A Guide To Nursing Dress Codes | NurseJournal.org (2023)

Year after year, nurses continue to rank as the most honest and ethical profession in Gallup polls. Before a nurse can say a word, their uniform symbolizes their honesty, ethics, and training. But many nurses still find nurse dress codes restrictive and hard to follow.

Student nurses and newly licensed registered nurses (RN) have so much to do and think about before they enter a clinical setting. Dress codes for nurses only complicate preparing for clinical practice. You should not have to worry about what you wear on your first day as an RN or in clinical rotations.

Dive into what you need to know about dress codes for clinicals, simulation labs, and your first job after graduation. To create these guidelines, we looked at hospital employee dress code policies from across the U.S.

Why Do Nurses Wear Scrubs?

In the 1800s, as nurses began to receive more recognition and training as professionals, the nursing uniform helped distinguish trained nurses from untrained volunteers. As the years passed, the nursing uniform Florence Nightingale designed changed for improved functionality, easier cleaning, and gender neutrality.

Today, nurses' uniforms still give a first good impression about nurses' professionalism, skill, and knowledge. But not all nurses accept their uniforms as a symbol of pride and professionalism.

Nurses want the freedom to express themselves and work in comfortable clothing. Patients want nurses they can easily identify as professional, competent, and knowledgeable.

Healthcare settings side with patients. The guidelines may become less strict at your first registered nurse job than when you were a student nurse doing clinicals or labs. The color of the scrubs you wear may vary based on the facility or department where you work.

However, all healthcare facilities want nurses who:

  • Look as professional as they act
  • Give a good first impression
  • Represent their facility
  • Represent their specific department, in some cases
  • Appear knowledgeable and skilled
  • Can be easily identified by patients as the RN rather than any of the other professionals wearing scrubs (e.g. techs, nursing assistants, social work, nutrition)

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Common Nurse Dress Code Requirements

A dress code for nurses is often based on supporting patient safety, staff safety, infection control, professionalism, cultural competence, and patient satisfaction.

Specific dress code requirements vary based on the setting. A clinical site may have different guidelines than its university partners. The pediatric department floor may have different guidelines than the emergency department.

Clothing Requirements for Nurses

The following is a list of common clothing requirements for nurses. Nursing students should pay special attention to requirements related to scrubs, jackets, and undergarments. Check with your university or employer's dress code policy for more specific information.

  • Scrubs

    Scrubs must be a certain color to represent your facility and department. As a student nurse, your scrub top may have your school's logo embroidered onto it. Scrub pants must be an approved color. Check your dress code policy to find out what your approved colors are and where you can buy scrubs for your labs and clinical rotations.

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  • Professional Attire

    When you are not providing direct clinical care, you may need to wear professional attire. Jeans are not acceptable. Skirts can be no shorter than just above the knee. Slacks and solid-colored blouses or button-up tops are recommended.

  • Undergarments

    Undergarments may not show through the scrubs. Consider wearing undergarments similar in tone to your skin color so you do not have to worry about someone seeing them.

  • Sock or Stockings

    Some settings require nurses to wear socks or stockings of certain colors with their uniform.

  • Undershirts

    Some facilities do not allow you to wear an undershirt under your scrub top. Others require the shirt to be a certain color if you wear it. Check with your university or employer for clarification.

  • Jackets

    Nurses may only wear lab coats or uniform jackets over their scrubs, depending on the facility. Student nurses can purchase scrub jackets with their school's logo. Non-uniform jackets are not allowed.

Other Dress Code Requirements for Nurses

Grooming Requirements

Grooming requirements nurses should keep in mind include hair, fingernails, and piercings. Check with your university or employer’s nurse dress code for more specific information in these areas.

  • Tattoos

    Tattoos cannot be offensive. If they are, you must cover them. Some institutions require all tattoos to be covered at all times regardless of the time of year.

  • Facial Hair

    Facial hair must be kept neat and trimmed, so it does not interfere with patient or provider safety. Every facility has different specifications about what they consider an appropriate length.

  • Hair

    Hair must be clean, neat, and kept off the collar. If your hair extends past your chin, you need to keep it up at all times so it does not cover your vision when examining the patient or fall on the patient.

  • Fingernails

    Fingernails must be kept clean and trim so they do not scratch the patient. Fingernails can be no longer than your finger or a ¼ inch past your finger, depending on your facility. If you wear nail polish, you should wear light or neutral colors and make sure the polish is not chipped. Artificial nails, or any type of nail that is not your natural fingernail, is not allowed.

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  • Makeup

    Makeup should be subtle, natural, and not distracting or extreme.

Dress Code Requirements

Dress code requirements for accessories include watches, ID badges, and shoes. Check with your university or employer’s dress code policy for more specific information.

  • Head Coverings

    Head coverings cannot be worn unless they are for religious, infectious control, or safety reasons. They may need to be a certain color to match the uniform.

  • Jewelry

    Earrings and other jewelry must not pose a threat to infection control or patient safety. Policies about what is safe and allowed vary between facilities. Some institutions limit the size or number of earrings. Some require no bracelets or a limited number of necklaces. Others limit the size of the stone in rings so they do not scratch the patients.

  • Fragrances

    Perfume, fragrant lotions, cologne, and other strong scents are prohibited due to possible allergic reactions.

  • ID Badges

    Nurses must wear ID badges above the waist with the photo facing out, so the name is visible at all times.

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  • Watches

    Watches need a second hand, so you can record vitals, chart labs, and give medication in a timely manner. Watches should be waterproof for handwashing purposes.

  • Shoes

    Shoes must be leather or synthetic leather with closed heels and toes and non-skid soles. Some facilities require shoes to be white. Some facilities do not allow sneakers, mesh, canvas shoes, or clogs.

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Nurse Dress Codes After Nursing School

Compared to the dress code for nursing students, hospitals often take a more casual approach. They lay out guidelines for when to wear professional attire and when to wear scrubs, but many of the other dress code requirements are left to the discretion of the nurses.

Hospitals still want nurses to keep infection control, professionalism, cultural competence, patient satisfaction, patient safety, and their own safety in mind when they dress themselves.

However, hospitals do not get hyper-specific with their dress codes the way dress codes for nursing students do.

Advice for Nursing Students on Following Dress Code Requirements

If you have clinical rotations or simulations coming up, check both your school of nursing dress code policy and the clinical facility's policy. They may overlap or differ.

Remember, facilities do not require uniforms because they wish to stifle your personal expression. They make you wear a uniform so patients see you as a knowledgeable, skilled nurse who respects their preferences and opinions.

Underneath all the details and specifics of those policies, nursing schools and clinical facilities care about six things, in no particular order:

  • Infection control
  • Staff safety
  • Patient safety
  • Patient satisfaction
  • Cultural competence
  • Professionalism

If you can think about your appearance in those terms rather than just in terms of your personal preference or expression, you should not have any trouble meeting all dress code requirements for nurses, no matter how complicated they seem.


Page Last Reviewed: September 12, 2022

Related Pages



What is the dress code policy for nurses? ›

Some common expectations in dress codes are that nurses should wear scrubs in white or colors or that lab coats are appropriate in some circumstances. Shoes should be impermeable to liquids, with closed toes, and should not produce excessive noise.

What is the best dress code for nurses? ›

Medical scrubs are a common component of a nurse's expected uniform. These offer a sterilised outfit which gives minimal risk for contamination and helps to easily identify a nurse within a hospital or medical centre.

What are nurses not allowed to wear? ›

Nursing dress codes go beyond scrubs and shoes. Piercings, tattoos and jewelry can impact patient perception. Even personal preferences like hair, makeup and perfume can affect how patients regard nurses and the quality of care they receive.

What is the dress code for nursing students? ›

Dress neatly and professionally. Trousers or slacks may be worn but denim jeans or jean type slacks are not permitted. Skirts should not be shorter than just above the knee.

What are the four types of dress codes for the workplace? ›

If you ask someone what the dress code at their office is, they'll generally give you one of four dress codes: business professional, business casual, smart casual or casual.

Can you wear leggings as a nurse? ›

Leggings are not allowed. the job performed, clean and in good repair.

What color do most nurses wear? ›

What color scrubs do nurses wear? Nurses usually wear light blue scrubs so that they are distinguishable from doctors and surgeons. Traditionally, nurses wore white but white is too difficult to keep clean in clinical settings.

How do female nurses dress? ›

Nurses wear uniforms. This is a fact of life. Some patient care facilities use various colored scrubs to denote nursing staff, while others give you carte blanche to mix and match scrubs or other nursing uniforms.

Why can't nurses wear nail polish? ›

The use of nail polish, as well as the wearing of artificial nails and other nail adornments, is strictly banned in the majority of healthcare facilities. This is because nail polish and acrylics can chip off, and long nails, whether natural or artificial tips, could be harboring germs beneath.

What jewelry can a nurse wear? ›

Confused patients can pull on dangling jewelry and cause injury, so be sure to avoid necklaces and wear post earrings. Do not wear bracelets. They can touch and contaminate wounds or supplies that must be kept sterile or clean. Generally, a watch, wedding band and simple post earrings are acceptable.

Can nurses wear any shoes? ›

Support: Constant standing and loading weight on their feet make nurses susceptible to various foot health issues, so Chien advises to go for comfortable shoes that have a thick-enough supportive sole. It's also important to have good arch support for stabilizing the foot and ankle, Tikiwala adds. Dr.

Can nurses wear black? ›

Black scrubs are considered to be a slimming color, so some nurses and doctors prefer to wear them. In general, black clothing tends to look slick and polished. Why do nurses wear black scrubs? Black scrubs are more popular among nurses because they make people look slimmer.

Can nurses wear tattoos? ›

The simple answer is yes. A tattoo is unlikely to disqualify you from working as a nurse, though there are some important considerations to keep in mind. Depending on your place of work, there may be rules about the types of tattoos and visibility restrictions, but these can vary greatly from place to place.

Can RN wear makeup? ›

So, your first question may be: can nurses wear makeup? The short answer is “yes,” and we'll go into more detail below. We'll also give you some tips on applying makeup for work, even if your employer recommends subtle looks.

What is inappropriate dress code? ›

Too revealing, think low tops, high slits, short skirts or shorts, backless or strapless tops, sheer, undergarments or lack thereof showing, etc., Not aligned with the “corporate uniform” (think blue suits at IBM), and. Not aligned with the vibe of the organization (e.g., wearing a suit when everyone else is in goth).

What is the most popular dress code? ›

The 5 Most Common Dress Codes
  • Casual.
  • Smart Casual.
  • Business Casual.
  • Semi-Formal.
  • Formal.
Sep 10, 2020

What are the 3 Bs in dress code? ›

Our primary goal is for all students to have the “3 Bs” covered (breasts, belly, bottom) even when students bend over or are wearing a backpack (which often causes shorts to ride up).

What is a good dress code policy? ›

All employees are expected to dress professionally, anything that is revealing or inappropriate will not be tolerated. All attire should be clean and in good shape, any attire with rips, tears or holes will not be tolerated. All employees are required to avoid attire with offensive or inappropriate drawings or sayings.

What is an example of an appropriate dress code? ›

For example, we may require employees to wear semi-formal attire for an event. Then, both male and female employees should wear suits, ties, white shirts and appropriate shoes. Our company may also introduce [dress-down Friday] when employees can wear more casual clothing like jeans, simple blouses and boots.

What are some questions about dress code? ›

Questions to Start the Conversation

Do you agree that dress codes unfairly target girls and why? Why do schools have dress codes? What do you think should be included in a dress code? What is on your school's dress code that you don't agree with and why?

Can nurses wear their hair out? ›

Wearing your hair down as a nurse can be a safety issue. In mental health facilities especially, nurses are cautioned to wear their hair up so the patients don't pull on it or grab it. In dealing with other unstable, angry, violent, or confused patients, having your hair down can make it easy for it them to harm you.

Can you wear Crocs for nursing? ›

Crocs provides a number of slip resistant nurse and hospital shoes and clogs to help you stay safe during your shift. Our proprietary Crocs Lock™ tread provides slip-resistance that exceeds industry standards.

Can nurses give hugs? ›

A hug may or may not be acceptable. The person who has the right to make that determination is the patient. Nurses are expected to interact with patients in an empathetic way that supports the patient's healing or wellness. Nurses are not required to hug patients when patients ask for a hug.

Who wears a red nurses uniform? ›

Senior Sister or Charge Nurse

Senior Sisters and senior Charge Nurses are the ward leaders and are now easily identified by their red uniform. They lead and co-ordinate the nursing team in their area and have continuous responsibility for the management and organisation of the ward/department.

What color shoes can nurses wear? ›

Traditionally, wearing white shoes was a measure and testament to a nurse's cleanliness — the stains and spills don't lie! The tradition is kept to this day because of its history and to keep a consistent rule of uniformity.

What do GREY scrubs mean? ›

Sometimes it's not to separate specialties, but professions: doctors wear a dark blue, while nurses wear a softer blue, surgeons wear green, receptionists wear gray, technicians wear maroon, and so on.

Who do female nurses marry? ›

Female registered nurses are most likely to marry male managers or female registered nurses. Male registered nurses are most likely to marry female or male registered nurses. Nurse practitioners and midwives are most likely to marry miscellaneous managers, physicians and surgeons.

Why do nurses wear pink? ›

Color may affect the perception and reaction of individuals to the environment and directly improves the environmental quality of patients, staff, and families, and the extent of patients' recovery [20]. In this regard, the pink color is, in fact, the same color as red with a calming effect.

Can nurses wear acrylic nails? ›

The CDC guidelines say that health care personnel should not wear artificial nails and should keep natural nails less than one quarter inch long if they care for patients at high risk of acquiring infections (e.g. patients in intensive care units or in transplant units).

Can nurses have piercings? ›

The answer is yes…but within reason. Each hospital and health network will have its own policies on the matter. They may accept piercing partially with regulations such as a small stud or skin-colored ones. They may also completely rule out nose piercings for nurses.

How long should nails be for nurses? ›

Natural nail tips should be kept to ¼ inch in length. A growing body of evidence suggests that wearing artificial nails may contribute to transmission of certain healthcare- associated pathogens.

Can you have finger tattoos in nursing? ›

In short, yes. Nurses can have tattoos in 2022! It is the responsibility of the nurse to ensure that they are following their facility guidelines and covering their pieces if required.

What gifts do nurses want? ›

What is a good appreciation gift for a nurse? Some nice nurse appreciation gifts include compression socks, stethoscope covers, travel mugs, gift cards, food and snacks, candy, hand sanitizer, or lotion.

Can nurses wear wedding rings? ›

Nurses do a lot of work with their hands, and because of that, many nurses have long decided that they cannot safely wear a wedding ring during their shift. However, in recent years a lot of nurses have learned about silicone wedding rings as an alternative to those off-limits metal and diamond wedding rings.

What should nurses avoid? ›

The 7 Most Common Nursing Mistakes (And What You Can Do If You Make One)
  • Mistake #1: Preventable Infections.
  • Mistake #2: Improper Documentation.
  • Mistake #3: Medication Errors.
  • Mistake #4: Disregarding Risk Management Procedures.
  • Mistake #5: Patient Falls.
  • Mistake #6: Task Overload.

Can nurses wear any color? ›

Unless your hospital or office requires you to wear a certain color, it ultimately comes down to personal preference. Blue and green are always great choices, though pink and purple may suit certain people more.

Can nurses wear white sneakers? ›

In fact, some nursing schools and facilities even require white shoes for nurses to maintain that look of tradition and cleanliness.

What does navy blue scrubs mean? ›

For example, doctors often wear navy or dark blue scrubs to denote a position of authority. This darker color can also help them set apart from their other healthcare workers, who may wear a lighter shade of the same uniform.

Can nurses Colour their hair? ›

Can nurses have colored hair? No, many hospitals and health systems do not allow nurses to have an “unnatural” hair color. While some companies have relaxed the rule it's still best to double-check with your employer or future employer before dyeing your hair.

Who wears red scrubs in hospital? ›

2. Red. Red scrubs are perfect for hospital administration, laboratory, and pharmacy employees.

Can RN have sleeve tattoos? ›

The resounding answer is yes. Nurses can have tattoos. However, some medical facilities may require you to cover tattoos when interacting with patients. Generally, most hospitals don't allow visible tattoos when the tats are obscene, derogatory, or offensive.

Can I be a nurse with face tattoos? ›

Nursing School and Tattoos

For instance, in most schools it's standard policy that tattoos on the forearm must be covered with sleeves, and those on the hand, wrist, neck or face must be covered in some way.

Can a nurse have neck tattoos? ›

The nursing industry is lenient but only to an extent. However, while a tattoo that fully covers your arms or neck can give you problems in the workplace, some employers and hospital admins indicate that they have no issue so long as the ink is fully covered during working hours.

Can nurses wear eyelash extensions? ›

As per the rulebook, nurses can wear false eyelashes at most hospitals. While false nails are a big no-no in most clinics, false eyelashes are pretty much allowed anywhere.

Can you wear Jewellery as a nurse? ›

No hand or wrist jewellery. Hand contamination with infectious agents is increased when wearing hand or wrist jewellery. Rings, bracelets, bangles and wrist watches should not be worn because they can hinder effective hand hygiene practices.

Can nurses wear lotion? ›

Do nurses need hand lotion? Since healthcare professionals come in contact with harsh chemicals and need to wash their hands frequently daily, using hand lotions immediately after every wash can prevent the skin from becoming rough and dry (1).

What is the dress code in healthcare? ›

Clothing must be clean, pressed, and businesslike, to present a professional appearance appropriate to the employee's job and work duties and allows a patient or visitor to easily identify an employee. 3. Footwear must be clean, safe, in good repair and not exceed three inches (3") in height.

What dress code rule must all clinical staff abide by? ›

All staff should wear clean clothes. Clinical staff should wear clean clothes / uniform for each shift, in order to minimise the possibility of spreading infections. 6.6. For infection control and safety reasons lanyards must not be worn during direct patient care activity.

What type of dress code is considered most appropriate at a medical practice? ›

The literature says patients prefer “professional” attire, in other words business casual dress with a white coat, he says. Another concern for medical professionals is attire that doesn't easily allow for transmission of infectious diseases. That's one reason, many physician have ditched the necktie.

Do uniforms dress code influence the public's perception of nurses? ›

In reality, the nurse uniform influences perceptions about nursing practice and thus contributes significantly to the overall image of a nurse (Wocial, Sego, Rager, Laubersheimer & Everett, 2014a). Nursing uniforms have been a source of tension for well over a hundred years (Pearson, Baker, Walsh, & Fitzgerald, 2001).

What are the three levels of dress codes? ›

Classifications are divided into formal wear (full dress), semi-formal wear (half dress), and informal wear (undress). Anything below this level is referred to as casual wear, although sometimes in combinations such as "smart casual" or "business casual" in order to indicate higher expectation than none at all.

Why dress code is so important? ›

Dress codes are typically implemented by school districts and employers to promote learning, safety, and image.

How do you address a staff with dress code? ›

  1. Provide Basic Guidelines. Provide basic guidelines such as "business casual," but less hard fast rules. ...
  2. Match The Culture. ...
  3. Communicate The 'Why' ...
  4. Keep It Simple. ...
  5. Model The Dress Code. ...
  6. Reflect The Organization. ...
  7. Set Expectations And Gather Input. ...
  8. Aim To Empower Your People.
Feb 5, 2020

What is the dress code policy? ›

A dress code policy is a document, typically associated with the employee handbook, that specifies what is appropriate for employees to wear to work. Dress codes will vary from company to company, especially in different industries.

What are some of the dos and don'ts of dress code in professional settings? ›

Pantsuits should be tailored and creased, not flowing or too tight. A dress suit should have a skirt that goes no higher than 2 inches above the knee. Miniskirts, even in a suit, are not appropriate for business wear. If suit wear is not required, wear dress pants and skirts, never jeans.

What is not acceptable for dress code? ›

Never Acceptable

Dirty or wrinkled clothing. Tight-fitting or revealing clothing. Too casual, such as yoga pants, overalls, flip flops or shorts. T-shirts with inappropriate messages or offensive content.

Do dress codes matter? ›

Dress codes reflect very strongly on your organisation. They can impact on your brand and how the general public perceives your organisation. In addition to that, the absence of a dress code can impact on your existing team's morale or motivation. A dress code can dictate how your team works and their attitude to work.

Why do nurses no longer wear white? ›

Thus, white nurse uniforms remained the status quo until the 1960s when feminists argued that white signified diminished power. More colorful uniforms gradually became more accepted and popular. For instance, in the 1990s nurses began wearing the colorful scrubs that many still wear today.

Do dress codes improve behavior? ›

Students feel less sense of belonging when uniforms are required. Despite the belief of many parents and teachers, school uniforms don't seem to have any effect on young students' behavior or attendance overall, a new national study found.

Do dress codes violate freedom of expression? ›

When Does the First Amendment Protect What Students Wear to School? Students' right to freedom of expression extends to the messages on their clothes, as long as they aren't disruptive or vulgar. But schools can impose dress codes that aren't meant to silence opinions.


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