In honor of National Nurses Day in the United States, we’re reprinting an article from our archive that examines the uniforms that women — who primarily served in nursing roles — wore in World Wars I and II. From 1917 to 1943, their service attire evolved from simple white dresses to full military uniforms. Both eras illustrate the tension between modesty and function, fashion and practicality. By 1943, long skirts had given way to more useful configurations, although the author expressed concern that slacks had become an option for field nurses.
Regardless of the limitations imposed on them by their uniforms or by the stricter gender roles of the era, 23,000 women served in military hospitals in World War I, and 350,000 women were part of the Armed Forces in World War II. We continue to be grateful for their service.