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A History of Nursing Shoes

The nursing profession has been around since at least 300 AD. As the Roman Catholic Church made medical care more mainstream throughout the Middle Ages, nursing became a common profession throughout Europe.

It wasn’t until relatively recently, however, that nurses started wearing standardised uniforms that feature matching shoes. The footwear that nurses wear today looks nothing like the first nursing shoes that appeared on the market nearly two centuries ago, but nurses around the world still benefit from the historical events that brought modern nursing shoes into being.

The evolution of Nursing uniforms

Nurses have been forced to wear quite a few strange garments over the decades. The farther back you go in the history of nursing, the closer the resemblance becomes between nurse uniforms and the habits that Catholic nuns wear.

Given the pivotal role that Roman Catholicism played in the history of nursing, that’s no surprise. What’s a little off-putting, however, is how closely nursing uniforms had come to resemble servant or maid garments by the dawn of the 19th century.

Until the mid-1800s, nursing was still seen as a low-caste profession, and nurses were generally degraded as lower-class women who couldn’t attain more enjoyable posts within society. All that changed, however, when Florence Nightingale revolutionised the nursing profession during the Crimean War of 1854.

Florence Nightingale and the First Nurse Uniforms

While all wars are tragic, the Crimean War was particularly destructive to human life. Amidst the chaos of administering aid to the countless wounded, Florence Nightingale emerged as a source of order and calm. She led her fellow nurses in an efficient, effective campaign to save as many lives as possible, and one of the many changes she instituted within the nursing profession was the implementation of the standardised nursing uniform, which did not exist at the time.

Florence asked all of her fellow nurses to wear simple tweed garments and white caps. While she didn’t implement a standardised set of rules regarding nursing footwear, most women wore leather lace-up boots during Florenceā€™s era, so dictating that nurses only wear certain types of shoes wouldn’t become important until later.


Nursing CPD Institute

White nursing shoes become standard

It wasn’t long after Florence Nightingale started the trend of worldwide nurse uniform standardisation that another major change rocked the nursing industry. Starting in the 1920s, the germ theory of disease rose to the fore, which indicated that tiny, invisible particles carried by bodily fluids were responsible for most types of infections.

Amidst the rush to make hospital and clinic environments more sanitary, nurses quickly realised that white uniforms were much more anti-germ than grey or black uniforms. There’s nothing about the colour white that inherently repels germs, but since white apparel much more clearly shows the presence of blood and other bodily fluids, it’s easier to notice contamination on white nursing uniforms and shoes.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, white nursing shoes remained the default. Most nursing shoes remained leather, but nurses could often choose between traditional lace-up boots and more comfortable, practical forms of footwear. While white nursing shoes were certainly more hygienic than previous types of nursing footwear, they were also incredibly difficult to keep clean, and they weren’t remarkably comfortable.

Gender-neutral, ergonomic shoes take the fore

Up until the 1960s, nurses wore feminine uniforms by default. It was possible to find more gender-neutral nursing uniforms here or there, but most nursing attire consisted of blouses, dresses, and skirts.

As feminism began gripping the nation, however, nurses increasingly complained about the negative perception that came along with their uniforms. They contended that their roles were just as important as the roles performed by male doctors, and they began demanding uniforms that more accurately denoted their equal status.

Cutesy, feminine nursing uniforms took a steep nosedive, and pantsuits and other male-mimicking types of nursing wear became more popular. Standardised scrubs were developed in the 1980s, officially eliminating the divide between male and female healthcare providers.

Along with scrubs came increasingly comfortable and practical footwear technologies. Laces, which had always been inherently unhygienic, were gradually replaced with Velcro fasteners, and nursing shoes began resembling the convenient clogs that are today’s omnipresent standard.

Nursing CPD Institute

Practical, comfortable clogs are the modern go-to

Over the years, comfort and practicality have become the most important identifiers of effective nursing shoes. Instead of investing in a single uniform that’s kept meticulously clean for multiple shifts, nurses now wear standardised scrubs, which can be removed and replaced if they become soiled.

Similarly, nursing shoes are now more practical than they are hygienic since they are designed to be replaceable if they get dirty. While some modern nursing shoes remain white, it’s just as common nowadays to find nursing shoes that are black or that feature intricate, multi-coloured patterns.

Most importantly, slip-on clogs have almost entirely replaced both lace-up nursing shoes and nursing shoes with Velcro fasteners. While many hospitals and clinics still allow nurses to wear shoes with laces or Velcro, it’s universally agreed-upon that slip-on clogs are the most convenient types of nursing shoes.

Nurses already have enough to worry about without being forced to tie or fasten their shoes before each shift. Modern nursing clogs are more comfortable than any types of nursing shoes that came before, and they accurately reflect the increasingly practical approach to nursing uniforms that has become dominant over the past few decades.

What will nursing shoes look like in the future?

Contemporary nurses would be forgiven for believing that nursing shoes have reached the upper limit of comfort and practicality. While it’s true that modern nursing shoes are more comfortable and lightweight than ever before, there’s still a lot of room for growth.

In the near future, for instance, it will be possible to produce form-fitting, 3D-printed nursing shoes using detailed scans of a nurse’s foot. With bioplastics taking the fore, it’s also highly likely that the future’s nursing shoes will be considerably more sustainable.

Nursing CPD Institute

This article was written by the Medshop Editor – Medshop is a leading medical supplier, servicing the Australasian region with an unbeatable range of medical supplies and a drive to exceed consumer needs.

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