Imagine this: You’re sitting in an exam room, waiting to meet your new doctor—and when he or she walks in, they’re wearing a T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. Would how they’re dressed affect your impression of them? Could you trust a dressed-down physician?
There’s a fascinating story on the BBC today. that talks about the changing fashion facade of the medical industry. Six years ago, the British National Health Service enacted a dress code that forbade doctors from wearing dangling ties, long sleeves, and watches—not for fashion’s sake, but with the aim of preventing cross-contamination between patients and within hospital walls. Since then, consultants have noticed—and received plenty of feedback—that patients are confused… because the medical field’s more traditional sartorial signifiers (lab coat, pocket protector) are no longer immediately apparent.
“I hear that patients complain that they do not know who the doctor is: no tie, no white coat, no jacket, and no presence,” hospital consultant Stephanie Dancer recently wrote in the British Medical Journal. “Doctors are members of a distinguished profession and should dress accordingly.”
This got me thinking: With the increasing casual-ization of the workplace—it’s all about business casual these days, it seems, and even open-toe shoes, a former corporate no-no, are considered okay in most offices—how far can professional fashion non-conformism go?
On the extreme end, there are uniformed careers—law enforcement, public safety, emergency healthcare workers, and more. There’s probably not a lot of leeway there—I mean, unmarked police cars are confusing enough, I’m probably not going to answer the door to some guy dressed head-to-toe in Affliction, even if he’s flashing a badge.
Same goes for uniformed company representatives. When my cable guy or maintenance person comes over, I would feel kind of uneasy if he’d traded his company jacket for the latest looks from Abercrombie & Fitch.
I feel really lucky to work in an industry where individualism is prized and celebrated—I turned up for my first New York fashion media internship in a teal sateen Topshop dress, a Margiela biker jacket, and wearing my then-bleached hair in a half-shaved faux-hawk… and no one even batted an eye. But I do have some experience with dress codes. Check this out: a few years ago, I went to flight attendant school and actually worked a flight from New York to Fort Lauderdale on Song Airlines (now re-absorbed back into Delta) –
What if flight attendants dispensed with uniforms? What if you could just wear whatever you wanted to work those 14-hour overnights? Would that be confusing?
Uniforms aside, there are plenty of jobs that seem to come along with a certain level of wardrobe expectation. Like, say, teachers—probably best to leave those trendy crop-tops at home?—and lawyers (no leggings in the courtroom, please?).