• U.S.

FASHION: New Look in the Hospital

2 minute read

To most people the starched white uniforms worn by nurses all look alike—but not to nurses. They are well aware that since Florence Nightingale tended the Crimea wounded in a long, grey tweed wrapper, nurses’ uniforms have followed fashion from the Gibson-girl shirtwaist to the pencil-slim sheath. To nurses, the top designer and dressmaker is Manhattan’s White Swan Uniforms, Inc. Last week White Swan brought out a fat new catalogue with 98 attractive styles. Newest additions to the line: a high-busted, low-waisted Dior-like model that could almost double as a cocktail dress, and for summer, a shoulder-strap, sun-back uniform with Eisenhower jacket (see cut).

White Swan has not always been a leader of nurses’ fashion. It started out as a housedress manufacturer, got into the uniform business in 1921 after Boston’s Wm. Filene Sons Co. asked it to adapt one of its stylish house dresses into a white graduation dress for a class of Boston nurses. Soon after that, White Swan’s President Leo M. Cooper picked up a 300-dozen order for similar uniforms from a Chicago department store. That opened his eyes. By talking to nurses, Cooper learned that they were tired of staid, formless garments. Says Cooper: “The nurse is a woman first and a nurse after.” White Swan doubled, then tripled its first line of four uniform styles; orders poured in so fast that by 1927 the company decided to drop its housedress line (which grossed $1,000,000 yearly), concentrate on uniforms. It kept expanding and creating new designs, by last year had turned out 1,300 different styles, was operating six cutting and finishing plants, grossing upward of $5,000,000 yearly.

Styling a uniform has its own special problems. For example, the fabric must be tough enough to stand frequent laundering, and the uniform must be comfortable and easily changed. It must look attractive, but not be too sexy. Says Cooper: “There is an invisible boundary line we cannot cross when styling a nurse’s uniform. It must look professional.”

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