The Quest for the Perfect Uniform
Is your uniform simply practical workwear or does it say something about your profession? As Newcross begins a review of company clothing, we explore the past, present and future of healthcare uniforms.
Few professions put more demands on clothing than healthcare. You don't have to be on the frontline very long before realising that a long shift can be tough on your uniform. Despite numerous changes over the decades, with innovations in fabrics, features and styles, most of us are still looking for that elusive 'perfect uniform'.
THE FIRST NURSES
The origins of the classical uniform designed come from the church and the military in the 19th Century. Formalised healthcare was first delivered by nuns and civilian women seconded to the army and so the earliest bespoke uniforms were adapted or modified accordingly. Many of the initial design features such as layered tunics, pinafores and caps persisted for years.
The 1950s uniform, seen in period dramas like 'Call the Midwife', is arguably one of the most iconic and enduring. However, while it was stylish and instantly recognisable, it was far from practical. Heavy wool overcoats? Not really ideal for cycling to your next patient. Rapid change took place in the 1960s due in part to evolving responsibilities, new tiers of specialism and the birth of a once exotic but now commonplace variant; the male nurse. With the arrival of men came the rather dapper combination of trousers and a white jacket with a high neck, which later became widely adopted by both genders. Durability, easily laundered and colourfast, synthetic fibres like nylon and polyester were considered by the ‘experts’ to be a huge improvement. In the 1980s, considered by some as the ‘golden age of nursing’, there was a concerted effort to make uniforms more functional and informal. Some felt this made staff more approachable and enabled them to perform their (often physically demanding) duties more easily. Others felt that more casual styles failed to reflect our professionalism and rigor.
ONE SIZE FITS ALL?
Today, there’s a wider spectrum of healthcare roles than ever before. In Newcross, we employ numerous different types of nurses, healthcare assistants and support workers. Each has their own area of specialism and working environment. A uniform that’s appropriate in a hospital ward might not be ideal for home visits. Some patients, such as those with dementia, might respond well to the continuity of familiar dress style while children or adults with learning difficulties may not.
While we might welcome a sassy new design from Stella McCartney, we can’t overlook the legal, clinical and operational constraints. In a highly regulated sector, factors other than aesthetics are key considerations when specifying uniforms, these include:
- Infection control - Body fluids are a fact of life (welcome to our world!). Thorough laundering is essential.
- Skin tear risks - Fasteners, buttons and insignia mustn’t catch on patients.
- Work place safety - We need to protect staff with the right kit and that includes clothing
- Occupational health - We walk, lift, stretch, bend and carry every day. Uniforms shouldn’t make things more difficult!
- Cost - Each employee often needs to be issued with new uniforms several times a year.
THE NEWCROSS UNIFORM
Since its foundation in 1996, Newcross has had a number of different uniform styles. In a recent clear-out of the Torquay branch a few ‘vintage pieces’ were discovered in storage. As we’re all different shapes and sizes, it’s tough to find one pattern that’s comfortable for everyone. The number of vents and darts (splits and tucks) are also much debated. As with every aspect of the organisation, we need to constantly assess our uniforms. In response to feedback from staff in the field, it seems that now is a good time to update and improve a uniform redesign.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
If you have a point of view about how we should update and improve our uniforms, now’s a good time to speak up. Yes. Right now! We’d like to hear your ideas and - if you’re feeling creative - see some designs. Send your suggestions and sketches to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will take into account all your submissions and we’ll award prizes for the best.
This story was originally published in the Autumn 2016 Edition of Newcross News.
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