school.

    • If you really like what you do, then I’ll bet you do have what it takes. As far as I could go was simply being a candy striper. I liked being with the patients, but not any of the medical stuff. The closest I came was playing an R.N. in a college stage play. I even fooled some of the nursing students, haha. My sister would’ve made a good nurse. She’s a caring person plus she likes understanding all the medical details. When I had major surgery, I left the room while the surgeon explained what he was going to do. There was really no choice but to have the operation; I just didn’t want to know the details.

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  11. E. Martinez

    I remember my mother wearing those dresses to work with those white stockings. I also found a blue navy cape as well as a hat. It was a striking image but not easy to work in. I really like my comfy scrubs and nice comfy Dr Scholls

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