Nurses wear white to distinguish themselves from the myriad of other health care professionals in a hospital, according to American Nurse Today. The color white also symbolizes cleanliness and purity. However, as of 2014, many nurses do not wear white.
White uniforms enhance the image, pride and professional work of nurses, according to American Nurse Today. The first nurse uniforms were derived from nuns' habits and included a white dress, apron and cap. In the Civil War era, nurses wore white to distinguish themselves from servants, cooks and laundresses. Soldiers were better able to recognize nurses when they wore white. The white uniform served as a symbol of authority and allowed nurses to be treated with respect while providing care.
Nursing uniforms were originally designed to protect against disease, but during World War I, nurses determined that the traditional uniform, one that expressed authority and feminine virtue, was no longer practical. As a number of wounded soldiers entered hospitals, nurses needed to be fast and efficient. Nurses decided to forgo the traditional apron, and skirts were shortened for ease of movement. As more men entered the nursing field, the skirts were replaced with pants. In the 1990s, nurses opted to wear scrubs for their ease of mobility, comfort and individual expression.