International Nurses' Day (IND 2024) is celebrated around the world on 12th May each year - the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. In recognition, the team at alsico want to pay tribute to all the fantastic nursing staff in the UK and beyond, past and present.

Having served the healthcare sector for decades, the team at alsico has had the pleasure of working closely with many nurses and healthcare professionals to shape our range of innovative nursing uniforms. Last year, we were incredibly proud to be selected as preferred supplier to the National Healthcare Uniform Framework. To collaborate on the provision of uniforms for the 600,000+ staff across England, and the standardisation of the national healthcare uniform for all NHS staff working in clinical roles in England.

As Florence Nightingale herself is believed to have initiated the first standard nurse uniform during the Crimean War in the mid-19th century, we felt IND 2024 would be the perfect opportunity to explore how nursing uniforms have changed and developed through time, starting with the 13th century and finishing up with our very own design!

13th century

In the 13th century, nursing for the sick was primarily a family obligation. The closest thing to organised care facilities in this time are believed to be monasteries and convents, where monks and nuns would care for the sick as they fulfilled their religious duties. It’s thought that this is why the first dedicated nursing uniform looked much like a nun’s habit – a long tunic, scapula, wimple and veil. It’s safe to say that designing for practicality or hygiene wasn’t a consideration back then!

16th century

By the 16th century, nursing uniforms had evolved but remained very conservative. Nurses typically wore long dresses, aprons and head covering, similar in style to the dress later adopted by the first modern day nurses in Florence Nightingale’s time.

Mid 19th century

Standardised nursing uniforms are believed to have been introduced in the mid-19th century around the Crimean War, when a student of Florence Nightingale’s is believed to have designed a lighter, more functional dress. It featured shorter hems that wouldn’t gather dirt from the floors. The dresses were paired with a white apron and cap to symbolise cleanliness and purity. Yet, while many improvements were made to make conditions more sanitary in hospitals during this time, this consideration didn’t yet extend to the uniforms and choice of fabrics.

Early 20th century

Nursing uniforms continued to be relatively conservative and modest into the 20th century, and often featured high collars, ankle-length skirts, long sleeves and caps. The inception of the Voluntary Aid Detachment, in which civilians were trained to provide care to military personnel under the supervision of a qualified nurse, saw the introduction of the famous red cross on nursing pinafores. While these were used to distinguish the volunteers from the medical professionals, the cross since became symbolic of WW1 nurses and those brought in by the Red Cross charity.

It was during the second world war that the nursing uniform was believed to have undergone one of its most dramatic changes with the introduction of the thick green khaki battle dress, with some women on the frontline wearing trousers.

Mid 20th century

The first national uniform was designed with the advent of the NHS in 1948 – a dress much shorter, puffy sleeves and a pinafore attached. It was these uniforms that began to place greater emphasis on functionality and aesthetic.

With more emphasis on fit for mobility and practicality, skirts gradually became shorter and cotton caps were replaced with disposable paper caps, before disappearing altogether. As more emphasis was placed on hygiene and infection control, pinafores were replaced by single use-plastic (when required) and the NHS adopted lighter, more synthetic fabrics that would stand up to repeated chemical and thermal disinfection.

Late 20th century

Nursing uniforms became more diverse, with tunics, trousers and dresses available in different styles and colours, while some hospitals adopted scrubs as their standard uniform for practicality and ease.

Present day: Introducing Alsico’s healthcare uniforms

Many factors have helped to shape modern day nursing uniforms, including societal norms, medical advancements and textile technology. Nurses deserve a uniform which allows them to carry out their responsibilities safely and comfortably during long and physically demanding shifts.

Our range of tunics, medical scrubs and healthcare trousers are designed and manufactured to protect and provide comfort. Our hard-wearing, hard-working garments integrate our ALSIFLEX® technology, which offers ultimate stretch and comfort, and are washable at up to 85 °C to satisfy industry laundry processes and disinfection requirements.

The vast innovation of nurses uniforms over the centuries is inspiring and something that we’re proud to be continuing today. Our uniforms support to dynamic needs of nursing professionals, giving them the confidence, comfort and protection they need to deliver the best care.