The Case for Dress Codes

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Doctors who wear casual or revealing clothing are a turn-off to patients, according to research cited in an article in today's New York Times. "In a study published last year in The American Journal of Medicine, patients surveyed in one outpatient clinic overwhelmingly preferred doctors photographed in formal attire with a white coat to photos of doctors in scrubs... and informal clothes — jeans and a T-shirt for men, an above-the-knee skirt for women," the Times reports.

A patient's comfort level, the article asserts, is no small matter. It translates into their willingness to share intimate or embarrassing information vital to health care—information that is psychological or sexual in nature, for example. Some plaintiffs' attorneys have begun to cite doctors' attire in malpractice claims.

And yet, despite patient preference and other compelling reasons for dressing up, author Erin Marcus, an assistant professor at the University of Miami's medical school, claims that more and more young doctors are slumming it at work. "Among older and middle-aged physicians (like myself), tales of salacious and sloppy trainee attire abound," Marcus observes. "One Midwestern medical school dean reported that her school instituted a formal dress policy after administrators noticed students revealing too much flesh while sunbathing on a small patch of grass outside the school building, directly below patients' hospital room windows."

This article focuses on the medical field, but I think there's a simmering tension in the broader business community over workplace attire. During the dot-com boom, it was a badge of honor to wear T-shirts or shorts to work. A rethinking of office standards (or a backlash if you will) has been building for some time. Does your company have a dress code? Do you think that how you dress affects a customer's perception of you enough to affect your business? Or do you believe that part of the bargain of working in an entrepreneurial environment (unlike a hospital) is a looser set of standards on all matters, including style of dress?

Further reading:

The article, which is accompanied by some amusing photos, can be found at this link.

For fashion tips, visit the Sartorialist blog here.

Last updated: Nov 21, 2006




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