Medical clothing has come a long way in the last four decades, with iconic white uniforms being replaced by the now more familiar blue and green scrubs.

While these friendly new uniforms have opened up the potential for personalised medical attire, their popularity is due more to their cleanliness than it is their fashion appeal.

Here’s a brief history of medical scrubs, tracing their origin from the early days of surgery to their status as the universal uniform for modern day medical professionals.

Early medical uniforms

Although the colours may be different many medical professionals now wear the same uniform, from hospital staff to vets, but in the early days of modern surgery it couldn’t have been more different. Nineteenth-century surgeons would wear their own clothes to work, while nurses wore tailored gowns, initially similar to servant uniforms but with deeper pockets, white aprons and starched white caps.

As the need for a cleaner environment started to become more apparent surgeons reluctantly adopted accessories such as rubber gloves, though the conditions they worked in were still far from perfect.

While the nurses uniform evolved slowly it was the First World War the led to the most significant changes, bringing with it the need for a more functional design that would allow nurses to treat patients more quickly.

Too much white

Advances in medical science and a better understanding of the conditions needed to prevent the spread of infection in the 1940s led to a greater emphasis on cleanliness in the operating theatre, and in hospitals in general. This new focus on purity resulted in the adoption of white uniforms though the combination of white uniforms with bright lights and the white environment caused unwanted eye strain.

Scrubs take over

The cover of one of our 1980s clothing brochures

In the 1970s green scrubs became standard for surgeons in the US and their popularity soon spread. Green became the standard for surgeons, while other colours were adopted by hospital staff working in different departments to help distinguish them.

Green and blue were the main colours though because they’re opposite to red on the colour wheel, which made them the easiest colours on the eyes during surgery.

Not only have scrubs proved to be more hygienic than anything that preceded them but have opened up the possibility for personalised medical uniforms.

Medical professionals have the choice of different colours and can now imprint their personality on their uniforms by getting a name, logo, or a design of their choice embroidered on to them.

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