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Home / Articles / Opinion / Editorial /  Uniformity: Why Nurses Should Wear Pressed Uniforms

Uniformity: Why Nurses Should Wear Pressed Uniforms

Postal workers, SWAT teams and pilots have all lost their wardrobe oneness.

By John Rasmuson
Posted // September 22,2010 - Many years have passed since I was dragooned into the Army to fight the Viet Cong. In my time in the military, I was never really a strack soldier. “Strack” was Army slang describing a person of impeccable military bearing. Strack soldiers wore giglined, starched fatigues with spit-shined boots and gleaming brass insignia. Even the surliest first sergeant liked a strack soldier, but even the kindest first sergeant would not tolerate tarnished brass or shoes “polished with a Hershey bar.”

The Army was fixated on uniforms. Being “out of uniform” was a cardinal sin, so in anticipation of almost any event, the first question on everyone’s lips was, “What’s the uniform?” Even calisthenics had prescribed garb, as did commercial airline travel. When you received a written invitation to a social, the uniform was specified in the lower left-hand corner. The first time I got one that said “Dress Blue with four-in-hand tie,” I showed up in my dress blues with a bow tie. I was evidently the only one who didn’t know “four-in-hand” was the knot in a regular necktie. I remember feeling like a mohawk haircut at a Republican caucus.

After leaving the Army, I taught in a private school. The students were required to wear uniforms. They occasionally grumbled about infringement of their right to self-expression, but there was no question that the school reaped benefits from the policy. One of the few disadvantages was that it forced me to play the role of first sergeant. Each morning, I had to inspect the troops and ensure their outfits were compliant. Girls revealing too much skin were marched to the office, where they waited until mom brought a larger size.

If you take into account my years as a boy scout, I have more experience with uniforms than the average guy. I have to admit that the concept has embedded itself in one of my brain’s neural networks. I can’t help myself. I pay attention to uniforms, be they the formal variety worn by policemen and UPS drivers or such informal ones as white shirts on Mormon men, flag pins on politicians’ lapels and messenger bags at the University of Utah.

A lot of what I see gives me pause. Not long ago, I was making my way down the aisle of an airplane at the end of a flight from Chicago. The pilots lingered at the cockpit door to say goodbye to the disembarking passengers. I noticed they were wearing Air Force-lookalike uniforms with Navy-lookalike rank insignia on their epaulets. “What the hell?” I said to myself.

Police SWAT teams are puzzling, too. When I see them on television, they are usually besieging a building. I note they wear forest-camouflage fatigues and bloused boots. “What the hell?” I say to myself. Do these paramilitaries believe foliage-patterned cammies blend in with a concrete and asphalt landscape?

Nurse uniforms raise larger issues. I was idling in St. Mark’s Hospital a few weeks ago, where I noted all the nurses were wearing baggy scrub suits. They looked like Viet Cong in pastels and Nikes. Long gone are the crisp white uniforms that betokened tradition, skill, cleanliness and authority. Nurses don’t realize uniforms are symbolic. The late scholar Joseph Campbell described how a uniform like black judicial robes has a mythic dimension. In a courtroom, you stand to honor the principles the robes symbolize, Campbell said. Unpressed scrubs in pallid colors don’t measure up.

What really fires up my neural network are the hodgepodge uniforms of U.S. Postal Service letter carriers. Through rain, snow, sleet and hail, they dutifully deliver the mail. Some wear shorts; some wear L.L. Bean lumberjack hats, flaps up; and some wear Peruvian hats, flaps down. Pith helmets and straw beach hats are not uncommon in the summer. I have seen mail carriers in galoshes, but a few wear gaiters. Many walk their routes in unpolished Reeboks. Shirt tucked in? Insulated vest? Long underwear and short-sleeved shirt? Sometimes, yes; sometimes no. Taken as a group, they look like a band of guerrillas who have been in the hills too long.

I was surprised to learn that each letter carrier receives a yearly uniform allowance. Clearly, not all of it is spent on official shirts, pants and hats. Some is spent at L.L. Bean or R.E.I., where a weekday hat is sufficiently stylish to do double duty on the weekend. No doubt I am the only one who objects to blue uniforms accessorized by R.E.I. “What the hell?” I say to myself. The USPS needs a first sergeant.

That is definitely not the case in the national parks. Park rangers are strack; they have no choice. Even in 100-degree weather, they wear creased wool pants and felt campaign hats. Privately, they grouse about the strict uniform policies promulgated in Washington, but to my eye, the ranger uniform, has panache. So do the Marine Corps’ dress uniform and that of Salt Lake City motorcycle cops. Medical scrubs come up woefully short. Nurses have swapped tradition and style for utility and comfort. At the USPS, negligent supervisors tolerate employees who routinely compromise their official uniforms. The lapse is lamentable because uniforms add symbolic and cohesive value to organizations.

Uniformity is the real issue. Uniforms sans uniformity is an inherent contradiction. Moreover, an absence of uniformity calls attention to itself as a glaring wardrobe malfunction. To me it is an either/or situation: You either subordinate your individualistic instincts to be a member of a uniformed group or you don’t. You either wear a uniform, or you don’t. As any first sergeant would tell you, there ain’t no middle ground.

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Posted // September 22,2010 at 13:15

This guy obviously has a radical hang-up with uniforms. Maybe he should say "What the hell?" to his nearul transmitters and get them to RELAX


Posted // September 22,2010 at 14:18 - Dude is obviously anal to the max and loves conformity. He'd do well in North Korea, where most of the male population wears uniforms and wears them well. I mean, I know it's important to look your best while killing people, as in Vietnam, but hell. Wonder what uniform he wears at his computer while espousing falsities here on City Weekly?


Posted // September 22,2010 at 10:21

"I was surprised to learn that each letter carrier receives a yearly uniform allowance. Clearly, not all of it is spent on official shirts, pants and hats. Some is spent at L.L. Bean or R.E.I., where a weekday hat is sufficiently stylish to do double duty on the weekend. No doubt I am the only one who objects to blue uniforms accessorized by R.E.I. “What the hell?” I say to myself. The USPS needs a first sergeant."

Wrong! As a letter carriers spouse, it is clear to me that you don't know what you're talking about regarding USPS uniforms.

The allowance carriers receive isn't all that much and if a carrier needs an official USPS coat for the winter, that takes care of the money for the year. In fact, my spouse often spends her own money in addition to the allowance in order to have more than a couple new shirts. Especially considering she needs to replace her official shoes every year. They wear out and are very expensive.

Also, as stated above, the debit card carriers receive will only work at certain shops where stock consists of uniforms for USPS and police officers. No carrier is buying anything at REI or anywhere else with the small allowance they receive.

All letter carriers wear official uniforms. Perhaps you're just not familiar with the various hats and caps available to them that are for certain weather conditions. Or perhaps you're just being ignorant. All carriers must wear official USPS uniforms, including shirts, pants/shorts, and shoes.

Unfortunately, not all carriers take care of their uniforms like they should and look bad because of it.

If you spent your entire day walking in all types of weather, including extreme heat, cold, sleet, snow, freezing rain, etc, you might understand why certain aspects of the uniform vary so much. Different hats serve different purposes. So do jackets and coats and vests and sweaters. So do different weights of pants.

Carriers are able to decide which official items they'll wear for the day. Some wear shorts in the winter while others wear the same thing no matter what. If you've seen a carrier wearing reeboks, or whatever, they've either got a medical condition and a note from the doctor to do so or they changed their shoes after leaving the shop. The official shoes are very hard on the feet. I'm sure you haven't considered the damage done to feet that walk hundreds of miles a month. At one point, my spouse was walking over 120 miles per every ten days of work. Maybe you should try it sometime, try it in the shoes carriers are made to wear, let us know how that works out. Don't forget to weight yourself down with a satchel loaded with 30 or 40 pounds. That feels great on the neck.

If you'd like to see the array of options carriers have regarding uniforms, why not move your fanny from behind your computer and go have a look?

And the comment above regarding carriers not being managed enough is a f*&king joke. You have no idea how heavily micro-managed carriers are.

So, John, seriously, get your butt out in the weather and try wearing some of the items carriers are offered. You'll find that you need to change up your options to suit your particular conditions which includes working around consistent leg and foot pain, or back pain, or shoulder pain, or...

This job has permanently f*&cked my spouse's feet and lower legs. She would love to walk around in some comfortable tennis shoes, but can't. You ever actually pay attention and notice how many carriers walk with a permanent limp? Probably not. You ever walk for ten hours through knee deep snow in heavy, ill-fitting gators or galloshes? No, probably not. Ever walk for ten hours in 100 plus heat, returning often to a vehicle that has no air conditioning and is super heated to 130 degrees? No, probably not.

It is idiotic to compare letter carriers to park rangers, wanting carriers to wear the same woolen uniform for every occassion like they do. Most carriers work hard for a living exposed daily for long hours to extreme temperatures while rangers drive around in air conditioned trucks or work in air conditioned ticket boxes.

Letter carriers are a group that's been "in the woods too long." That's what happens when you work 5 or 6 days a week outside in all weather conditions for 8 to 10 hours a day. So if their uniform bothers you enough to write about it, tough. Remove your mailbox and cancel your service with them. I'm sure your carrier won't mind.


Posted // October 9,2010 at 06:48 - The moron that wrote this article is clearly a moron, how dare you scrutinize the letter carriers. A symbol of your nation that has been carrying mail to and from your mailbox and others just like it without so much as a friendly gesture from an ungrateful customer like you. I see it day in and day out with people constantly griping at the hard working American postal worker while they sit on their asses and wait for their welfare check to come in at the first of the month, and yet somehow you have the audacity to flap your gums about uniformity. You also clearly showed that you know nothing about the uniform system at the postal service, claiming we shop at LL Bean with our meager allowances is ridiculous. If I were your supervisor you would be out on the street looking for a new job for writing such uninformed and misinformed garbage. A man that complains this much about uniforms? Someone here has his priorities really messed up! "Forget the whole idea behind the service, let's just judge people for how we see them". That's all I heard from this bantering jackass.


Posted // September 22,2010 at 07:44


I found the article informative and amusing. I am the GM of a postal uniform company and have to agree that some (not all) of the employees are really stretching the notion of a uniform in what they are wearing. Up until not too long ago this wouldn't have happened, but the management is at fault for not making sure that everyone is wearing what they are supposed to. Some managers still do check, even lining up employees and looking to make sure that there socks are "regulation". FYI, the uniform allowance is on a debit card that will only work at authorized USPS uniform vendors, such as us at, so those wearing non official items are buying them "out of pocket."