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What Do Nurses Wear? Your Guide To Nursing Attire

what do nurses wear: nurse smiling to her patient

The nursing uniform has changed a lot from the time when Florence Nightingale established nursing as a profession in the 1800s. Since then, function has been a driving force of nursing fashion. Wearing practical, comfortable, and easy-to-care-for uniforms allow nurses to perform duties successfully. 

So, what do nurses wear now and why? There are several must-have pieces for every nurse, each with their own benefits. But first, it might be helpful to know what nurses aren’t wearing anymore thanks to today’s focus on ease of care and comfort.

What Nurses Aren’t Wearing (Thank Goodness!)

Florence Nightingale is known as the Mother of Nursing – and it’s no surprise, considering she established it as a legit career back in the mid-1800s. She also established the need for a uniform to instill pride and professionalism when nursing wasn’t yet acknowledged as a job technically. 

This early nurse uniform consisted of a dress, apron, cape, and cap. The cape was used for warmth on the battlefield. As for the cap, there are different theories about why they became a signature part of a nurse’s ensemble.

Some cite religious reasons (nursing uniforms looked very similar to nun uniforms back then) while others assert that it was a matter of sanitation to keep their hair back. But the most resounding theory for the nurse’s cap is professionalism. 

The cap often represented the nursing school the nurse graduated from as a sense of pride and respect. If you want to take a walk back in time, you can see dozens of nursing caps throughout the years from the Museum of Nursing History.

Thankfully, the cap and cape have long left the healthcare worker’s uniform. But there are several wardrobe staples in most closets of nurses these days. 

What Do Nurses Wear Now? 6 Must-Have Items

If there are two things that nursing attire focuses on today it’s comfort and function. And it makes sense considering this uniform will be worn for 10-12 hours at a time. It also doesn’t hurt to have fashionable, good-looking scrubs to help conquer your shift. 

Finding ways to increase comfort during such long shifts is what makes the job more bearable. Think compression socks, clogs, scrub jackets, and a few more items you might not have expected. Discover why they’re an essential part of everyday workwear for these essential workers. 

1. Compression Socks

Compression socks have replaced the traditional stockings and hosiery that medical professionals wore back in the day when skirts and dresses were the custom medical uniform. As a nurse, you’re on your feet more than you aren’t during those 12-hour shifts, and compression socks can provide comfort to aching legs. 

Unlike regular socks you find in most people’s dresser drawers, compression socks offer a number of benefits, including reduced leg fatigue, better blood circulation, and lower risk of varicose veins. They come in graduation compression levels, depending on individual needs or medical conditions. 

Fortunately, compression socks have come a long way from the stark white knee-length socks of years past. Check out Cuvu compression socks for fun patterns and fresh designs to suit every personality and dress code.

2. Comfortable and Protective Footwear

When you’re standing for hours on end and running around the unit, proper footwear is essential. Wearing closed-toe shoes is often a dress code requirement, and nurses quickly learn why – no one wants mystery liquid dripping or falling on their exposed socks and feet!

Clogs have become a staple for registered nurses (and other healthcare workers) thanks to their all-day comfort. Many clogs are made of leather that forms to your specific foot shape, allowing for a customized fit. The thick soles of clogs also serve as shock absorbers when you’re standing on your feet for long periods of time.

They’re also easy to clean since there aren’t any laces or mesh fabrics to sanitize. What’s more, there’s nearly an unlimited array of colors to choose from, so you can always show a little personality even if your dress code is blah. (Check out these purple wave Savvy clogs for some seriously funky footwear.)

Sneakers are another nurse favorite. Not only are these comfortable shoes designed for athletic performance but they also offer footbed support and a secure fit. Once you tie those laces, you can maneuver around without worrying about falling over. Because no matter how comfortable clogs may be, every nurse knows what it’s like to roll their ankle in a pair of slip-heel clogs.

3. Scrubs

what do nurses wear: Keswi scrubs bottom close up

What do nurses wear? If there were one answer to that question it would be scrubs. Thankfully, modern-day scrubs have replaced the cumbersome dresses and aprons of Nightingale’s days. 

Scrubs were developed to help with sanitation as well as for ease of laundering (back when the hospital was solely responsible for uniforms). Nurses wear scrubs because they’re functional (hello, pockets!) as well as comfortable – having scrubs made with flexible materials allows you to have a full range of motion whether you’re in the emergency room or operating room.

That said, wearing scrubs as a uniform doesn't mean you have to abandon all fashion sense. With the wide selection of styles available today, you can find form-flattering looks are on-trend. Case in point: Keswi’s Ventura jogger scrub pants. These sleek yet comfy scrubs bring athleisure chic to the hospital with their brushed cuff, tapered silhouette, and overall cool look. 

The best scrubs are as comfortable as a pair of pajamas but give the illusion of a well-polished uniform. Scrubs need to move with the nurse and help carry all those vital supplies. Having an adequate amount of pockets to cut down on supply room visits may be more important than socks and shoes! (OK, we’re kidding but pockets are kinda everything for nurses.)

Speaking of pockets, Keswi’s Malibu V-neck top has four pockets and two pen slots on the sleeve to organize and stash all your shift essentials. This flattering top with front and back darts (and a slightly angled V-neck) is the epitome of form and function in a uniform. 

Quality scrubs are made with practicality in mind. Durable scrubs keep you protected during your shift (bye-bye, body fluids!) and will also withstand multiple washing cycles. Keswi premium scrubs are a no-brainer for any nurse. Along with the four-way stretch for supreme comfort, these colored scrubs are wrinkle-resistant. Once they’ve been washed and dried, there’s no need to iron before throwing them on and running out the door.

Keswi scrubs are also moisture-wicking to keep you cool during busy times but also have the perfect weight to keep you comfy in case you forgot your scrub jacket. And don't forget the micro-peached finish, which makes them the softest scrubs around. 

4. Jackets and Under Shirts

Scrub jackets, lab coats, and undershirts (or underscrubs) are very popular for nurses to wear. With the varying temperatures in the hospital, it’s always good to have layers in case your station is right under an AC vent. 

A nurse’s shift also varies tremendously – one hour you’re running around passing meds and the next hour you’re sitting down to chart those meds. Having a jacket to throw on when you’ve suddenly stopped breaking a sweat keeps you comfortable all shift long. Scrub jackets are also nice for extra pocket storage if you never seem to have a spot to stash your work phone or pager.

5. Wrist Watch

Even though most people use their cell phones to know what time it is, nurses still tend to wear a wrist watch to work. For starters, you don’t want to be digging into your pocket every time you need to check if a medication is due. 

Watches are also useful to check patient vital signs like pulse and respirations (breathing rate). Nurses can use the second hand (or digital second count) to time themselves while they count heartbeats or breaths.

Watches are often used when administering certain medications as well. Some drugs have to slowly be infused over one to five minutes, and using a watch (rather than a phone) to properly monitor the infusion timing is a must. 

6. Chapstick and Lotion

OK, so these items aren’t exactly part of a uniform, but they are wearable (and essential). When spending time in a hospital or other healthcare facilities, you quickly realize how dry it is. With a constantly running HVAC to clean and circulate air, there isn’t much room left for humidity. Chapstick is vital for those long shifts to keep your lips moist and free from cracking. 

Along with the dry air, constantly washing your hands and using hand sanitizer is extremely drying to your skin. Hand sanitizer has alcohol (CDC recommends at least 60% alcohol content), which is also incredibly dehydrating. 

Having a fragrance-free bottle of lotion in your nursing bag can help save your hands from chapping as well as reduce the risk of infection due to cracked skin. 

Taking the Mystery Out of What Nurses Wear

Nursing uniforms have evolved with science, society, and fashion.Florence Nightingale paved the way for nurses to establish nursing attire, although we have to say we’re grateful the cape, apron, and cap are no longer part of the dress code policy. 

Compression socks and proper footwear help nurses get through those busy days and a cozy jacket can help you get through chilly night shifts.

Scrubs are a mainstay when it comes to a nurse’s uniform. Focus on high-quality materials that can withstand whatever the day brings, and look for sizes and silhouettes that cater to your body type.

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