Nurses’ caps had both practical and symbolic significance.
In the past, people witnessed “a woman in white, with her thick-soled shoes, a cap on her head, walking vigorously along the military camp corridor with a lantern in her hand to the wounded soldiers”. Also, “a group of women with uniform, heads covered with caps, lanterns in their hands running to hospital beds to beds, to soothe the injured people with their magical touch”.
The common facts in both those two glorious pasts were the ‘caps’ and the mindset of serving the injuries. Nurses still serve wounded individuals, but they do not wear caps anymore.
There was a certain time in the history of nursing uniform when the cap was the inevitable part of a nurse’s attire. People also considered it as a symbol of ‘helping hand’ or ‘a friend in need’.
At the same time, nurses also found them convenient to keep their long hair organized inside of the caps. But in the recent past, nurses all around the world have stopped wearing caps.
Why Did Nurses Wear Caps?
It’s known that a cap was more than just a structured fabric to the nurses, and after a certain period of cap’s introduction, it also became an identity for the nurses in their society.
However, at that time when caps were widely worn by the nurses, there were some factors that actually encouraged nurses to make cap as a part of their uniform. Some of those factors are discussed below.
Caps Promote Bonding
Caps promote the sense of community and bonding among the nurses. A nurse named Julia Gardner wrote in a letter to the American Journal of Nursing, “when I go to an unknown hospital or health institution and see someone wearing the same cap that I also wore during my nursing school age, it feels to me that I am not a stranger at that unknown place anymore”.
A Factor of Identification
Sometimes caps were the mark of nurse’s educational background and level of expertise, and different nursing schools selected different types of cap for their nurses. For example, 1st-year student worn caps with very simple design sometimes a white cap with a stripe, and as the students were promoted to 2nd, 3rd, final year, internship, and finally become experts, their caps’ shape and ribbon’s color also changed.
Among all those caps, some of the popular caps were ruffled caps, frilled caps, Dutch-styled caps, winged caps, knotted kerchiefs caps, etc. During the 1990s the School of Nursing of the University of Maryland designed a cap in honor of Florence Nightingale called “the Flossie”.
The Identity of Nurses’ Expertise
A hospital has various posts and ranks employees, to identify nurses from all other employees’ authority advised nurses to wear caps. This kind of identification also helped the hospital visitors to identify nurses from others. Some hospital also designed different caps for the different experience levels of nurses.
Symbol of Nobility
There was a time when the nurses’ caps were considered as a symbol of nobility. Nursing schools arranged cap giving ceremony for the students, sometimes in the ceremony, an emotional ambiance was created by the speech of ex-students. Once a guest speakers of a ceremony quoted “a nurse’s cap means to a nurse what the soldier’s uniform means to him. When this cap is pinned on a nurse’ head, it means she has become a member of one of the noblest professions and has subscribed to its ideals of service”
Why Don’t Nurses Wear Caps?
There is no official announcement or rules were passed by the hospital authority to stop the wearing of the caps. The strongest reason behind this was ‘the hygiene problems’. Nurse’s caps were made of hard fabric which was not easy to wash like their scrubs, as a result, all the dirt from the hospital, public roads during transportation, stored on these caps and they become unhygienic.
Another considerable reason behind this stopping was, after a certain period of using, nurses themselves started realizing that their caps are impractical that serve no significant purpose. One of the main reason behind this realization was, day by day nurses concentrate more on their comfortability of the uniform rather than the dress itself. They always wanted to be flexible in terms of their official uniform, and these changes were also noticeable in the history of nursing uniform.
Along these two reasons, nurses’ intention of not wearing the cap also motivated by the gender biases. As caps were only worn by the female nurses, male nurses never wore caps.
History of Nursing Caps
When for the first time the nurses’ uniform was made, there was no cap in it, again in this present time nurses do not wear the caps, but in between these two eras nurses all over the world wore caps. These caps also were never the same, they have been changed in terms of their shape and design. In the following section, we have discussed the history of nursing caps in details.
a) The First Nursing Cap
Though it is difficult to trace the exact time when wearing caps became standard practice among the nurses, there is a mild consensus that the journey of nurse’s caps began in the mid-1800s. Some say that Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul originally started wearing the caps during their time in Paris, where one of the first official nursing teaching institutions was established. Moreover, since nuns were among the first women who were trained nursing, it can be said that original caps were akin to the nuns’ habits.
b) Nursing Cap During the Age of Nightingale
The use of nursing cap also noticed in the era of the great Florence Nightingale. During her time, she organized a mission of mercy to Scutari at the time of the Crimean War, there Nightingale required the nurses to wear a special uniform and a cap.
After the war, to spread the nursing, Nightingale established a training center named Nightingale Training School at St. Thomas’ Hospital. In her training center caps were also a part of uniform but this time caps used by the students are changed a little bit, students preferred shorter, square-shaped caps with their uniforms over longer, more bonnet-like caps.
c) Present Day Nursing Cap
By the late 1980s, nurses’ caps were almost disappeared in the United States along with the rest of the world. Nurses around the world abandoned white nursing uniform with its symbolic cap and turned their attention to the new nursing scrubs. After the 1980s as more men also were joining in the nursing profession, unisex scrubs also came into existence.
However, still, nurses are seen in crisp white uniforms with the symbolic nursing cap perched on their heads in third world countries. Also, in those countries, where still nursing profession is largely dominated by the women.
A Standard Nurse Cap
Around 1874, the Bellevue Hospital School of Nursing in New York City introduced a special nursing cap as a way to identify their graduated nurses from other nurses. This cap covered the entire head except for the ears, it was look alike today’s ski hat, although Bellevue’s cap was made out of white linen and had a fringe around the bottom.
As the number of nursing institute increased, so did the need for unique caps, each institution had to design and use their own unique nursing cap. As a result, different designs, also different shapes’ caps were noticed. And it became very easy for normal people to identify which nurse has graduated from which nursing institution.
In all the cap’s designs, there was a common black stripe (usually a black velvet ribbon) on the cap to signify a Registered Nurse. And, in some states, two thinner stripes were attached to the cap to signify the award of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. These caps were washable as well as the black stripe was removable. Nurses often applied a thin layer of Water-soluble lubricants such as KY jelly to the back of the ribbon to attach stripes to their caps.
How to Wear A Nursing Cap?
Though in these present days no nurses wear the nursing caps during their duty time, they have to wear at least on their graduation ceremony day. Wearing a nursing cap is different from wearing a casual cap. Here we will teach you how to wear a graduation nursing cap. The trick we have described here, is called a tissue trick, to learn how to wear follow below steps.
- Take two flyers of facial tissue and fold them together making a rectangular shape. Make sure that the rectangle has the maximum capability to hold your caps.
- Now, fit this tissue layer on the back of your head with the help of hairpins, use as many pins as you need to make a strong attachment.
- If you notice you will find a level inside the front surrounding of the cap, finally attach a pin with this level and fit it with the tissue layer.
Once caps were the symbol of nobility, unity and a way of differentiation between nurses. Though in recent time nurses do not wear caps, their unity still remains solid. Authority finds a better solution of differentiation and serving human also treat as one of the best professions around the world. Actually, from the begging of nursing to till date, nurses changed their uniform to make themselves more dedicated to patients.