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June 9, 2003

On the Value of an Old Dress Code in the New Millennium

Arch Intern Med. 2003;163(11):1277-1281. doi:10.1001/archinte.163.11.1277

AS I WAS preparing to deliver my annual lecture to the second-year medical students, I looked out over the audience and realized that the attendees looked different from those in years past: there were a substantial number of women (compared with 5% in my class); some students were unkempt and slouched, reading nonmedical material (as opposed to the bolt-upright, fearful, and attentive position in my day); and none of the men was wearing a tie or white shirt (an integral part of the uniform of the serious student up to the 1970s). Obviously, these men and women were not aware of or chose to ignore Hippocrates' advice that the physician should "be clean in person, well-dressed, and anointed with sweet smelling unguents."1 I looked again at these differences and wondered, "Does it matter?" To answer this question, I reviewed the available literature in several electronic databases using search words such as "dress code," "professional attire," "physician attitudes," "white coat," and "clothing." Thirty-one articles were chosen to explore whether, reference to gender aside, the old adage "clothes make the man" still contains a measure of truth, and whether our patients actually feel comforted when they are approached by a medical person in formal rather than casual attire.

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