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  • Hello lovely people,

  • Happy International Nurses' Day! Did you even know it's international nurses day?

  • Well you should!

  • - although, in the interest of honesty, I had no idea before starting on this video

  • which is in partnership with NHS Professionals!

  • International Nurses Day takes place on the 12th of May, Florence Nightingale's birthday,

  • and has been running since 1965. This year marks 200 years since Florence was born and

  • has thus been designated by the World Health Organisation as the first ever global Year

  • of the Nurse and Midwife!

  • Particularly prescient considering the times we're in! The pandemic has emphasized to

  • us all just how vital our medics are, reminding those of us in Britain how much we love our

  • NHS- and nurses and midwives make up the largest numbers of the NHS workforce! So to celebrate

  • these highly skilled, multi-faceted and diverse professionals I thought I'd try my hand

  • at recreating some vintage nurses' outfits from the last 200 years, whilst running through

  • the history of nurses uniforms in the UK.

  • - side note: this is International Nurses Day so if you're from outside the UK let

  • me know what nurses uniforms look like in your country in the comments below. I bet

  • the differences we see around the world are going to be very interesting!

  • And speaking of international: 18% of nurses in the UK are non-British nationals.

  • Which is very significant for me because if it weren't for the opportunities to travel that the nursing

  • profession provides, neither my wife nor I would even exist!

  • My Nana, Thelma, was a nurse in the 1930s at the Boston Children's Hospital in the

  • US State of Massachusetts but at the outbreak of the Second World War enlisted and was sent

  • to the European battlefieldswhere she fell in love across an operating table with

  • my Papa, who was a surgeon with the British Army. They got married just a few weeks after

  • they met (in secret because servicewomen weren't allowed to marry- gasp!)

  • and then settled in England after the War.

  • And my lovely wife, Claudia's, mother Jeannie came from Malaysia to study nursing in the

  • UK and work for the NHS, where she met Claudia's father who is an anesthesiologist!

  • - Thus without the National Health Service and international nurses we wouldn't have

  • even come into being!

  • So let's get on with our sartorial celebrations!

  • If you enjoy vintage clothes and history with a side note of screwball medical conditions

  • then subscribe!

  • The nurse's uniform has gone through many, many changes over the last 200 years.

  • From floor-length dresses and aprons to today's variety of colourful scrubs, the design has

  • changed along with our social mores and the changing interests in comfort, functionality

  • and mobility.

  • - by the way, if you're thinking, “wow, this looks like it was filmed in a building

  • site”, that's because: it was. The building site... more commonly known as 'my house'.

  • Yes, lockdown IS going great, thank you for asking(!) I don't even miss hot water (!)

  • Prior to the foundation of modern medicine, nursing was a family obligation so female

  • family members were expected to know how to tend wounds or care for the sick. Clothing

  • was not designed for sanitary purposes and they definitely didn't know anything about

  • cross contamination! Nuns and monks provided the only structured nursing care to ill and

  • injured people, along with those who had long term health conditions (although admittedly,

  • they probably didn't last too long back in those days).

  • Into the 19th century, nursing was considered to be lower class and most nurses wore servants'

  • uniforms, which consisted of a black or printed gown with a cap and an apron.

  • It wasn't until Florence Nightingale, a nurse from a wealthy and well-connected but

  • liberal family, reorganized the care of wounded soldiers during the Crimean War in 1854 that

  • public opinion of nursing as a profession changed. It had previously been the job of

  • camp followers (generally wives and prostitutes) to care for the wounded with whatever primitive

  • means they could.

  • Florence insisted that conditions for the injured were killing men as fast at the enemy

  • and demanded clean bandages and bedding, fresh air, nourishing food and trained professionals

  • to care for them. Through her actions, showing that attending to the wounded while there

  • was still a chance of treating them could actually make a difference, she saved countless

  • lives and changed how war-wounded were seen. No longer were they treated as collateral

  • damage and a grateful public turned Florence into an icon of Victorian culture.

  • She believed that nursing is a very special type of job that takes a very special type

  • of person. She wrote, “Nursing is an art: and if it is to be made an art, ir requires

  • an exclusive devotion as hard a preparation, as any painter's or sculptor's work; for

  • what is the having to do with dead canvas or dead marble, compared with having to do

  • with the living body, the temple of God's spirit? It is one of the Fine Arts: I had

  • almost said, the finest of Fine Arts.”

  • At this time there were neither appropriate nor inappropriate clothes for nurses and in

  • many images Florence is simply depicted with an apron tied to her waist. The antibacterial

  • properties of her dress fabric was certainly not in consideration!

  • I've attempted to recreate a dress Florence might have worn here but you'll have to

  • excuse me any era discrepancies since I can't exactly leave the house to get anything

  • for her hair I've gone with a popular Victorian style featuring a center parting and loops,

  • which is what we call the hair draping down on either side of the face. This was meant

  • to cover the ears then swoop back towards a bun at the back of the head. I've also

  • included a chignon, another very popular Victorian hairstyle, formed by pinning the hair low

  • into a knot at the back of the head, typically at the nape of the neck. Braids were worn

  • in the Victorian era by most women who had long, straight hair so I've included them here.

  • If you'd like to see a tutorial for this look in more detail then you can find

  • it on my Instagram where you'll eventually see all of this video's looks.

  • Make up is, of course, incredibly light, practically non-existent.

  • I had to draw in my eyebrows tho because... they are not very big.

  • Or real!

  • Florence went on to found a nursing school and it was one of her students, Euphemia Van

  • Rensselaer, who created the first ever nurses' uniform although nurses had already begun

  • to wear lighter-coloured gowns with white aprons and caps to indicate that they were nurses.

  • It was important to have a professional uniform that distinguished trained nurses from those

  • who were not. This consisted of a floor length, high collared dress, a long apron and a frilly

  • cap. The cap was a departure from previous looks that more closely aped a nun's veil.

  • There were no rules about types of fabric so different hospitals had different styles

  • but all used colour in some way to mark rank and experience within the nurses.

  • Bonnets or caps were particularly important as they held back the women's long hair.

  • Women of this time period were known for having extremely long hair and the most popular hairstyle

  • at this time was the Gibson Girl where hair was piled on top of the head.

  • Make sure you're following me on Instagram and keep your eye

  • out for an IGTV tutorial on this look, coming soon.

  • This look was designed not only for protection against illness but was also considered an

  • expression of feminine virtue. Nursing was now a respectable job and their dresses were

  • kept suitably long with very tight waists.

  • From the 1880s until the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914, the uniform changed very little.

  • It became clear as the war progressed that former styles of nursing uniforms were no

  • longer practical: nurses needed to be fast and efficient to deal with the vast number

  • of wounded. Bulky aprons disappeared in favour of more practical styles and skirts were shortened

  • slightly for better mobility.

  • Only slightly...

  • Hair was pulled tightly back, to avoid pathogens and the general

  • annoyance of trying to work with hair in your face

  • - which TV shows always seem to get wrong! They're constantly trying to battle trauma

  • cases with hair swinging everywhere!

  • Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service was the nursing arm of the British

  • Army and these nurses wore grey dresses with white aprons and large veil-like caps.

  • Military nurses wore tippets - short, red cape-like garments over the shoulders with badges sewn

  • on to denote rank. Members of the Reserve wore a cape that was only trimmed in red.

  • The capes had a stiff Alexandra rose on the back that sat between the shoulder blades

  • and nurses joked that this was to prevent Sisters falling asleep on night duty

  • These nurses- commonly known as QAs- ranked alongside officers and were required to be

  • ofhigh social and educational standingalong with having completed at least three

  • years of training in a civil hospital. Due to its royal patronage and the social standing

  • it conveyed, the service was an attractive occupation for women.

  • At the beginning of the hostilities there were just under 300 army nurses available

  • to look after the wounded, with 200 more ready in the reserve. It soon became clear that

  • this would not be enough and so following the outbreak of war on 4th August 1914, The

  • Red Cross formed the Joint War Committee with the Order of St John and nearly 9,000 trained

  • or part-trained nurses were called to the Voluntary Aid Detachments to serve under and

  • with the QAs although many women had been given only the briefest of training.

  • Red Cross volunteers had willingly given their time to care for wounded patients but their

  • lack of experience meant they were not entrusted with trained nurses' work except in an emergency.

  • At the start of the war VADs were known to have 'fluttered the dovecotes of professional

  • nursing' due to their enthusiastic desire for the 'romance of nursing wounded soldiers'.

  • I mean, that's called misogyny. But sure.

  • It was stressed to the women that they were expected to uphold the integrity of the service

  • and relationships must stay strictly professional. Women were expelled from the service for any

  • type of romantic relationship with the men, even chaste engagements, and yet these women

  • who- thanks to Victorian society- had never seen a man in underclothes- were expected

  • to deal with mutilated, naked bodies.

  • Although we remember them as heroes today, many officers still felt that women didn't

  • belong on the battlefield. Many of the women who volunteered, trained or untrained, declined

  • a salary and were willing to be dispatched into areas of hostility. Nurses had to prove

  • themselves over and over again as competent assets to the army who could provide skilled

  • care that allowed men to rejoin the battlefield rather than be sent home.

  • QAs were given the rank of officer in order to protect them and make sure their voices

  • were heard when they were dealing with doctors, other ranks and high command. After tireless

  • campaigning the Royal College of Nurses was founded in 1916 to establish a professionally

  • recognised qualification. Medical degrees were also opened up to women for the first

  • time during the war. Which one of my great aunts took advantage of!

  • Go her!

  • Although the VAD's initial job role had merely been one of support, it was quickly

  • realised that Red Cross volunteer nurses would play an important role in the War effort caring

  • for the large numbers of wounded soldiers. Women from aristocratic and upper class families,

  • used to running large houses and estates with many servants and tenants, were drafted in

  • by the Red Cross to run field and auxiliary hospitals, a feat at which they excelled.

  • In her uniform of a long blue cotton dress and a white apron emblazoned with her organisation's

  • emblem, the Red Cross nurse became a familiar figure during the war. Many postcards and

  • propaganda posters sang their praises. Famous women who volunteered for the Red Cross during

  • the war included Agatha Christie, Vera Brittain, Enid Bagnold and Clara Butt, who was a superstar

  • of the Victorian era.

  • There was again not much change in style of nursing uniform until we come to World War

  • 2 army nurses. This late 30s/early 40s uniform was much more practical for the very physically

  • demanding job of nursing wounded soldiers. It was also more in keeping with the times,

  • featuring a much shorter hemline and a light blue dress with a pinned apron. The cape worn

  • over the dress was navy blue on the outside and bright red on the inside with a scarlet

  • red sash.

  • I actually have one of those original capes! It was ridiculously hot on the day we filmed

  • this however, so here is a shot of me in the cape from another day:

  • Again the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St John formed the Joint War Organisation,

  • offering extensive services for the sick and wounded, including soldiers, prisoners of

  • war and civilians who needed help as a result of enemy action. The joint organisation created

  • ambulance departments for transportation of the wounded, established auxiliary hospitals

  • across the UK and organised volunteers.

  • This is the closest I can get to the indoor uniform of the British Red Cross Society nurse:

  • the short sleeved, knee-length light blue cotton dress (should be with a turned collar);

  • white apron with a red cross sewn on the chest, a dark blue or red belt worn over the apron

  • (depending on the rank) and a rectangular white headscarf and cap, with a red cross

  • embroidered on the side. Normally aprons were pinned on with a badge on one side and a fob

  • watch on the other. We tried pinning a regular watch on but thatwas an awful mess.

  • It wasn't just for fashion purposes that the dresses were shorter with half length

  • sleeves. There was a clothing material shortage during World War 2 and supply of fabric was

  • reserved for the army and the war effort, including the manufacture of bandages. Detachable

  • sleeves were made use of however.

  • Excitingly, Field Army nurses, particularly those sent to much hotter or colder climates,

  • were allowed to wear trousers!

  • With pockets!

  • Post World War 2, nursing as a profession continued to grow in popularity and uniforms

  • continued to change. In 1948 the National Health Service was founded and nursing uniforms

  • really started to flourish with a range of new styles being introduced. By the 1950s

  • there was an increased demand for uniforms which could be mass-produced and easily cleaned.

  • Sleeves became shorter and caps varied from a pill box style to a pointed version. Skirts

  • and Sleeves became even shorter, keeping with the style of the times.

  • Fabric became very important as more became known about disinfecting surfaces and carrying

  • bacteria through fabric. Revolutions in the garment industry introduced synthetic fibers,

  • which were known to be more hygienic for sanitary uses. The dresses at this time became looser,

  • less form-fitting and were easier to wash and iron.

  • Since today is about celebrating nurses AND midwives, I thought I would throw in this

  • ode to the 1960s and 70s midwife, iconic for being featured on the television show Call

  • the Midwife. Simple, folded hats- sometimes made of paper- replaced the large, elaborate

  • crowns worn by nurses previously. Another pivotal change for the nursing profession

  • was in 1960 when the career was opened to men. Their uniform was much simpler than the

  • women's, featuring a white jacket with a high neck.

  • More people at this time did their laundry with a washing machine which encouraged nursing

  • uniforms to become even simpler for ease of cleaning.

  • This uniform continued into the 1970s with little change other than colour: white with

  • a blue belt, and stripes were worn on nurses caps to show how many years of experience

  • a nurse had.

  • Disposable paper caps replaced cotton ones

  • but by the late 1970s hats began to disappear altogether.

  • During the 1980s the nurse's uniform became very standardised and aprons were now disposable

  • rather than only changed once dirty.

  • Which, probably a good idea yeah.

  • The 1990s dress is the one most of us will probably recognise and associate with nurses

  • in the UK. It was a light blue with white pining and a white belt and no cap!

  • There had been a certain time in the history of nursing uniforms when the cap was a ubiquitous

  • part of the nursing uniform. It conveyed status and symbolised a helping hand whilst also

  • fulfilling the practical function of keeping long hair organised but in the recent past

  • they have faded away.

  • No official announcements or rules were passed by hospital authorities to stop the wearing

  • of caps although issues were brought up around hygiene. Nurses' caps were made of hard

  • fabric that was not easy to wash and as a result they were seen as carrying dirt around

  • the hospital and from outside. Another reason is that due to modern hairstyles, and hair

  • elastics, the caps just aren't that practical as they serve no significant purpose. They

  • were also only worn by female nurses, which was a difficult gender imbalance to navigate.

  • PLUS, our NHS nurses come from a variety of different backgrounds and represent the diverse

  • communities in the UK with many choosing to wear head coverings that have a religious significance.

  • Having a cap be an official part of the uniform would be difficult to navigate!

  • The nurse's uniform is now focused on comfort and practicality, which brings us to

  • Scrubs!

  • Yes, I do actually have legs under my skirts. Shocking, I realise (!)

  • And I'm showing off my Grey's Anatomy 'hair all over the place' look here.