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Nurses Uniforms, 1880’s – 1970’s

Modern nurses uniforms have evolved significantly from their early precursors. Uniforms (a) and (b) were worn by students between the 1880‘s and the 1970‘s at the Toronto General Hospital School of Nursing. Established in 1881, this school was one of many that were established in hospitals during the late 19th century.

Uniforms for students differed between hospitals, and served a number of functions. Aprons could be easily removed and sanitized, and caps kept hair covered and out of the way. Full sleeves and skirts served to maintain an appearance of modesty, which was important in an occupation which required young women to come into contact with patients’ bodies.

Uniforms also made nurses instantly recognizable in institutions that were becoming increasingly populated with patients, physicians, and other staff. Uniforms of different colours and patterns distinguished student nurses from graduates, who traditionally wore white. Graduates could also be identified by a black band on their caps.

In the 1970’s, nursing education was relocated from hospital-based schools to universities and community colleges, and scrubs began to replace uniforms as standard nurse’s attire.