Doctors are not typically known as fashion icons. In fact, let’s just get this out of the way. Most doctors are actually not fashionable at all. Yes, I’m sure you can tell me about Dr. So-and-so who always looks like an arrival from fashion week, who teeters around the hospital in heels, whose tie collection is legendary (let’s include the men, too). There are also the TV shows where the ultra-modern medical office is nothing but an arena for sex, drama and incredible dresses! (For the record I’ve long been a junkie for these shows). But for every shining star of the medical runway, I bet you can find more than a few pants of questionable length (and decade), polyester skirt suits worn with sensible shoes, sweat-stained shirts long since ready for the trash. Even those of us who fancy ourselves au courant just might have in the closet a few donation-worthy gems that come out into the workday rotation from time to time. As I once tweeted, “A long white coat hides many a fashion don’t.”
I’ve been thinking about fashion a lot lately for a few reasons. First, the change of seasons means examining the under bed bins packed with fall and winter woolens (at least here in New England) and switching over the closet space. Also, a friend of mine recently hired one of those clothing consultants who go through your closet and help decide what to keep, what else you should buy and how to make new outfits from your old pieces. As I contemplated this service, I concluded she’d be done with my closet in about 10 minutes. I love clothes and fashion, but my job doesn’t exactly demand my style be cutting-edge. Why?
- It’s not expected. I’m actually surprised at how many studies on this topic have been published. You can read about patients’ preferences and attitudes regarding doctors’ appearances. Generally surveys of patients indicate a more conservative appearance is preferred. Nothing wild, nothing provocative, no crazy hair colors. Some organizations may have rules about visible tattoos and piercings. Open-toed shoes aren’t allowed in clinical settings, limiting a lot of summer shoe options. That’s not to say we should be boring, but most patients aren’t here to check out what new clothes the doc is wearing. Our wardrobe must be neat, clean and not distracting.
- We don’t have time to shop. We’re busy. That pair of pants may have been great in the 90’s but they still fit and, well, what’s wrong with them? We have other things to think about, like stamping out disease, getting CMEs and doing insurance preauthorizations. We’re more likely to read NEJM than Vogue. We’re also goal-oriented. “I need a new blue shirt and a pair of grey pants.” We run into the mall, find our items, run out. You think I’m kidding? I have more than a few doctor friends with this mindset! I know, I can’t believe it either!
- Comfort! We got used to wearing pajamas at work. I’m jealous of anesthesiologists and ER docs. Remember as a resident, wearing scrubs all the time? If we were doing an inpatient rotation, we were allowed to wear scrubs on call and post-call days but weren’t allowed to wear scrubs to the clinic. It’s kind of like school uniforms. It used to be so easy! We like our comfort. Take the prevalence of Dansko clogs. Oh so comfortable and oh so clunky. I love ‘em! My above-mentioned fashionable friend begs me not to leave the house with them on my feet! Once I was all dressed up in my “lady shoes” (what I call heels, dress shoes, anything not flats or clogs) for a presentation and a podiatrist said to me, “Keep wearing shoes like that and you’ll be seeing me soon!”
- It might be OK to wear theme clothes. I’m not around pediatricians much these days. Do you still wear “fun” clothes? Is a teddy bear sweater appropriate anywhere else but peds clinic or a preschool classroom? What about holiday pins? Don’t forget to take off your spooky ghost Halloween pin and earrings before going to that dinner meeting!
- Work can be messy. I’ve had to throw some things out due to workplace contamination – and this is Rheumatology! Granted, a business person or attorney might spill coffee or lunch or ink on a nice suit, but not blood or sputum or vomit! (Usually). Trying to move limbs and position patients is hard to do in shorter skirts. The white coat is protective, but also hot. Heavier sweaters, anything with embellishments/bows, longer necklaces and more are all hidden behind the coat. Granted, there are many docs who don’t wear a white coat. I just can’t figure out where to put my pen and stethoscope! Men have the ease of a sport coat. I’m jealous again!
- We’re nerds. Admit it. Just a little? How’d you get to and through med school without being a little bit of a science nerd? Hey, it’s OK! You can even claim “geek chic” if you want. Dress codes are quite, er, relaxed when it comes to spending a lot of time in the lab. Part of being a little nerdy is there can actually be some self-confidence with it. “I like what I like, I wear what I want to wear and what’s it to you” kind of thing. We’ve had to be nonconformists to get here and if that extends to our fashion choices, so be it!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to dive back into my closet and reconsider those yellow faux snakeskin clogs I thought were “fun” and “different” and try on that skirt I distinctly recall wearing on my medical school surgery rotation!