The History of the White Nursing Shoe

 

What color do you picture when you think of nursing shoes? White? One of the key factors I considered when choosing nursing shoes for our Best Nursing Shoes guide was whether or not the shoe came in solid white. Why? Because almost every nurse needs white shoes when starting her career: Most schools require them for clinicals.

Chances are you aren’t jazzed about the thought of an all-white shoe, particularly when there is so much yuck out there that could end up on them. If they’re so hard to keep clean, why do schools require them? Where did the white-shoe-thing come from, anyway?

Florence Nightingale

Although there was some semblance of a nursing uniform prior to Nightingale, her dress requirements for nurses during the Crimean War in 1854 paved the way for the all-white 20th century nursing attire.

In order to distinguish the nurses from camp followers, Nightingale had them wear plain gray tweed dresses and white caps. Keeping with the times, the sleeves and hemlines were long and modest. When Nightingale founded her school of nursing, one of her students designed an official uniform for the nurses-in-training, and nurses today still abide by dress codes.

The World Wars

Not much changed for many years, but when the World Wars broke out, nurses needed more mobility and started rolling up their sleeves. As hemlines shortened in every day fashion, nurses on the front lines followed suit.

And here enters the infamous white attire. As the scientific community — and later the public — became aware of germs and how they spread, keeping clothing sparkly white was a way of appearing fresh and clean. The sheer fact that it took so much hard work to keep a nurse’s garments unsoiled acted as a sign of the nurse’s professionalism and care.

Still, the shoes stayed black until white leather came on the market: Then white leather shoes for nursing were born, and nurses were decked head-to-toe in starched white textiles.

Enter Feminism

That being said, feminists in the 1960s thought the white dresses symbolized more than cleanliness: “In the constant struggle for independence from doctors, some nurses started to see the white uniform as a symbol of the angelic, demure, dependent woman—not of the tough, resourceful professional she really is,” wartime historian Elizabeth Norman wrote.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that nurses’ attire started to change. The symbolic cap with the red cross that we all picture when we hear “nurse,” was likely to fall off or get in the way of her duties. Therefore, it was the first piece of the World-War-era uniform to disappear.

Next, the introduction of pantsuits in the 70s and the all-too-familiar “scrubs” of the 1980s, put an end to traditional nursing garb. As male nurses came on the scene, transitioning to gender-neutral attire helped keep nurses on a level playing field.

Now instead of white, you can walk down a hospital floor and see a rainbow of colors and patterns: From plaid to polka dots to cartoon figures doing cartwheels.

But What About The Shoes?

Even though all-white starched dresses went out of vogue, the white shoes remain as a memorial of times-gone-by. For most nurses, you’ll only need them during clinicals, where tradition seems to win over practicality.

Most hospitals and practices realize that white won’t last, so your shoes can be just as colorful as your scrubs.

That being said, there has been a movement among some medical facilities to return to more “professional” garb, and for some of them, that means white-clad nurses.

With that in mind, we’ve made sure to include plenty of options for white clogs and white leather sneakers for nurses so you’ll be prepared no matter which way the white-shoe-wind blows.

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