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Could there be a dress code for ODs?


Dress for success. We’ve heard this tired old cliché for years. Most offices have a written dress code for staff, but does that dress code also apply to the doctors?

The views expressed here belong to the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Optometry Times or UBM Medica.

Dress for success. We’ve heard this tired old cliché for years. Most offices have a written dress code for staff, but does that dress code also apply to the doctors?

Over the course of my career, my offices have tried everything-scrubs, dress clothes, business casual-anything short of T-shirts and shorts and only then because I didn’t want my office confused with the local Hooters. We tried the optical staff dressing one way while the technical staff wore scrubs, all the while I came traipsing into the clinic in whatever I felt like wearing that day, usually decided by what was clean in the closet. I felt as long as I stayed on this side of Lady Godiva or The Emperor, I was safe. I liked scrubs. The ophthalmologist I first worked for had everyone wear scrubs, including the professional staff, and I liked working in pajamas.

I gravitated for a while to the opposite end of the clothing spectrum. I wore three-piece suits, swapping out the blazer once at the office for an angel-white, freshly pressed clinic jacket with enough starch to stand on its own in the corner. I abandoned that attire once I realized I was walking around the clinic like Lurch of the Addam’s family.

Previously from Dr. Bowling: Why I’m thankful for optometric conferences


I’m quite certain my time at my alma mater’s teaching clinic finally broke me of caring about a dress code. There, all the male attendings had to wear dress shirts, ties, and full-length lab coats. This was how the attendings were distinguished from the interns-the length of their lab coats. The lab coats I could tolerate but not the ties.

I’ve come to hate ties. I recall N. Nicholas Taleb’s advice about ties: “Never take advice from anyone in a tie.” Absolutely none of my patients ever came in wearing one, so I figured I could also get by without the accessory. And because lab coats themselves have been found to be “vehicles for bacterial dissemination,”1 I felt it was in the best interests of my patients to abandon these as well.

After all these years of vacillating about my clinic attire, these days I pretty much wear whatever I please, as long as it is clean and pressed-and no starch. Surprisingly, my patients comment most on my clothes always being pressed. Plus, the old adage that people judge you by your look to the contrary, if my patients are coming to see me because of my attire, they’re coming for the wrong reason.

Related: Clinical laboratory testing in optometry: Next frontier

So, doctors, what is your personal dress code? This oughta be a good conversation. Feel free to let me know how you adorn yourself.


1. Banu A, Anand M, Nagi N. White coats as a vehicle for bacterial dissemination. J Clin Diagn Res. 2012 Oct;6(8):1381-4.

Read more from Dr. Bowling here

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