Throwback Thursday: Rise of the pantsuit: For 1971 nurses, it was 'infinitely preferable to the mini'

By Kristy Bleizeffer Aug 14, 2014

In 1971, patients of Natrona County Memorial Hospital got a front-line view to a major societal shift: The rise of the women's pantsuit. And it was a big enough deal to warrant this feature package in the Casper Star-Tribune. 

Casper Star-Tribune, April 23, 1971. Click to enlarge.

Casper Star-Tribune, April 23, 1971. Click to enlarge.

The Casper Star-Tribune covered the rise of the pantsuit at Natrona County Memorial Hospital will a full-feature spread.

The Casper Star-Tribune covered the rise of the pantsuit at Natrona County Memorial Hospital with a full-feature spread.

Mrs. Anne Carpenter, director of nursing, told reporter Fran Pedry that pantsuits were "infinitely preferable to the mini (skirt)," but she had hoped that the midi skirt (which fell to the knee or lower) would be the fashion trend that caught on.

Nursing uniforms historically resembled nun habits and later were adopted from military uniforms worn by nurses in World War I. Memorial Hospital nurses wore the quintessential white dress and cap well into the 1960s.

But by 1971, Carpenter recognized there was little sense in trying to swim against the trendy tide. "I don't think you can legislate fashion," she told the Star-Tribune. "And I vividly remember when I was a young girl and the skirts were short, if you wore something long you felt like your grandmother's aunt!"

Pantsuit style, as described in these photo cutlines, was as fashionable as it was versitle.

Nurses and aids could choose from the one-piece jumpsuit, the two-piece tunic, a "quick-zip two-piece tricot knit" pantsuit suitable for bending and stretching, or the aptly named "Medico" as shown in the top right photo. "The wash 'n' wear qualities of many of the pantsuits also appeal to women in the nursing fields," one cutline read.

Carpenter did set some pantsuit rules:

  • Uniforms had to be a matched suit and not, say, a pair of slacks with a blouse.
  • Fabric had to be opaque (not see through).
  • Nurses had to wear white hosiery under their pantsuit which, as any woman who's ever worn hosiery under pants can attest, must have been THE WORST.
  • And, most importantly, nurses had to use common sense: "I appeal to their own good sense as to what they look best in. They know what is becoming to them and should dress accordingly," Carpenter said in the article.

So, what was Mrs. Carpenter's beef with the mini anyway? The same beef felt by human resource departments and school principals for decades: The knowledge that wherever there is a dress code, there are people there to test its limits.

"If I say an inch above the knee," Carpenter told the paper, "the first thing you know they are three inches above the knee."

 #ThrowbackThursday is a weekly series celebrating Wyoming Medical Center’s long and rich history in Natrona County. Special thanks to the Casper College Western History Center which archives the vast Wyoming Medical Center collection of newspaper articles, photographs and other memorabilia.

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