When did nurses start wearing a uniform? What inspired their look? Have you ever wondered how the uniform for nurses developed? Okay, not many people have — but hopefully this post will pique your curiosity now!
Before nurses starting wearing scrubs in the 1980s, the uniform that began in the mid-1860s was relatively unchanged until about the 1940s.
Duyckinick, Evert A. Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women in Europe and America. New York: Johnson, Wilson & Company, 1873. [Public Domain]
Modern nursing is largely attributed to Florence Nightingale (1820-1910). She is credited for creating “modern” techniques and developing a certain look for the job. Her name sounds like something from a historic romance novel and her biography is equally worthy of a 19th century TV drama (there actually is a movie based on her life made in 1985). She was born into wealth and could have easily accepted a life of leisure, but decided to pursue an unlikely career as a nurse.
Annette Kellerman was ahead of her time for her physical abilities in the water, her belief in the need for women to maintain a healthy body, and importantly in fashion by her swimwear. She seemed to live in a different era, undeterred by the formalities and restrictions, (whether real or self-imposed) that prevented most women from doing the same. In fact, many of things she did would never have occurred to most women of the early 20th century.
Originally from Australia, Annette took her talents worldwide, breaking swimming and diving records, traveling to various theater stages in Europe and the United States, and eventually made Hollywood silent films that showcased her talents. Hollywood later revisited her incredibly life story, and Ester Williams would channel Annette in The Million Dollar Mermaid (1952).
There are several reasons why this month’s post will focus on the fascinating Inez Milholland. Not only did her efforts as part of the women’s suffrage movement inspire many, she also became a lawyer – a highly unlikely profession for a female — and was celebrated for her efforts during her lifetime as well as considered a martyr after her death! The interesting tie-in for fashion is in her stylish clothing and the change in attitude in Vogue‘s pages while covering the suffragette movement and Milholland.
One of the earliest queens of the silent screen, Theda Bara dominated the moving pictures through the mid and late 19-teens. The turning point for Bara, James Card, film historian, believed was her portrayal of a vampire seductress in A Fool There Was in 1915. This was Bara’s second film (in her first, The Stain, she played a bit part) and would begin a torrent of similar roles. This is also luckily one of her few surviving films, as most were destroyed during a Fox film vault explosion in 1937. In Card’s book, Seductive Cinema: The Art of Silent Film, he noted Bara was not the first to introduce female vampires to the silver screen, but she is probably the actress best remembered for this. The Vampire (1910), among a few other films, showcased a female vampire in various forms but Bara made such an impression that many often confuse her as the first. Bara’s name has now become synonymous with the term vamp.