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From White to Blue: Nursing Uniforms Evolve

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Even though white starched caps and dresses are a matter of nursing history, the media still commonly portrays nurses in these uniforms. This makes sense if you think about it. A nurse wearing regular scrubs of any generic color might be mistaken for a doctor, respiratory, therapist, or maybe even an aide or housekeeping. So when Hollywood wants a viewer to instantly identify a person as a nurse, they put them in a white button up dress and crisp white cap.

I know that many do not share my opinion in this, but I often long for those white uniforms. Though admittedly I became a nurse long after they went out of favor. So I would imagine that if it were something forced upon me as a way to oppress me my fondness for them would likely drastically decline. As much as I can appreciate having the freedom to choose scrubs in a variety of styles colors, deep down inside I admire the association of wearing white with the nursing profession. But it’s not the oppression or rigidity of nursing days gone by that I romanticize. It’s the image of strong, stoic women with integrity that just leaps off the page of the images of nursing days gone by.

White Nursing Uniforms and Scrubs

White symbolizes purity, honesty, cleanliness, and a plethora of characteristics that ones want in a nurse. And yes, I know that nurses are often held to an impossibly high standard of perfection, but I am a firm believer of shooting for the moon. At the very least you will land among the stars.

I think nurses should strive for greatness and all those things that we are positively identified with.

According to color-wheel-pro.com:

White is associated with light, goodness, innocence, purity, and virginity. It is considered to be the color of perfection.

White means safety, purity, and cleanliness. As opposed to black, white usually has a positive connotation. White can represent a successful beginning. In heraldry, white depicts faith and purity.

In advertising, white is associated with coolness and cleanliness because it’s the color of snow. You can use white to suggest simplicity in high-tech products. White is an appropriate color for charitable organizations; angels are usually imagined wearing white clothes. White is associated with hospitals, doctors, and sterility, so you can use white to suggest safety when promoting medical products. White is often associated with low weight, low-fat food, and dairy products.

Patients could easily identify their nurses when they were all wearing the same color.

Unfortunately, these days, the nursing community often frowns upon white uniforms. They’re a relic. This is partially because of the impossibility of keeping it clean and because of the backwards images of nursemaids the suites helped to enforce.

A solution can be found, however, to both unify professionals and improve the recognition of nurses among patients.

Change the color.

Increasingly hospitals and healthcare organizations are having their nurses wear matching uniforms but going away from the traditional white. Instead, blue seems to be the scrub color of choice.

Blue Nursing Uniforms and Scrubs

One of the most common color choices for nursing scrubs these days is blue, and more specifically caribbean blue scrubs. The symbolism of the color blue has many similarities to the color white. Many of these are characteristics that are also associated with the nursing profession.

 

Blue is the color of the sky and sea. It is often associated with depth and stability. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, truth, and heaven.

Blue is considered beneficial to the mind and body. It slows human metabolism and produces a calming effect. Blue is strongly associated with tranquility and calmness. In heraldry, blue is used to symbolize piety and sincerity.

You can use blue to promote products and services related to cleanliness (water purification filters, cleaning liquids, vodka), air and sky (airlines, airports, air conditioners), water and sea (sea voyages, mineral water). As opposed to emotionally warm colors like red, orange, and yellow; blue is linked to consciousness and intellect. Use blue to suggest precision when promoting high-tech products.

Blue is a masculine color; according to studies, it is highly accepted among males. Dark blue is associated with depth, expertise, and stability; it is a preferred color for corporate America.

Avoid using blue when promoting food and cooking, because blue suppresses appetite. When used together with warm colors like yellow or red, blue can create high-impact, vibrant designs; for example, blue-yellow-red is a perfect color scheme for a superhero.

Light blue is associated with health, healing, tranquility, understanding, and softness.
Dark blue represents knowledge, power, integrity, and seriousness.

Blue nursing scrubs are also obviously much easier to keep clean and looking professional.

A downfall is that in order to maintain color conformity, your hospital may choose to go with one specific brand. For example, I have noticed several organizations using Dickies royal blue scrubs as their nursing uniform of choice. But don’t let this disappoint you. You do not have to buy scrubs from your overpriced hometown retailer. You can order scrubs online and save bunches and get the same great quality likely a much wider selection.

Since hospitals have gotten with the program and are unifying the look of nurses without oppressing them, this leads us to question Hollywood when will they get in line with the times on nursing uniforms?

Poll the Audience

What are your thoughts on the trend of nursing uniforms transitioning from white as a standard to blue as the color of choice? What do you think about the media portrayal of nurses? Sound off the in the comments below.

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18 thoughts on “From White to Blue: Nursing Uniforms Evolve”

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  3. I’m married to a nurse–at his hospital he can choose to wear navy blue or white, and he always goes for the navy blue. He doesn’t like to wear white scrubs at all due to the “see-through” factor and the fact that they are harder to keep clean. Navy blue is a much more practical option, at least for him.

  4. In my early days of nursing we all wore white. It does look and feel professional no doubt, however, nursing was different then. My days are more physically demanding than ever. I find myself on hands and knees trying to repair beds, climbing up to fix the television or miniblinds, as well as getting all manner of bodily fluids splashed and/or spilled on my clothes and still look fresh. My uniform has to accommodate my new demands.

    To be frank, if you ever had to wear maxipads with white pants and worry about leakage, you wouldn’t miss white for one minute. Or spend your off hours scrubbing yellow armpit stains…..

    Nope, I do not miss white uniforms.

  5. This post made me laugh! My mom is a nurse and she returned to the profession after taking a decade or so off to raise us 6. When she went back to work, we joked about her going back in all white and ‘showing her age.’ Took me forever to find classic looking white scrubs to give her as a gag gift for her 1-year-back anniversary 🙂 On another note, I absolutely love your blog. I have been looking for the best Nursing blogs for the last month or so and have come to really enjoy reading your experience-driven content, educated guest posts, and quick wit and humor. I would LOVE to profile you as one of our Top 10 Nursing Blogs. I look forward to hearing from you so I can tell you a little bit more about it. Thanks for all the great reading! Best- Abbye Klamann ([email protected])

  6. On a male nurse, I think the white scrubs convey a different idea. Had to wear them in nursing school and had several people ask if I was an “orderly.” Otherwise, I’m all for color-coding staff. I had a patient taking medical advice from a housekeeper who she referred to as “that other nurse.” Almost all my scrubs are navy blue or black Dickies (allheart.com and hit the sales) but I get the most compliments on my powder blues.

  7. I like the look of white, it looks very nice and clean and professional…until you actually start wearing the scrubs on a day to day basis. I had to wear whit scrubs as a uniform and I found that after 6 months the whites began to look dingy and gross. I had to replace those each semester because of this. I now work for a hospital who has opted for navy blue, they are pretty strict on the fact that it must be navy. For practical reasons I like the darker color, I work in the ED and ICU and often get bled on by patients. Yes I go change into surgical scrubs when that happens but at least the people in the hospital don’t see it as well against my scrubs. I can only imagine what the looks on guest faces would be if they saw me hurrying to Central Supply with blood spattered whites!

  8. Vain as it may sound, I never wanted to wear a cap because my school’s cap looked like a damn dixie cup on top of your head. However, now that I’m the big boss in the skilled nursing facility that I work in, I like to wear a white lab coat over my “business casual” outfit. It sets me apart as the Director of Nursing, no confusion to our elders–they see white and that “RN” on my badge, and they feel better. It’s visible.

  9. I too became a nurse long after white was out of fashion…for most. I had a clinical at our local county Level 1 Trauma hospital. While 99.9 percent of the nursing staff wore scrubs there was a small (5-6) cadre of African American female nurses who wore white dresses, stockings, shoes and hats. They rocked. Everyone treated them with respect, there was never any doubt who was in charge and when they moved through the halls I stood back in awe…along with everyone else. I think that was the power of the uniform. Scrubs are comfy but there is a reason people wear them for pajamas. I wouldn’t mind something a little stronger.

    1. See that right there just says something about the power the color white has for nurses.

      There was a hospital a city away from me that was Seventh Day Adventist that used to give nurses an additional $0.50 an hour if they would wear a cap. Rumor has it the fellas complained it was sexists and they stopped it. Thus the caps stopped.

      How sad.

      1. Amanda Trujillo MSN, RN

        I wouldnt mind the cap one bit either. if its good for our profession, our image, our pride–and the confidence of the patients im all for it. its about them, their sense of security, if a cap does it then im on board.

        1. When I wore my whites throughout clinicals I was mistaken for everything but a nurse. MD, security, psych orderly, house keeping!

          I guess the whole Florence Nightingale look doesn’t work for guys.

        2. Amanda “dramatic change in how nurses carry themselves and behave if made to wear white dresses”, i just re-read that and LOL’ed, dramatic change indeed! if crossdressing makes the patient feel better lets do it!

  10. Amanda Trujillo MSN, RN

    Brittney!
    I did a post myself on the whites and I agree with you—-I LOVE the whites! I used to wear a white dress or skirt, white hose, white shoes, and I had my nursing school pin and honor society pin both fastened to the lapel of my dress! I felt better, more professional when I wore white and he patients loved it! My own personal opinion is that I think we would see a dramatic change in how nurses carry themselves and behave if made to wear white dresses–I think nurses would also feel a bit more pride too 🙂 Lastly I think patients would get a good reminder of who and what we are—were not waitresses or handmaidens. Thank you again for this—not many nurses share my view on this!

    1. I’m glad to hear I’m not alone on this boat.

      When our hospital changed to solid color uniforms I was very disappointed that they did not give nurses the option to wear blue or white. There were several nurses who had been there for years and left for a competitor because they could still wear their whites there.

      While I did not have the guys to wear whites in my days on the floor, I have such respect for those that do. It does convey a level of professionalism unmatched by scrubs.

      I had a nursing instructor tell me once that there is a difference between scrubs and a uniform. I now understand what she means.

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