Nurses of bygone eras and the vintage nursing uniforms they wore
The photographs below, while portraying the changing aesthetic of nursing attire, also serve as a testament to the enduring commitment and compassion of these healthcare heroes.
Throughout the 20th century, nurses and their uniforms evolved in step with society. The early 1900s saw uniforms heavily influenced by nuns’ habits, a nod to the religious orders that had once dominated the profession.
As the decades rolled on, nursing attire began to take a more practical turn. Starched aprons and caps gave way to streamlined dresses and tunics, often accompanied by sensible shoes and neat, minimal accessories.
By the 1960s and 70s, with the feminist movement changing societal norms, nursing uniforms continued to evolve. They transformed from the traditional, restricting attire into more practical and comfortable uniforms, including pantsuits. This shift allowed for better ease of movement, reflecting the increasing responsibilities of nurses and the intensifying pace of hospital life.
While traditional white nursing uniforms were still worn (even today) — particularly for pinning, capping, graduation ceremonies, and other formal professional occasions — as we rolled into the 80s and 90s, scrubs started to become commonplace for on-the-job attire.
This marked a significant departure from the strict dress codes of previous decades. Comfort and functionality became the ultimate goal, reflecting the need for nurses to perform their duties efficiently in fast-paced, modern medical settings.
Each snapshot in this compilation not only showcases the evolving fashion in nursing attire but also chronicles the changing landscape of the profession itself. From starched whites to comfy scrubs, these images encapsulate a century of nurses’ dedication to healthcare and healing.