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modest dress an 1940 nurse dress

kathern | Posted in General Sewing Info on

i sure could use some help i’m needing help in turning strapless pm dresses in to one with some sort of shoulder cover.  i have many who because of religion reasons have to have there arms covered.  in the ready to where we have very little inthe line of modist dresses.     also i have an other project 1940 nurse dress.   style ,long sleeves ,shirtwaist, also what kind of fabric. this has to be as vintage as i can make.


  1. Sancin | | #1

    Do you mean nurse dress as in a nurse uniform?

    If so, nurses wore aprons as well as a dress. Ask me how I know all this! Fabic for dress (usually loose and sort of formless waistless shirtwaist type) - plain cotton with removable buttons down the front. A very starched collar was pinned or buttoned on as where cuffs. Aprons were starched, with bottom wrap type skirt, wide waistband and top piece VERY starched (read board like) most frequently chin to waist front - top of the apron usually separate from the skirt and pinned on. Backs of aprons varied in straps that crossed or where the same as the front. In those days agencies laundered nurses uniforms so buttons were removable and many nurses had to pin various parts to have them fit and hang properly. The apron fabric was a heavier weight cotton than the dress. Nurses 'caps' were de rigour - these were hair pinned on. Everything had to be cotton (as today) as synthetics caused sparks that could ignite oxygen and other gases in use.

    Dresses, short or long sleeves had wide starched cuffs that could be removed and sleeves rolled up. I often wondered how long the cuffs remained on long sleeves. Check the following sites:

    Oh, you old nurses will remember those days! I itch every time I think of putting them on, and how long it took to 'get it together' every day - and this was even in the 1950's. It took me years to get rid of the starch rashes.

    Sorry I can't help you with the strapless dress - I loved wearing them after all those uniforms and I never voluntarily wore white clothing or later when white stockings were the style. I think knit shrugs are popular these days.

    Edited 9/26/2009 1:13 am ET by Sancin

    1. jane4878 | | #2


      Your story reminded me of my late mother.  She graduated in 1938 and her uniforms were wool with the starched apron.  They might have been able to wear starched cotton in the 40 C Toronto summers.  She told me they were so relieved to only have to wear cotton with no starching during polio epidemics when the patients were kept in rooms humid with steam.  I think she wore the hat well into the '70's when she retired. 



    2. gailete | | #4

      I graduated nursing school in the late 80's and still had the starched cap that I got rid of ASAP (only had one job that required them). The white dress even then was almost a heavy twill cotton. Glad to get rid of it and eventually making my own scrub tops in fun colors. Especially when I was a jail nurse. No mistaking me for someone else, but the prisoners like seeing the nurses in something that wasn't so 'uniform' like as they wore modified scrub uniforms themselves.

      I to agree that boleros or shrugs are probably a better way to go with getting long sleeves on an evening gown unless religion forbids the sleeveless dress in the first place. Then I would look into some unconventional evening clothes. I know of a Khaliah Ali pattern that is a long dress with long sleeves (don't know the pattern # off hand, but could find them) also many vintage evening gowns had long sleeves (presumably from days when not everyone had central heat) so there are patterns out there. Many wedding gown/bridesmaid patterns have long sleeves also due to rules at some churches that arms have to be covered.

      1. Sancin | | #5

        Well, I graduated in 1964 and we still wore aprons till we graduated and caps for many years after. They really were not very clean things! As I was dead broke after 5 years of university I still wore uniforms and aprons for several months - my first pay cheque was $320 for a month. After 6 months of surgical nursing I moved to my first love, pediatrics, and then family nursing so rarely wore a cap until I started teaching, and even then not very often. I was quite disappointed when we stopped wearing scrub caps (I made my own) in labor and delivery and in nurseries. They covered a multitude of bad hair days. Until I reached the age where bad hair days didn't concern me any more ;-)Scrubs are ok now that they are being made outside of hospitals and fit better, but I wish more nurses would wear scrub jackets instead of patient gowns when cold. One day I had my teenage daughter in emergency and she asked me why nurses had to pick up the garbage - she was looking at a cleaning staff member wearing a patient gown as has the nurse who had just admitted her. I was glad to retire! I actually never did wear scrubs. I found pants too warm and preferred dress uniforms, eventually making my own scrub dresses.

        Edited 9/27/2009 4:36 am ET by Sancin

        1. gailete | | #6

          I found a unisex pattern that I think was supposed to be some kind of sports outfit or pajamas, that the top was exactly like a scrub top.  One year I made all the boys pajamas from the same pattern so I still have 3 copies in different sizes of it. I got the sewing for one top down to 45 minutes to make one. And sooooo much cheaper than buying the same type thing for $20-40 which was the going rate then. My son is a frozen food manager at our local grocery store is making now what I did when I started working as a nurse. What's more the cafeteria aides at our school make more now than what I did for their unskilled labor! I have no clue what nurses are pulling in now as I went out on disability close to 8 years ago now and I had been winding down for quite some time due to my knees no longer being able to keep up. Sometimes I get to do 'nursey' things and so it doesn't feel like all that training and work was in vain. I graduated in 88 and went on disability 02. Not a long career but I do have my high points to look back on. Sewing memories. Sewing has affected every area of my life it seems.

  2. starzoe | | #3

    You might look into long-sleeved boleros. They are very popular now and don't take much fabric, easy to sew. Look in any catalogue or women's dress shops.

  3. Ceeayche | | #7

    Michelle Dugger (of the TV show) recently renewed her vows and had this issue.  All the dresses were strapless at Kleinfields, and she needed something a little more modest.  http://tlc.discovery.com/tv/say-yes-dress/slideshows/season-4-wedding-dresses.html

    In the show "Say Yes to the Dress" they talked about adding a yoke above the strapless part.  Here's an example (of course you could do something tailored to the amount of opacity that you need). 



    I also found another option:  http://www.discountbridal.org/ProductInfo.aspx?productid=Eternity-Bridal-8708  with a pretty little lace bodice that goes over the dress.

    I also found several sites with ideas by searching "modest evening gown"

    Good luck, and please post pictures!

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