Sunday, January 10, 2016

Nurse Caps - The Cupcake

At one time there were 4,000 three year diploma nursing schools in this country, each with it's own specific style of cap. This nurse is proudly wearing her Bellvue cupcake cap, so called because of it's resemblance to an inverted cupcake. I've been fortunate to work with a few cupcake capped nurses and they were all really good nurses. Maybe that accounts for my fondness of this type of cap.

I don't know if this is a valid observation, but I've always thought of the cupcake style cap as an East cost phenomenon. Lots of cupcakes to be found in New England, but moving Westward, the folded flat (my crude term) seems to take over. I actually wrote a post about the way a flat square of Argo starched cotton was folded into a cap at our school (nurses cap folding - an ancient tutorial.)  The unique aspect of our folded flat was that it had to be worn parallel to the face or you were in for a heap of demerits. Yes, at uniform inspections our caps were measured at the top corner and bottom to make certain that it was parallel to your face.

A cupcake cap wearer explained to me that there were some valid reasons for wearing the cap on the back of the head and parallel to the face. It seems that she had the had the unfortunate experience of having her top of the head cupcake cap fall off at inappropriate times such as during clinical procedures like dressing changes or catheterizations. If the cap was positioned on the back of the head it could not fall off onto the wound or get dunked in a bedpan. Another reason for the back of the head positioning was to help prevent bumping into overhead traction or ceiling mounted IV racks.

There were various permutations of the cupcake cap ranging from the beautiful domed Bellvue cupcake to a flat sort of pancake style cupcake. Some schools even got fancy and added a black band to the cupcake. This frilly banded cupcake is really over the top. A nurse wearing a cap like this really commanded respect and was probably quick to put a foolish folded flat capped nurse in her place. I don't think I would put up much of an argument with a nurse wearing a banded cupcake.

 It looks like this black band even has an elastic-like quality to it that would hold it in place. Often times with the folded flat cap nurses  would have to add a thin bead of Surgiube or Lubafax to the band to hold it in place. This trick worked every time.

One of problems encountered with the cupcake was  how to secure it to your head. White bobby pins worked well with the folded flat, but would distort the symmetry of a cupcake cap.  Bobby pins were really noticeable on the cupcake cap and  messed up the aesthetics. The short rimmed cupcakes ( actually pancakes) even lacked enough surface area for the bobby pin.

This problem was easily resolved with the use of a "brain patch" which was a square piece of cotton slightly smaller than the diameter of the cupcake. A square piece of Telfa also worked well as a brain patch. The brain patch was secured to the hair with bobby pins and then a long white hat pin was threaded through the cupcake under a corner of the brain patch.  The long pins were usually threaded on both sides of the cap to secure it. The cupcake below is shown  with the pin to secure it under the brain patch.

We were never permitted to wear nursing caps unless on duty in the hospital. This required wearers of the folded flat caps to use unwieldy cap carriers. Cap carriers always littered the break rooms and sometimes would provoke an argument if you picked up the wrong one. Nursing caps frequently were heavily scented with cigarette smoke and other unsavory hospital smells. It was not prudent to go around sniffing caps or cap carriers.

Cup cakes often had the advantage over folded flats when it came to these transport issues. Some of the less fancy ones could be flattened and easily carried without the use of a cap carrier.

It seems to me like about the mid 1970's nurses started looking for reasons to abandon their caps. Orthopedic nurses claimed that caps were always in the way because of overhead traction apparatus, ICU nurses complained about ceiling mounted IV racks, and psych nurses claimed that caps intimidated their patients. By the mid 1980's cap wearing was made optional at many facilities and in the mid 90's, I think caps disappeared for good. I think what really did the cap in was an attitude issue on the part of nurses. Diploma nurses were socialized into believing the cap was the ultimate reward a nurse could receive; more important than even fiscal consideration. This was a real boon to hospital administrators with payroll cost. Caps were relatively cheap. Nurses began to realize a cap did not really help them buy food or housing and began receiving fair wages. Young nurses thought caps represented a servitude mentality which they probably did.  A whippersnapperrn once summed up nurses caps nicely saying "respect the nurse cap , heck yes - wear a nurses cap, hell no."


  1. No caps in my LVN program(grad '80); in my RN program we could wear them or not. I NEVER did. Hated the damn things...
    In the early-ish 2000s I met a young someone who did the whole nursey thing... white dress (never pants), stockings, shoes AND cap ~ she was quite a sight!
    Her story was that she worked in an old folks home, and that the oldsters appreciated the full-on nursey attire... makes sense.
    I always wore white pants, but I loved the colorful scrub tops.

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  3. A drip coffee filter can be used to replicate the cupcake nurse's cap in a pinch. We did it all the time when we forgot our cap

    1. I wonder if the reverse is true. Could a cupcake cap be used as a coffee filter? It was panic city if we ran out of coffee or filters. We always kept an old percolater pot around as back up if there were no filters.

      Montefiore Hospital here in Pittsburgh provided all the free coffee a nurse could drink which was a huge benefit.

  4. Caps were still mandatory at the ADN program from which I graduated in 1989.i went to work at Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte. Presby was one of the few hospitals that still required a cap. Nurses got marked off on their evaluator for not wearing them.

  5. I liked caps because they were such an ingrained symbol of nursing culture. I was the only guy in my class and the girls were always badgering me to wear a cap. I managed to dodge the issue until my classmates took advantage of my love of liver pate' smeared on rye crackers. While at one of our many teas one of my colleagues distracted me with an entire silver platter of delicious crackers. As I was distracted a cap was popped on my unsuspecting head and the flash of a camera snapped in my face. The picture was front and center in our yearbook.

  6. I am not a wealthy woman, having made many poor choices in life, but still feeling kind of rich raising two kids as a single mother on an RN’s wages by myself. Still, now that my kids are grown and financially independent, I would pay a small fortune to see that pic.