As a salute to our health care workers, this post is dedicated to vintage patterns for nurse’s uniforms.
During the First World War, McCall’s sold commercial patterns for war work, including nurse’s uniforms, as well as official Red Cross patterns.
Few of these antique patterns seem to have survived, but the Commercial Pattern Archive has the unisex Red Cross operating gown:
This illustration shows a nurse dressed for surgery in the gown, McCall Special R, and helmet Special S. (For more, see Patterns for the Great War.)
Nurses wore similar protective wear during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-19. This archival photo shows a local Hamilton estate, Ballinahinch, that was donated for conversion to a hospital during the pandemic.
Twenties-era patterns for nurse’s uniforms always seem to include the cap. This design dates to circa 1921, just before McCall’s patented the printed pattern.
This drop-waisted uniform was still available two years later, but with a much higher hemline.
The Vintage Pattern Lending Library sells reproductions of this late 1920s design. Swap in a contrast Peter Pan collar and cuffs and it doubles as a maid’s uniform.
Andrea Cesari has several nurse patterns in her collection. The description for this one reads, “A uniform whose trim lines always look smart. The absence of fussy detail assures perfect laundering.”
This early ’30s uniform is similarly sensible. (View on Etsy.)
From Vogue, a late ’30s uniform that also includes a pintucked shirtdress:
During the Second World War, dressmakers could again sew Red Cross nurse’s uniforms, as well as commercial designs. This back-buttoned nurse’s uniform from Simplicity includes the apron, but not the cap.
As in the previous World War, Red Cross patterns were available from many companies. McCall’s and Simplicity both sold patterns for the Red Cross Volunteer Special Service Corps. Here, the envelope stipulates: “Must be made in poplin; veil may be made in chiffon, georgette, voile, or lawn.” This uniform was not intended for hospital workers.
The next year, the veil and white contrasts were gone. (Compare Cesari’s equivalent, Simplicity 4626.)
This McCall’s retail catalogue shows the Special Service Corps uniform with two other Red Cross patterns, with a note that they were only available by special order.
After the war, patterns for nurse’s uniforms return to their peacetime selves, fashionable yet practical — in this case with a three-piece shoulder pad. Do you have any uniform patterns in your collection?
Update: Instructions for no-sew masks (The Guardian) | Mask-making for the fashion industry (Business of Fashion Professional)
5 thoughts on “Vintage Nurse’s Uniforms”
Great post! Thanks. Now, for my stupid question, how can I get a pattern to make that helmet? I’m making masks, but ears and heads are radically different, making some people, including me, hard to fit. That helmet would solve the problem for personal use! Thanks, Claudia Goodridge Sent from my iPad
You might look for a balaclava pattern, they are made for winter sports. I would google balaclava sewing pattern and see what comes up. Hope this helps!
Superbly elegant 1940s uniforms. What was it about that decade? Sublime.
Great post, Sarah. Thanks for honoring a portion of the health care team working through this pandemic and discovering a photo of those who served during the last.
I constructed my St. Boniface nursing grad uniform from the Molyneux-designed Vogue 2626–sans belt. It featured the best pockets, to hold tape, bandage scissors and pens, and was constructed on a machine in the nurses’ residence laundry room. Joan
I’m in love with those shoes.