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.

Outlander Costumes

Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughans) and Claire (Caitríona Balfe) in "Not in Scotland Anymore" Outlander s2 e2
Promotional image for Outlander, season 2 (2016). Image: Starz.

In honour of Burns Night, a guide to Outlander patterns.

Outlander is now in its fourth season; it’s been renewed for two more. Adapted from the popular series by Diana Gabaldon, the time-travelling romance has plenty of source material: Gabaldon is currently working on her ninth Outlander book.

Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughans) and Claire (Caitríona Balfe) in "The Devil's Mark" Outlander S1 e11
Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughans) and Claire (Caitríona Balfe) in Outlander, season 1 (2014-15). Image: Harper’s Bazaar.

Sunday’s season finale will be the last episode to feature costumes by Terry Dresbach. Trisha Biggar is the new costume designer for season 5. Biggar, who is from Glasgow, is best known for her work on the Star Wars prequel trilogy.

Scottish costume designer Trisha Biggar's Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars (2005)
Trisha Biggar’s Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars (Abrams 2005)

In 2017, Simplicity’s unofficial Outlander patterns prompted Dresbach to take down her website. (It’s back now.) The next year, McCall’s started releasing official, licensed Outlander patterns.

Simplicity

Fall Through Time - Simplicity Outlander costumes by American Duchess
Fall Through Time – American Duchess’ Outlander costume, Simplicity 8161. Image: Simplicity.

Simplicity’s adapted-from-Outlander patterns are by American Duchess, a historical costuming company based in Reno, Nevada. The three patterns are based on Claire’s costumes in seasons 1 and 2: 18th-century Highland dress and an unusual court gown. There’s also a free pattern for her crocheted cowl.

Claire Fraser dress pattern - Simplicity 8161 by American Duchess (2016)
Simplicity 8161 by American Duchess (2016) Image: Simplicity.
Claire's underthings pattern - Simplicity 8161 by American Duchess (2016)
Simplicity 8162 by American Duchess (2016) Image: Simplicity.

It was this version of Claire’s red dress that caused such consternation online. Claire wears the original during her visit to Versailles in “Not in Scotland Anymore,” the episode that earned Outlander its first Emmy nomination for costume design. It was also seen in promotional materials for season 2 (see top of post). The pattern is still in print, but as with Simplicity’s Game of Thrones patterns, the colour was soon changed to a less provocative teal.

A pattern version of Claire Fraser's scandalous red dress - Simplicity 8411 by American Duchess (2017)
Simplicity 8411 by American Duchess (2017) Image: Simplicity.

McCall’s

McCall’s started licensing official Outlander patterns in 2018. (Company founder James McCall was a Scottish immigrant, and McCall’s UK — McCalls Ltd — is not a pattern company, but a Highlandwear outfitters.) McCall’s Outlander patterns cover both women’s and men’s costumes, with many available as instant downloads. For the first few releases this meant Claire and Jamie Fraser, or 18th-century Scottish highlander garb.

Outlander costumes M7736 and M7735 in McCall's Spring 2018 lookbook
Outlander costumes M7736 and M7735 in McCall’s Spring 2018 lookbook. Image: McCall’s.
Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughans) and Claire (Caitríona Balfe) in Outlander, season 1 (2014-15)
Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughans) and Claire (Caitríona Balfe) in Outlander, season 1 (2014-15). Image: Starz.
Outlander season 2's shirtless and kilted MacKenzie men
Alternate look for kilt M7736. Image: Starz.

Next came the couple’s wedding clothes: Jamie’s frock coat and Claire’s wedding dress.

Outlander costumes M7762 and M7764 in McCall's Spring 2018 lookbook
Outlander costumes M7762 and M7764 in McCall’s Spring 2018 lookbook. Image: McCall’s.
Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughans) and Claire (Caitríona Balfe) in "The Wedding," Outlander s1 e7 (2014)
Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughans) and Claire (Caitríona Balfe) in Outlander, season 1 (2014-15). Image: Starz.

Outerwear was the focus of the Summer release, with patterns for Claire’s fur-trimmed riding jacket and Jamie’s leather coat.

Outlander costumes M7792 and M7794 in McCall's Summer 2018 lookbook
Outlander costumes M7792 and M7794 in McCall’s Summer 2018 lookbook. Image: McCall’s.
Claire Randall (Caitríona Balfe) goes riding in Outlander, season 1 e4
Claire (Caitríona Balfe) in Outlander, season 1 (2014-15). Image: Terry Dresbach.
Scottish laird Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughans) in Outlander, season 1 (2014-15)
Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughans) in Outlander, season 1 (2014-15). Image: Starz.

Jamie is still wearing the coat in season 2, when he joins up with Bonnie Prince Charlie. Dresbach suited the latter not in the Stuart, but the MacQueen tartan.

Bonnie Prince Charlie and Jamie Fraser in "Prestonpans" Outlander season 2 episode 10 (2016)
Charles Stuart (Andrew Gower) and Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughans) in Outlander, season 2 (2016). Image: Starz.

This fall, we finally saw a costume for British officer Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall, plus Claire’s blue riding jacket-and-waistcoat combo from season 3’s Emmy-nominated episode, “Freedom & Whisky.” The title is a Burns quote, and the episode sees Claire sewing the outfit herself, for time travel. A costume book lies open by her sewing machine, and her ensemble looks to be based on a memorable riding habit in Janet Arnold’s classic, Patterns of Fashion.

Outlander costumes M7823 and redcoat uniform M7824 in McCall's Early Fall 2018 lookbook
Outlander costumes M7823 and M7824 in McCall’s Early Fall 2018 lookbook. Image: McCall’s.
Tobias Menzies in his redcoat uniform as Outlander's Black Jack Randall
Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) in Outlander. Image: Starz.
Snowshill Manor riding habit in Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen's dresses and their construction, c. 1660-1860, by Janet Arnold
The Snowshill Manor riding habit in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1 (1964). Image: Pinterest.
Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughans) and Claire (Caitríona Balfe) in Outlander, season 3 (2017). Image: Starz.

This year, McCall’s Outlander patterns caught up to the show with this caraco jacket and skirt. The jacket looks to be one of Claire’s remade outfits, courtesy of Jamie’s aunt Jocasta.

Outlander costume M7916 in McCall's Early Spring 2019 lookbook
Outlander costume M7916 in McCall’s Early Spring 2019 lookbook. Image: McCall’s.
Claire (Caitríona Balfe) and Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughans) in Outlander, season 4 (2018-19)
Claire (Caitríona Balfe) and Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughans) in Outlander, season 4 (2018-19). Image: tumblr.

Slàinte! To freedom and whisky.

Update (April 2019): This new release includes Claire’s peplum jacket and fichu (scarf), plus a chemise:

Outlander costume McCall's 7940 (2019)
Outlander costume M7940 in McCall’s Spring 2019 lookbook. Image: McCall’s.