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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Spring 2020 Designer Pattern Highlights

Tatyana Cooper wears bodycon dress pattern V1674 on the cover of the Spring 2020 Vogue Patterns lookbook
Vogue Patterns lookbook for Spring 2020. Model: Tatyana Cooper. Photo: Jack Deutsch. Image: Issuu.

It’s nearly the equinox: time for my Spring patterns report. As I mentioned back in December, I’ve been busy with other projects. I’m happy to share that my campaign to save Hanrahan’s, a historic Hamilton hotel turned tavern, was successful! (Read my latest op-ed | front page news | local news coverage.)

Huge thanks to now-retired columnist Paul Wilson, who first got the word out about this fascinating Edwardian hotel.

Recently, there’s also been some major pattern industry news. More on that in a moment — but first, a look at the first patterns of the decade.

Vogue’s second pattern by Richard René, the new designer for Laroche, is an oversized, colour-blocked pantsuit from the Spring 2019 collection.

Guy Laroche by Richard René, Spring 2019 collection
Guy Laroche by Richard René, Spring 2019. Image: Vogue Runway.
Guy Laroche colour block pantsuit pattern by Richard René - Vogue 1687
Vogue 1687 by Richard René for Guy Laroche (2020) Image: McCall’s.

Last June, British Vogue’s Venetia Scott paired the Laroche jacket with trousers by Issey Miyake.

Rianne van Rompaey in Guy Laroche and Issey Miyake, photographed by Theo Sion & styled by Venetia Scott, British Vogue, June 2019
Pieces by Guy Laroche and Issey Miyake in British Vogue, June 2019. Model: Rianne van Rompaey. Photo: Theo Sion. Editor: Venetia Scott. Image: Vogue UK.

From Rachel Comey, the Agave pantsuit, as worn for the Spring 2019 lookbook by Guinevere van Seenus.

Guinevere van Seenus in Rachel Comey Spring 2019 – Agave jacket and Divide pant. Photo: Annie Powers. Image: Vogue Runway.
Rachel Comey Agave jacket and Divide trousers pattern V1688 as worn by Amber Mitchell
Vogue 1688 by Rachel Comey (2020) Model: Amber Mitchell. Image: McCall’s.

The Divide pant also comes in cropped and colour-blocked versions, or embellished with sequins:

Rachel Comey Divide pant in black and white wool.
Rachel Comey Divide pant in black and white wool. Image: The Dresslyn.
Rachel Comey Divide pant in red wool with sequin embellishment.
Rachel Comey Divide pant in crimson red wool with sequin embellishment. Image: Moda Operandi.

Comey’s licensing with Vogue Patterns began in Spring, 2010. A decade later, the company finally gave the popular designer a catalogue cover.

V1688 by Rachel Comey on the cover of the Vogue Patterns lookbook, Spring 2020. Model: Amber Mitchell. Photo: Jack Deutsch. Image: Issuu.

Last fall, Zandra Rhodes celebrated her jubilee with a retrospective and catalogue from Yale University Press, Zandra Rhodes: 50 Fabulous Years in Fashion.

Zandra Rhodes: 50 Fabulous Years in Fashion by Dennis Nothdruft with Zandra Rhodes and Iris Apfel, Yale 2019
Dennis Nothdruft, Zandra Rhodes: 50 Fabulous Years in Fashion (Yale University Press 2019) Image: Zandra Rhodes.

The new Zandra Rhodes pattern is a boho bias dress with contrast sleeve and hem flounces. Fine finishing details include narrow hems and a bias-bound neckline.

Zandra Rhodes dress pattern V1676
Vogue 1676 by Zandra Rhodes (2020) Model: Tatyana Cooper. Image: McCall’s.

McCall’s has a fresh new logo for 2020, when the company celebrates its 150th anniversary. But thus far, no new designer patterns.

McCall’s Early Spring 2020 lookbook. Image: Issuu.
McCall’s Spring 2020 lookbook. Image: McCall’s.

And this month, Britain’s IG Design Group Plc completed its acquisition of CSS Industries, the parent company of McCall’s and Simplicity. (Details at Design Group’s site and Business Wire.) CSS acquired The McCall Pattern Company in 2016 and Simplicity Creative Group in 2017.

Will Design Group revive Vogue Patterns Magazine, a storied publication that dates back a century, or divest the pattern side of the business entirely? Stay tuned for more coverage of McCall’s 150th and other milestones for 2020!

Guy Laroche Spring 2019 in Schön! magazine
Guy Laroche Spring 2019 in Schön! magazine. Model: Tetiuksha. Photo: Dylan Perlot. Editors: Sofia Giordano and Hugo Asensio. Image: Instagram.