Vintage Nurse’s Uniforms

Detail, McCall Special R & S Red Cross operating gown and helmet in McCall’s, July 1917.

As a salute to our health care workers, this post is dedicated to vintage patterns for nurse’s uniforms.

1910s

Claire Avery WW1 illustration: Woman's Place is in a Uniform, Vogue, July 1918
Red Cross nurse with Red Cross worker, Vogue, July 1918. Illustration: Claire Avery. Image: Vogue Archive.

During the First World War, McCall’s sold commercial patterns for war work, including nurse’s uniforms, as well as official Red Cross patterns.

World War 1 nurse uniform pattern McCall 7845 with apron and cap pattern McCall 7847 in McCall's magazine, July 1917.
“The Nurse Fitted with Her Uniform and Apron”: nurse uniform pattern McCall 7845 with apron and cap pattern McCall 7847 in McCall’s, July 1917.

Few of these antique patterns seem to have survived, but the Commercial Pattern Archive has the unisex Red Cross operating gown:

McCall Special R (1917) Red Cross Surgeon's and Nurse's Operating Gown in Two Lengths
McCall Special R (1917) Red Cross Surgeon’s and Nurse’s Operating Gown in Two Lengths. Image: Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry.

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.)

McCall Special R and S - Red Cross gown & helmet (1917)
McCall Special R and S (1917) Operating gown and helmet.

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.

Ballinahinch Relief Hospital, Hamilton, Ontario, ca. 1918. Image: Local History & Archives, Hamilton Public Library.

1920s

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.

McCall 2207 (ca. 1921) Nurses’ uniform (with cap). Image: eBay.

This drop-waisted uniform was still available two years later, but with a much higher hemline.

McCall 3524
McCall 3524 (ca. 1924) Nurses’ uniform and cap. Image: eBay.
1920s Nándor Honti paper doll illustrating McCall's patterns - nurse uniform and cap 3524, infant dress and petticoat 4252, bonnet 3105, embroidery 1339 - in McCall's magazine
“Baby McCall Goes for a Ride.” Paper doll by illustrator Nándor Honti in McCall’s, March 1926. Image: Pinterest.

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.

McCall 5805 (1929) Nurse’s & service uniform. Image: VPLL on Etsy.

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.”

Simplicity 7006 (ca. 1929)
Simplicity 7006 (ca. 1929) Nurses’ Uniform. Image: Unsung Sewing Patterns.

1930s

This early ’30s uniform is similarly sensible. (View on Etsy.)

McCall 7052 (1932) Nurses’ & service uniform. Image: eBay.

From Vogue, a late ’30s uniform that also includes a pintucked shirtdress:

Vogue 8106 (1938) Nurse’s uniform or dress. Image: The Blue Gardenia.

1940s

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.

Simplicity 3882 (1941)
Simplicity 3882 (1941) Nurse’s uniform or dress with apron.

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.

McCall 4641 (1942)
McCall 4641 (1942) American Red Cross Volunteer Special Service Corps washable uniform. Image: eBay.

The next year, the veil and white contrasts were gone. (Compare Cesari’s equivalent, Simplicity 4626.)

McCall 2501 (1943) American Red Cross Volunteer Special Service Corps washable uniform. Image: eBay.

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.

Red Cross patterns McCall 2500, 2501 - December 1944. "The three Red Cross Patterns shown on this page are not carried in stock but can be ordered for you."
Red Cross patterns in McCall’s catalogue, December 1944. Image: Unexpected Necessities.

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)

McCall 7517 (1948)
McCall 7517 (1948) Nurses’ Uniform or Ladies’ & Misses’ Dress.

5 thoughts on “Vintage Nurse’s Uniforms

  1. 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

    1. 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!

  2. 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

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