Why collect the nurse’s uniform?
Uniforms provide a balance to collections of fashionable clothing
Have a look at the portrait here of Elizabeth Scarlett, and the photograph of her uniform in the Canadian Nursing History Collection.
While her uniform has some fashionable elements, it is essentially a practical working outfit.
Nursing uniforms make for a very different collection, compared to the usual fashionable clothing found in many museum and personal collections, which are often biased towards the finest clothing, since that is what is more frequently saved and donated. But if your collection’s purpose is to document social, cultural or community history, uniforms can provide a fascinating way to tell new stories.
Uniforms are the most public type of clothing
Uniforms are the public face of an institution, designed to communicate the functions and values of that institution. Within the organization, they also serve to create group identity and loyalty. Uniform collections have great potential to tell stories about the institutions they represent, as well as what they meant to the individuals who wore them.
Uniforms tell stories about working women
Ruth Carter’s proud graduation photograph and pristine white uniform show both her practical and feminine sides.
Throughout most of the twentieth century, nursing uniforms were designed for, and worn by, women. Nurses’ uniforms are particularly suited to revealing the construction of a unique ideal of femininity within the masculine structure of the hospital. Until later in the twentieth century, most military and occupational uniforms were worn by men. Collecting nurse’s uniforms gives the opportunity to represent working women. You can also document military nursing through uniforms.