"I 'm so cheap," moaned my dear friend Kathleen, who has been nursing for ten years. "I wear whatever scrubs I can find in a thrift store, usually the classic grey-green or dark blue. Once, I scored a cargo pants scrub set that I loved and I wore out. A few of the nurses I work with still wear all white, and it looks very sharp, and it amazes me at how they look crisp and clean throughout the workday. I have a gift for dodging flying bodily fluids, so I stay fairly clean, but I like to wear some color." Kathleen's birthday is coming up, and she's been working hard supporting her family for eight years while her husband has gone back to medical school. I'd like to surprise her with a brand-new pair of scrubs, so I hit the phones last week for some info on the outfit.

The first thing I was curious about was why scrubs have that unfitted design? "The simpler the better, because you are dealing with patients that are sick," explained the saleslady at Ace Uniforms downtown. "As for the design of the scrub, I am assuming it is because that is what fits men best, because scrubs started out only being for men. Up until the 1900s, when they came out with this design, most doctors were men. Now they are getting more fitted for women."

Which doctors wear scrubs?

"Usually the surgeons wear the scrubs and the regular family practice doctors are the ones that wear the lab coat with day clothes underneath."

Why the grey-green color?

"I think that came from the military. Years ago, whenever you went to hospitals, they were still wearing white. But at the Navy hospitals they were wearing green and then soon it caught on at the other hospitals. I think it kind of hides the stains better."

The Ace Uniform saleslady said that cotton scrubs are not popular anymore. "More people are buying the poly-cotton scrub which is 65 percent polyester, 35 percent cotton," she offered. "You don't have to iron it and the stains come out easier."

"Scrubs used to be just straight-legged, unisex," she continued. Now there are so many vendors selling different scrubs. When you're shopping for scrubs, try and buy the best that you can. There is one brand called L.A. Rose and it is made for women. It is a mid-rise, it comes right under the belly button, but the crotch is higher, better fitting for women, and they are flare-legged. Dickies is another great uniform scrub. Their product sells itself; it's very durable, and it lasts a long time. Dickies just came out with a men's scrub bottom with a zipper, something you never see. S.C.R.U.B.S. brand is another great scrub, a bit softer than the Dickies scrub and durable.

"A lot of the hospitals now do their own laundry," she added, "and they provide the scrubs for the doctors. So the doctors have the option to buy their own if they want printed scrubs or different styles, or use the hospital scrubs."

Prices at Ace Uniform range from $11.99 a piece on up to $26.99 . There are also a lot of sets for $18.99 .

The saleslady encouraged me to call Smart Scrubs in Grossmont Center. Angie Johnson, manager at Smart Scrubs, gave me a few more tips with scrubs. "The design of our S.C.R.U.B.S. brand came about through a full-time nurse who got tired of wearing plain white uniforms, which were stiff and hard," said Johnson. "So she decided to start to make her own scrub and then pretty soon other nurses also liked them and she was making them for everybody else. So she's the founder of the company.

"You can get the scrub top with one pocket, which is the basic. You can get the two-pocket or the three-pocket. The big super one-pocket is a big seller. What we are hearing is that a lot of the professionals don't like a lot of pockets on the top. They like to have the pockets on the cargo pants. Also men seem to prefer drawstring pants, whereas the women like the drawstring with the elastic or just the elastic pants.

"Our most popular scrubs among the younger nurses is our Dickies brand because they are a little more tapered, more stylish, and they have a shorter top whereas all S.C.R.U.B.S. brand tops are pretty long."

What about prints?

"We have a lot of variety," continued Johnson, "so if you are working in Children's Hospital, you can come here and get Dora or the Rugrats. Or for a veterinary hospital, we have horses and dog prints. And for convalescent homes, we have flowers. So we carry a lot of prints for all the different types of work. A big seller is our scrub that has San Diego printed on it and also our Padres scrub. But mostly they want the forest green, or our le ceil blue, which is a bit darker than a powdered blue, or the loden color which is like an olive green."

Johnson said their scrub pants cost from $24.95 up to $35.95 . Their scrub tops start between $24.95 and can go up to $34.95 .

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