Nuts two-piece hospital ensemble

Barbra Streisand wore this two-piece hospital patient uniform in Nuts (1987). This first appears at twenty-seven minutes into the film when we see Claudia among the many other patients in the hospital’s psychiatric ward. Prior to this scene Claudia had worn hospital issued pants under a loose gown with a grey coat and flip flops. There are three total variations of hospital outfits worn in the film. 

In addition to staring in the Nuts, Barbra also composed the score and produced the film under Barwood Films alongside Martin Ritt. To prepare for the role of Claudia, Barbra did in person research by visiting schizophrenic patients in psych wards as well as interviewing prostitutes at a Los Angeles brothel. Barbra’s extensive character research pierced through on screen and in my opinion this was one of the best acting performances of her career. 

Although she received no screen credit for her work on the screenplay, Warner Brothers later publicly acknowledged Barbra’s contribution. In her 2003 commentary she recalled that “I had the most creative time I’ve ever had working with writers. We delivered the script in seven days cause we had great food and we sat around my dining room table for one week and delivered the script to Warner Brothers, so I was very pleased with that process.” She also mentioned that she loved having so few costume changes and fittings while playing Claudia. Not having to constantly have her hair and makeup perfected between takes was a welcome break and allowed her more focus. 

Nuts ended up grossing $31 million, but sadly got harsh reviews from critics. At the 1988 Golden Globes the film was nominated for Best Motion Picture-Drama but lost to The Last Emperor. Barbra and Richard Dreyfuss were also nominated for acting awards but went home empty handed which still shocks me.

Costumes for Nuts were designed by Joe I. Tompkins, who garnered two Oscar nominations during his career and won two Emmy Awards. Below is his original sketch of this costume which resides in the archives of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Claudia’s button up hospital top and pants would have provided her a bit more modestly and dignity than just a gown. She first wears it with a bulky grey cardigan and in the following scene with a blue seersucker robe. The pale blue set features a dense blue floral dotted motif which is one of the most common seen in hospital wear.

There is a notched collar and wide cuffs on both the top and pants. The set sold at auction in 2009 for $687.50. 

The first hospital gown was designed over 100 years ago in order to be used on patients admitted the night prior to surgery whom were sedated before transfer to the anesthetic room. The first iterations had a design featuring an open back which is often still used today. 

A 1920’s hospital gown

On August 9th, 1920 Elizabeth Mcelroy filed a patent for her updated design of the hospital gown. A portion of the record of her filing states that “The invention relates to hospital gowns and has for its object to provide a gown which may be opened at various places particularly in cases of operation so that any portion of the body may be reached without exposing the entire body. The gowns now in use in hospitals are of a conventional construction and therefore when an operation is performed a considerable portion of the body is exposed, therefore the primary object of the invention is to obviate this disadvantage and at the same time so construct the gown so that a very small portion of any part of the body will be exposed during an operation.”

“From the above it will be seen that a gown is provided which obviates the use of conventional form of gown now in use for operating purposes, wherein a considerable portion of the body is exposed during an operation and it will also be seen that a gown is provided which is simply constructed and one wherein any portion of the body may be exposed for operating purposes, without exposing unnecessary amount of the body. The gown being adapted for use where operations are performed on men, women and children.”

Due to convenience for doctors the hospital gown design has changed very little over the years. Hospitals have recently become more open to improving the patient experience which includes not having them feel like their identity had been stripped away or putting them in an exposed gown. In 2007 Cleveland Clinic reached out to Diane von Furstenberg to redesign their gowns which were released in 2010. They became so popular with patients that they often snuck them home.

The DVF hospital gown

Designers Nicole Miller and Cynthia Rowley have also had their hand at designing modern and fashionable hospital gowns. Many hospitals have now adapted less revealing styles of the standard gown which feature front tying and button closures. There is also a wide selection of fashionable hospital gowns available online which meet doctor’s standards and can be brought in by the patient themselves.