The splashy designs we see on the runway and in editorials often take a lot of the spotlight in the fashion world, but there's also a whole world of functional clothing that exists to allow people to do their jobs better or to portray a certain image to clients or customers. Nurses are a perfect example. Their jobs are often messy (both literally and emotionally), but the clothes they wear to do their jobs make them invisible. And as much as popular culture loves the "naughty nurse" image, fishnets and thigh high boots don't work in real life. I know this from first-hand experience, because I used to be a nurse.
Scrubs are functional, comfortable, and completely hideous on almost every body type. Bedside hospital nurses I worked with used to wear distinctive jewelry, nail polish, decorated clogs (that's how bad it is)...ANYTHING to add an individual touch to a very pragmatic uniform. So when I heard about a design competition in which Pratt fashion design students were designing uniforms for nurses in a hospice unit, I had to learn more about it.
The Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY)'s Haven Hospice Specialty Care Unit, located at Bellevue Hospital, has interior designer touches and amenities that very few hospitals have, like a hot tub. The nurses there are dealing with death, dying, and grieving on a daily basis. Pratt hosted a design competition in which students had to design functional yet attractive uniforms for the nurses who work in this special unit. "There is nothing more important than for Pratt students to go out into the world and engage in the broader community and beyond their immediate community and the trends that exist on 7th Avenue," said Jennifer Minniti, Chair of Pratt's Department of Fashion Design in a release.
Twenty-two junior fashion design students took part, and Hannah Ross was deemed the winner--she won a $2,500 scholarship from VNSNY and her design is going to be produced and worn by the nurses. I spoke to Hannah to see what it was like designing for a bunch of nurses, who--I can also confirm from experience--can be an, um, opinionated group.
Hannah told me that the VNS realized they didn't have uniforms that fit the beautiful space; they were wearing things like Spongebob printed scrubs. When asked about the most difficult part of the challenge, she said, "I usually use a lot of color and I like to design costumes and crazy avant garde pieces. For this I really toned myself down."
The nurses directed the design, and told the students that they actually like their scrubs because they were "easy, flattering and loose-fitting and they work on any body type." Hannah's response was, "I was thinking in my head, 'No, this is horrible! We need to totally change this,' but we had to keep in mind that they like the comfort and the simplicity. They didn't want to feel overwhelmed putting on a lot of pieces and they didn't want them to be tight-fitting."
The result was a jacket, pants and top, all knit rather than woven (scrubs are woven and stiff) to give them a little shape and stretchiness. And tons of storage options, like pockets and a tab for hanging a stethoscope. The hardest part for Hannah? "Taking a step back and realizing that this wasn't an art project and I didn't really need to show creativity as much as I needed to show functionality and make it aesthetically pleasing," she told me.
So while nurses can't don five inch heels and skinny pants to do their jobs, they deserve an outfit that's going to make them feel confident and attractive, because don't you just feel better about the world when you're wearing a good outfit? Kudos to Pratt for this project. Now if only someone could tackle the epidemic of Crocs and clogs in hospitals.