Medical Scrubs 101: Where Did They Come From?


Ever wonder why the V-neck short-sleeved shirt and matching pants you see healthcare workers use are called medical scrubs? Have you thought about why they no longer wear white as often as before but wear scrub suits in blue, green, or sometimes pink? How about the cute prints and matching accessories?

You might think it’s a new set of uniforms to differentiate doctors and nurses from other healthcare professions. Or maybe a fashion trend to break the monotony of all-white healthcare settings. But there’s more to doctor’s scrubs aside from their appearance and function.

In truth, scrub suits have an exciting history that goes way back to the early days of surgery. Its transformation involves aprons, draperies, and gowns. It also shifted from surgical attire to one adopted across sterile environments such as hospitals and clinics. 

Curious to know a few facts about the history and evolution of these outfits? Read on to know why they’re called medical scrubs and the science behind the colors and prints chosen by trusted healthcare practitioners.

patient doctor

Butcher’s Aprons, Drapes, and Gowns: The Origin of Scrub Suits 

In the early days, surgeons would roll up their sleeves and don a butcher’s apron over their street clothes before they operate on parents. People didn’t understand germs and infections back then, so the apron pretty much helped minimize blood stains on clothes and nothing else. 

Drapes eventually replaced aprons to provide better protection. It soon transformed into long gowns and were primarily worn by surgeons to shield them, rather than patients, against infection.  

Scrubs were first mentioned in 1894 by Doctor Hunter Robber. He suggested that surgeons use an entirely different wardrobe instead of covering everyday clothes with a sterilized coat and a pair of trousers. He also added that these scrubs should be white to make them easy to clean. In a way, the term ‘scrubs’ meant the rigorous task of removing stains from the surgeon’s clothes.  

White Yet Too Bright 

Increased awareness of wound infection during surgery compelled the need for clean operating rooms. The term ‘scrubs’ was then used to denote clothing and other items used in a ‘scrubbed environment’ or sanitized setting such as the operating room. 

Scrubs were initially white to comply with strict hygiene standards. But the white gowns and bright surgery lights caused eye strain in surgeons and staff. This combination caused a ‘green ghosting effect’ when they shifted their gaze from bloody operations to white backgrounds.

Medical scrubs

Clean And Blue 

By World War I, a French military surgeon by the name of Rene Leriche realized that dirty clothes contained contaminants and posed risks of infection during surgery. He then proposed to use blue-colored clothes and sheets in the operating room. Hospitals across France adopted Dr. Leriche’s color scheme for surgical attire. 

Blue-colored (Ciel) surgical scrubs became more popular when color television debuted in the 1950s. Medical schools used the television for videotaping, and closed-circuit teaching and blue looked good on the TV screen. 

Blue surgical clothes, caps, and gowns eventually made their way to other countries and are popularized by modern medical drama TV shows such as “ER” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”  

With the flu pandemic of 1918, doctors additionally wore masks to protect themselves. William Halstead also developed latex gloves to be used for surgical procedures. Thus, surgical clothing included not only gowns and caps but also masks and gloves.

Surgical Greens: Calm Contrast  

A San Francisco surgeon named Harry Sherman recommended green as an alternative to white scrub suits in 1914. He stated that the color green makes the eyes sensitive to red and pink, the color of blood and tissues common in operating procedures. 

Besides keeping eyes receptive to other colors, green is also said to have a calming effect on patients. Green is associated with life, nature, and peacefulness. Its color can help calm both medical practitioners and patients inside the operating room. 

Surgical greens became popular in the 1970s. It was easy on the eyes, and it made doctors look professional. Over time, scrub suit-wearing transitioned from surgeons and the operating room to other healthcare practitioners such as nurses, dentists, and anyone working in a sterile environment or tending to patients. 

A Pop Of Color And A Dash Of Style

Healthcare workers soon realized the convenience of scrub suits that they became standard in various patient care settings. Scrubs not only minimize cross-contamination in operating rooms. It also maintains sterile environments required for patients to recuperate. 

Scrub suits usually come in a paired V-neck loose shirt and matching loose pants. But recent trends in scrub suit fashion now provide a variety of options for healthcare workers. While scrubs were loose and uniform across genders in the past, now scrubs are offered in various styles and colors that make them both stylish and professional.


Prints And More 

The majority of healthcare workers now wear scrubs whenever they’re in sterile environments. Doctors use them together with their white coats while nurses chose either blue, green, yellow and even pink scrub suits to wear while on duty. 

Medical scrubs are made from durable fabric that makes them easy to wash and comfortable to wear despite long hours of hospital or clinical duty. It also has functional features such as wide pockets to store pens and small instruments. It also has tech-ready attachments to help practitioners efficiently respond to patient needs. 

Warm, relaxing colors and simple designs can also help healthcare personnel establish positive relationships with patients, especially children who are fearful of hospitals, doctors, and nurses. A study conducted in 2009 showed that multi-colored non-conventional nurses’ uniforms help reduce sick children’s discomfort. 

Scrub suit colors and designs indicate the nurses’ competence and reliability to provide adequate care to children. Thus, colored suits can help nurses and even doctors foster positive relationships with young patients.


Medical scrubs have come a long way from butcher’s aprons and draperies. It has evolved from plain white into a rainbow of exciting colors. 

Scrubs help minimize the risk of cross-contamination and uphold hygienic conditions in operating rooms, entire hospitals, and clinics for healthcare workers. They also serve as an innovative blend of personal style and professionalism since they make health workers comfortable and productive while they go about caring for patients. 

Scrubs in tones of greens and blues help surgeons focus on operations and calm patients. Warm colors such as yellow or pink and exciting prints may improve patient and nurse relationships, especially in children. Scrub suits are not only fashion statements in the medical field. These also serve as professional commitments to providing quality care for patients across various settings.