Kiss Those Ho-Hum Scrubs Goodbye!


Kiss Those Ho-Hum Scrubs Goodbye!

Spring workwear is here with fit, fashion & function

By Linda Hepler, RN, BSN
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Today’s nurses expect to see a wide array of styles, colors, materials and features when shopping for nursing attire. But this access to personal preference — even the freedom to express individuality when dressing for the job — wasn’t always the case. In fact, prior to the 1800s, there were no nursing uniforms at all, perhaps because there was no need to distinguish those who cared for the sick and injured as professionals.

Nursing in the early days was a casual — and poorly respected — occupation dominated by females. Those known as nurses were self-taught and generally unwed (at a time when any self-respecting young woman was expected to marry and raise a family). They traveled around (often via motorbike) to poor districts, offering care to families unable to afford a doctor’s house call. After hours found many nurses drinking, smoking and partying — a scandalous lifestyle which undoubtedly contributed to the occupation’s ill repute.

But all of this changed by the mid 1800s. Florence Nightingale’s work in the Crimean War helped elevate the status of nursing, and with the creation of the Nightingale Training School for Nurses at St. Thomas Hospital in London in 1860, it became important for those who entered the profession to be differentiated from the untrained workers who assisted in the military field or in hospitals. And so the nursing uniform was born.

State-of-the-art nursing garb in the late 1800s was designed to be both “fever proof" — to protect against infection — as well as respectable and feminine. It consisted of a starched white apron with shoulder straps over a long-sleeve dress (generally in a drab grey color) with a starched collar, worn with a white frilly cap with chin ties. A hatband system identified nurses of different rank, and as a nurse climbed the ladder, the pastel bands of the novice were replaced with the black band of an experienced professional. Hats were commonly used in disciplinary actions; a nurse caught smoking, for example, might lose the privilege of wearing her hat.

By the turn of the century, the nursing uniform had become more detailed and tailored and less akin to that of a common servant. Pockets, button-down styling and pointy collars adorned the dress, and the strapped apron evolved into a bibbed one with a gathered skirt. Hats of the day resembled the large coif of a nun, possibly because, in some settings, the two professions merged with sister-nurses being the primary caretakers of the injured and ill.

Functionality prevailed over decorum by the time the First World War began. With injured soldiers rapidly filling the nurse’s tent, uniforms had to work with the nurse rather than hamper her mobility. Short or rolled sleeves and shorter dresses — often sans the apron — dominated the scene. With the advent of the Second World War, women began to enter the work force in droves, and nursing became a popular and exciting profession for them. Uniform chic was dictated by demand for stylish yet simple attire in wash-and-wear materials. Over the years, as more men entered the nursing profession, hats became less prevalent and, in the United States at least, largely disappeared.

Presently, in many medical settings within the United States, scrub suits are the norm. Initially available as a unisex, loose-fitting, solid-colored V-neck top with drawstring pants, this uniform was designed to prevent the spread of infectious disease. Today’s scrubs are available in hundreds of different styles, fabrics, colors and prints. From a whimsical Dora the Explorer print to brighten the day of a pediatric patient to a simple white scrub to distinguish the student nurse — the sky’s the limit in nursing uniforms.

Fit, Fashion & Function: Spring Uniform Chic

Spring 2010 nursing uniform collections are out now, and you can kiss those ho-hum workwear options goodbye. On the rack this year are slim, sleek silhouettes; boutique fashions; and, best of all, soft, easy care comfort. While there are tons of brands out there, here are some that are well-made, affordable and comfortable.

Dickies Medical nurse scrubsDickies Medical

A label distributed by Selecta Corporation, LLC, Dickies prides itself in offering the same quality and toughness in medical workwear (since 2002) as it has in  industrial workwear, beginning in 1922. “Medical professionals want to look good and be comfortable at work,” said Julie Lindsey, merchandising director for Dickies Medical. "And we can bring them premium fabrics, good artwork and great value.”

Two collections to consider:

Baby Twill Scrubs: Twill is a material traditionally used for sturdy work clothing because of its durability and stain resistance. But this collection, new for spring, is not your everyday twill. While still strong, it is made of finer yarn and thus has a lighter weight for elegant draping and softness. Scrub top styles in the Baby Twill collection range from feminine shirred necklines and partial-back elastic to sporty V-necks with decorative tape at the neckline and side vents for maximal movement. You can choose from a “paper bag” waist pant, which has a full elastic waist, or the multipocket fashion pants, which, according to Lindsey, are the ideal crossover option. “These are pants you can wear to the soccer game,” she said. Baby twill scrubs come in a variety of solid colors and prints, the newest of which are "peach" and "graphite."

The Elements collection, also new this year, fuses five principal ingredients: value, style, fit, fabric and comfort. Made of poly/rayon, scrub tops in this collection include a Y-neck fashion top, a pleated waist top, a V-neck two-pocket top, and an elegant kimono tie wrap top. A variety of pant options include full elastic pants or pants with elastic drawstring. All pieces come in solid colors with coordinating mix and match prints.

Cherokee Uniforms nurse scrubs 2010Cherokee Uniforms

One of several brands distributed by Strategic Partners, Inc., Cherokee is known for fashionable prints, luxurious materials and “inspired comfort.” "If it doesn’t feel good and fit well, it won’t be worn," said Sallian Song, vice president of merchandising at Strategic Partners. "But with this type of economy, it’s good to have cheerful colors, too.” Spring colors to watch for? “Juicy orange shades, citrus lemon, sunny yellows and — as always — blue tones and whites." Exciting Cherokee collections include:

Bamboo Planet: Make your world more beautiful with Bamboo Planet’s earth-friendly scrub tops and pants. In 100 percent cotton or bamboo/poly (which is antibacterial as well as eco-friendly), this collection offers a variety of top options, such as a V-neck with an adjustable empire drawstring and back elastic, and a baby doll top with scoop neckline and covered buttons. Bamboo Planet scrubs come in several “earthy” colors as well as prints with botanical motifs.

Flexibles: The Flexibles collection features scrub tops with side panels or sleeves in stretchy knit material and pants with a “comfort fit” knit spandex waist to allow ease of movement. But you don’t have to sacrifice fashion for comfort. With Flexibles, stylish empire waistline tops with front and back elastic for shaping, and pants featuring cargo pockets with a pen slot and contrasting cell phone pocket make this collection a fashion forward option.

Skechers Medical Apparel nurse scrubs 2010Skechers Medical Apparel

You’ve already fallen in love with Skechers nonslip footwear products. But brand new to the uniform scene is Skechers Medical Apparel, another Strategic Partners label. “Skechers Medical Apparel represents the fashionable, fun and feminine side of caregivers who want to allow their style sense to carry over into their jobs,” said Michael Singer, CEO of Strategic Partners. The Skechers collections feature a youthful, fashionable and flattering fit, and include:

California Dreamin’: These 100 percent cotton or poly/cotton scrub tops feature fresh styling and bold prints with luscious shades of citrus, aqua and chocolate reminiscent of the forests, desert and ocean surrounding the City of Angels; this collection coordinates with solid color pants available in several styles.

Pop Life: This collection features trendy scrub tops with names as fun as the prints: “Jazzy Jasmine” and “Tickled Pink,” to name a few. The styling includes details such as border prints, lace-up fronts and dickie inserts. Coordinating solid color pants are available in several styles.



Landau Uniforms, nurse, scrubsLandau Uniforms, Inc.

According to Anthony Dowdell, design director for Landau, this company is one of the oldest medical uniform manufacturers around. “Landau takes pride in offering great customer service," he said. "We want nurses to look professional and polished, and to have the same shopping experience inside a uniform store as they would in a department store or boutique." While Landau offers many unique products, including a line of antimicrobial scrubs, two of the most interesting collections this spring include:

Urbane Live Sweet: This scrub collection of exciting styles and prints is designed for the fashion-conscious nurse. Tops come in a variety of looks, such as the “Sessea” top, made of cotton/poly/spandex with a soft knit V-neck, butterfly sleeves and feminine shirring along the front; and “Bonbon Vivant,” which is made of 100 percent cotton jersey knit with a crew-neck top and a colorblock bottom panel. Coordinating scrub pants are available in several styles, including the “Healing” pant with deep J-pockets, a cargo pocket and even a D-ring for your keys.

Landau For Her: This collection, Dowdell said, features a shapelier garment. “It celebrates women who have curves.” With many pieces running from XS up to size 5XL, Landau For Her provides a great fit for all bodies. Especially beautiful is the faux wrap “Serenity” top in cotton/poly with twill tape trim, a tunnel drawcord front and elastic-back waist. Available in three vibrant colors — plus white — that have their own silk-screen design. The matching “Serenity” pant has a dra cord front, elastic-back waist and a cargo pocket. &

Iguana Med, scrubs, nurseIguanaMed

A relative newcomer to the medical apparel scene, three-year-old IguanaMed is run by a team of young energized people who are passionate about infusing creativity, energy and sport into medical clothing, said the company's president, Gregory Lilien. “The old guard of medical apparel has been around for decades and we can’t wait to continue to set the medical apparel world on fire with dazzling fashion-based colors, a modern sport feel, and innovative super soft stretch fabrics," he said. Look for these collections:

Iguana Core: The staple scrub at IguanaMed, Iguana Core pieces are comfortable, sporty and loaded with functional features. Pants include the Medflex II Core Easy-Fit Draw’lastic pant in cotton/spandex, with a comfy waistline, multiple concealed pockets and elastic pager clip strap. The Medflex II Core three-pocket top features a great chest pocket with Velcro enclosure and an ID badge loop, as well as a concealed hip pocket with a pen slot and internal Velcro enclosure.

Iguana Green: The new Iguana Green collection, with bamboo/cotton made to be antibacterial and reduce body odor, which reflects the company’s commitment to embrace the development of eco-friendly fabrics. Look for ultra soft and durable drawstring pants in a variety of colors, and a trendy top with a scoop neckline and shirring at the shoulder and lower pockets.

Tips for Choosing a Uniform

Of course you have to choose your workwear according to company policy. But even if you have workplace dress restrictions, there are still lots of things to consider when buying a nursing uniform. Here’s how several nurses weigh in on the subject of uniforms — and some tips for making your own selections: 

Style: From tailored and clean to sporty or feminine to traditional or hip-hop, there are loads of styles out there. Deborah Fried, RN, an ICU nurse at Glendale Adventist Medical Center has a lot of leeway in company policy regarding uniforms. “For the women, any style of scrubs is acceptable, including a T-shirt covered by a scrub jacket. Many of us wear long sleeves under our scrubs when the weather is cold. Men tend to wear a short sleeve T-shirt over solid-color scrub pants in light or navy blue, surgical green or wine, and that’s it,” she said. While she generally buys uniforms at deep discount, she’ll pay extra for her favorite type of scrub pants. “I’ll pay up to $11 (clearance) for pants because I need extra-small petite, and I want drawstrings and cargo-style side and back pockets,” she said.

TIP: These days, uniform styles mirror the general fashion scene. So when choosing a style of uniform, consider which ones flatter you the most in your street clothing. For example, are you a sporty no-nonsense dresser, or do you gravitate toward more feminine styling, with details such as gathers and ruffles? Do you tend to wear loose-fitting or tailored clothing, straight legs or flared? Uniforms can be pricey, so try to select a style that you’ll still feel like wearing next year — or even several years from now.

While you may not have a choice of any color in the rainbow, even those medical settings with uniform policies often allow nurses several options in uniform colors. Peggy Peery, RN, a surgical/telemetry nurse at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, said that RNs there must wear solid colors in white, navy, ceil or royal blue. While some may resent not having the option of wearing prints or a wider variety of colors, Peery appreciates the approved color list for nurses. “It’s a clean look with white lab coats,” she said. “It’s clean, it’s professional, and the patients can identify us.”

TIP: When choosing uniform colors, you might want to stick with those that flatter your skin tone. But if you want more bling in your life, you can opt for colors that you drool over — but don’t work so well with your complexion — by selecting that hue in pants with a coordinating top (print if you’re allowed) in colors that look better against your face. When selecting a print, it’s best to stay with small ones if you’re petite; larger ones if you celebrate your curves.

Comfort/Quality Fabrics:
Comfort goes hand in hand with quality fabric, said Sandy Marutz, an employee health nurse at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, Michigan. “I like fabrics that have a little give, even if it’s just a stretchy side panel. When it comes to uniforms, I believe that you get what you pay for."

TIP: For maximum comfort, check the type of material used in the uniform. While 100 percent combed cotton provides the utmost softness, the addition of polyester or spandex allows for more give. Look for uniform features that promote comfort, too, such as elastic or drawstring waistbands, side slits or vents, or knit panels. And don’t forget to check out uniform construction. If a print, does the pattern line up at the seams? If not, it’s likely poorly constructed. Also look for zippers that slide up and down easily without getting caught on the material, reinforced seams for durability, stitching that is flat and free of puckering or bumpy appearance and an even hem.

You not only have to work in a uniform, but the uniform must work with you. And nurses appreciate uniform features that make it easier to work. Rebecca Schiebergen, RN, a surgical telemetry nurse at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, loves pockets. “The most important thing in buying a uniform besides comfort is the pocket pattern,” she said. “I like a bottom pocket for alcohol wipes and pens.”

TIP: Uniform manufacturers listen to nursing requests, especially for more pockets. When choosing a uniform, consider the number of pockets you desire, whether you prefer them on top or bottom, in the front or back — even what type of pockets will work best in your setting. You’ll be able to find pen pockets, instrument pockets, cell phone pockets and hidden pockets with Velcro closure for money and valuables.

Of course,
when shopping for a uniform, try it on before buying. And don’t be afraid to move around in it: sit, bend, reach, walk — go through all of your nursing paces so that you feel assured the uniform will feel comfortable during your daily activities.

A final word of caution: Take care of your uniforms! Follow the directions to a tee for laundering, and fold or hang promptly after removing from the dryer for a wrinkle-free, professional look.

Linda Hepler is a freelance health writer and school health nurse. She lives in Michigan with her husband and four dachshunds.

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