Nursing Scrubs: What, Why, and Which Ones?

Mar 12, 2021
The Trusted Team

Scrubs. No, not the show, the apparel. Nursing scrubs. Why do we wear them, and why do they look the way they do?

The History of Nursing Scrubs

Prior to the 20th century, it was common for medical professionals to come to work in their normal attire, maybe donning an apron -- like that of a cook or butcher -- on top of their civilian clothing. This was seen as not only normal, but also sufficient for health and safety guidelines (of which there were certainly very few). 

It wasn’t until the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 that antiseptic theory became commonly known. However, even then, the extent to which more stringent practices were put into place entailed surgeons wearing cotton masks during surgery -- not for the patients’ sake, but for their own.

nurse scrubs man wearing scrubs in surgery surgical mask

Then (finally), the mid-20th century brought with it the science around wound infection, which spurred the more common usage of surgical drapes and gowns used in operating rooms (and more traditional medical uniforms as we know them). Additionally, there was increased importance given to the sterilization of medical tools and instruments, either by high temperature or chemical disinfectants.

By the 1950s and 60s, white operating room attire was the norm. However, it was soon realized that an all-white attire, in a largely white room, with bright lights shining from many angles, caused a considerable eye strain for surgeons and medical staff (and was definitely not very inconspicuous when it came to blood and bodily fluids). This prompted the shift to other shades of attires, such as various shades of green.

Come 1970, the common surgical uniform we’re familiar with today became the norm (i.e. what you've probably seen in Grey's Anatomy): short-sleeve v-neck and drawstring pants, often with a synthetic mask, rubber gloves, and stable, closed-toed footwear. Originally dubbed “surgical greens,” given common colors in the 1950s and 60s, medical attire soon to become known as “scrubs” for their usage in a “scrubbed,” or clean and sanitary, setting.

As for the simple aesthetic style, the idea is that simpler clothing with fewer nooks, crannies, and creases will harbor less bacteria.

Scrubs Colors

In terms of colors and patterns, scrubs are these days available in a wide range of options. 

While surgical scrubs are nearly always similarly light shades of gray, blue, or green, non-surgical scrubs can come in a large variety of colors and designs -- from crimson to yellow to children’s cartoon characters or holiday themes.

Many hospitals require certain colors or patterns for their medical staff, in some cases even using different colors to differentiate units or specialties.

In recent years, the most common scrubs colors are black, navy, and sky/pool blue.

Most scrubs are purchased and owned by medical staff, with cleaning and replacing responsibilities falling upon them. The only caveat being surgical scrubs, which due to sanitary reasons, are usually owned and cleaned by the hospital or institution.

nursing scrubs female nurses in blue scrubs simulation

Scrubs Reviews: Which Ones Should You Try?

With the variety of scrubs options out there, it’s no surprise that numerous brands have popped up in this now-competitive industry.

We’ve had the chance to test out some of the forefront brands here at Trusted:

You can check out our reviews of these top-performing scrubs, with more to come in the future!

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