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The history of medical scrubs is closely tied to the evolution of medical understanding, particularly in the areas of hygiene and infection control.

Early Days

In the early days of surgery, there were no standardized outfits for surgeons or nurses. Surgeons would often operate in their regular clothing or sometimes in aprons, without much concern for sterility. The focus was more on quick completion of surgical procedures rather than on preventing infection.

Introduction of Antiseptics

The game-changer in this field was the introduction of antiseptic techniques by Joseph Lister in the late 19th century. Lister’s pioneering work emphasized the importance of cleanliness and sterility in surgical procedures. This led to a shift in how surgical rooms and surgical attire were considered, making way for sterilizable gowns and drapes made of materials like muslin or cotton.

White Uniforms

Originally, the standard attire for medical professionals was white — a color chosen to signify cleanliness. However, white is also associated with glare, which can be a problem under the bright lights of an operating room. Moreover, constantly seeing blood and other bodily fluids on white garments could be disconcerting for both patients and healthcare providers.

Transition to Green and Blue

By the mid-20th century, it was understood that colors like green or blue were easier on the eyes under bright lights and helped to reduce eye strain for surgeons. These colors also made it less obvious when the garments were stained, which could help put patients at ease.

Scrubs Introduced

Medical scrubs, which are simpler and easier to move in than traditional surgical gowns, were introduced in the 1970s. The name “scrubs” comes from the practice of “scrubbing in” — thoroughly washing the hands and arms with antiseptic soap before surgery. Scrubs became the standard for all types of healthcare professionals, not just surgeons, and were easier to sterilize than traditional gowns.

Modern Trends

Today, scrubs come in various colors, designs, and fits, allowing healthcare providers to express some individuality while also adhering to institutional or departmental codes. They’re made from advanced fabrics that are more resistant to stains and bacteria, and there are even antimicrobial scrubs. Pockets, loops, and other functional design elements have been incorporated to make the garments more practical for modern medical needs.

Thus, medical scrubs have evolved significantly over the years, reflecting changes in medical knowledge, technological advances in textile production, and cultural shifts in how healthcare professionals present themselves.