Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dressed to Kill

Several months ago, when I was still a fellow, I had a totally embarrassing interaction with my attending:

I had just finished seeing a patient with him and when we were done, he ushered me into his office, closed the door behind him, and instructed me to sit down.

"Listen," he said. "There's something I need to tell you."

"Okay," I said, perplexed.

"Now I know this is going to sound hypocritical coming from someone who badly needs a haircut," he said. At this point, I was starting to panic. I was wondering what the hell was wrong with me. Was there some odor I wasn't aware of?? "But when you're an attending, you have to be very professional about the way you dress."

"Oh," I said. Now I was confused. I don't exactly dress classy, but I don't walk around in jeans or anything. I thought I looked okay.

"A patient made a comment to me in the past," he said, "that he could see your stomach under your shirt."

I was shocked. Trust me, I don't dress racy. I wasn't walking around in a midriff, if that's what you're thinking. At that very moment, I was wearing: tan khaki slacks that were probably at least two sizes too big, an off-yellow polo shirt that fell well below the belt-line, and a "granny sweater" that I inherited from my great aunt (my mother put it in my closet and it's ugly but warm). If I were dressed any less sexy, I could have joined an Amish community.

I had no idea what the offending outfit was, but I suspect what happened (on analyzing and overanalyzing the situation and mostly being pissed at the patient) is that the pants I was wearing were too big and the belt I was probably wearing to hold them up was too big. (I have stomach issues and thus feel sick when I wear pants that fit snugly around the waist.) And perhaps the combination of that and a normal-length shirt created a temporary gap when I raised my arms to examine the patient. A similar thing happened to me when I was pregnant, because all maternity shirts show off ridiculous cleavage.

However, it's true that I don't know how to dress. My mother, also a physician, was a notorious bad dresser who wore sneakers to work and got called out several times by her boss. But she loves to buy me clothes and I think may be under the misconception that I'm still growing, so she only buys me insanely colorful shirts in Large for my 110 pound frame.

And of course, through most of my medical training, I was desperately poor and clothes are expensive. When I shop at a non-discount clothing store, I feel ill and wonder what sort of person can afford to pay $50 for one shirt. So I shop at places like Target, where the clothes are still more expensive than you'd think. I bought the majority of my wardrobe when I started my MS3 year and had been clinging to it till it got so worn out, a strong breeze might have rendered me naked. (Take that, prudish patient!)

After my attendings comment, however, I did make some changes:

1) I got all my pants hemmed. I'm not sure what sort of gigantic Amazon woman pants are constructed for, but my pants were all several inches too long and I was wearing them rolled up. Now I just automatically add $10 to the cost of pants for hemming costs.

2) I got new shoes. After spending the year walking two miles to work and back in my loafers, I had a dire situation going on. When you look into your shoe and see sunlight peeking through, you know it's time for new shoes.

3) I invested in a few new shirts. The finest garments Target had to offer.

I still don't feel well dressed though. Some women always seem to look classy and chic, but I might need some sort of Tim Gunn intervention in order to get to that level. I guess as long as nobody is complaining, I'm happy.


  1. Most people can't afford to shop at department stores. That's why so many families are drowning in debt. Thrift stores have reasonable prices, if you can bring yourself to enter one.

    I finally realized that I can sew a shirt that I like faster than I can shop for one.

  2. I totally feel your pain, Fizzy. A few tips:

    I spend a lot of money on my pants. However they seem to last 10 years or so with relatively heavy use, so I don't worry about the expense too much. Each pair has been TOTALLY WORTH EVERY SINGLE PENNY!!!

    Shirts are a different story. Why is it that "professional" shirts for women either a) have gaping holes between buttons so people can see your boobies, b) are too so that if you reach up *at all* the belly is exposed, or c) are cut so tight in the shoulders that I feel I can't move all day? And for $50 a shirt (that I pit out and ruin almost instantly I might add), I feel like I'm wasting my money. I wear undershirts (this helps -- Target Exhilaration brand found in the pajama section is the only way to go with these), and sweaters. I hate button downs.

  3. You can look great without spending lots of money. It's all about how your clothes fit. Just the hemming made a great big difference, right? Add the good looking shoes and even bigger difference. Check out this website (no affiliation, nothing for me so I won't type it as a link, I just found it, tried it and really like it) called www(dot)MissusSmartyPants(dot)com You find out which body type you are, then what you should shop for and even where. Even what shirts, how much they cost, if they are on sale or not, etc. Great way to build a good wardrobe on a budget. Hope you have time to take a look. Patients will want their doctor to look neat and put together (not expensive).

  4. OMDG: There was a time when the big "style" was short dress shirts. Men don't understand that certain styles become popular and it becomes impossible to find something that isn't in the stupid style that you hate. Believe me, the last thing I want is to expose my belly at work.

    Lynette: I'll try that site. Hemming has made a world of a difference.

  5. As a complete aside, you should do a "guess the specialty" comic based on how the doctor is dressed.

  6. Fizzy- yes, that "current style" overload is a huge problem! For example, high-waisted pants and empire dresses/shirts both make me look very dumpy and ill-kept.. but that's all I can find right now. I pretty much have to go to a thrift store for clinical clothes, even if I'm willing to spend more money.

  7. I used to have a similar problem. My mom buys me clothes ALL the time (still!) and they are usually Large and I wear extra small sometimes (when I shop for myself that is), so I feel your pain. And I also don't want to offend my mother, so I try to incorporate her clothes into my wardrobe.
    Here is what worked for me. Do you have a friend who dresses well? or at least someone whom you trust and you LIKE how she dresses? I found 1 friend like that (actually, she made a comment about my pants during a work function and how she wants to help me get a new wardrobe). She started a revolution in my life. We went shopping together. I ended up not buying much (strict budget here), but she did show me how to mix and match, told me which pants looked flattering on me and which didn't, which stores' cut fit me better than others (like I know Express doesn't fit me well in the shoulders, almost every blouse and skirt), but BCBG works extremely well. Shoes were the same way. I learned all the terminology: hem lines, tall, long, short, petite, etc and shopping got easier online. I am still a "student" in this, but it has gotten a lot easier. Also, Glamour just came out with a new edition (it's like $5) on how to dress well any time, classically and anywhere (any season). They have divided the magazine into "shape" sections and what outfits and "staple" items you should always have in your closet, no matter what the fashion is. I love it. It was also big help. I would also recommend In Style Magazine. I subscribe to it and you can see all the latest fashion - not much reading there. I usually only have time to breeze through it during breakfast and it's my daily dose of fashion. I have learned a lot over the last few months. :) [it goes without saying I'm not affiliated with either mags, just advice here]

    Not sure you wanted all this, but thought I would let you know that you're not alone and you are right, it's not easy to dress well, but with a few adjustments, you will be very successful.

    Good luck!!! :)))

  8. Your piece reminded me that I need to go shopping before I start my job as an attending in a few weeks. FWIW, my fashion staples are a good haircut and cool glasses. A white coat is handy for hiding various clothing snafus, such as when your baby spits up on your shoulder right before you walk out the door.

  9. Liana -- That is a great idea!! Fizzy, I hope you do this!

  10. My "trick" is to basically wear the same outfit everyday, just in different colors and maybe with new accessories. I bought several pairs of the same perfect-fitting pants in khaki, black, navy and dark red and then several of the same basic but quality shirt, again in different colors.

    I dress it up with scarves and belts if I get the inclination. It's not too exciting but my clothes always fit well and I always look work-appropriate.

    Also, I've found that in the long run, I spend less money this way, as I have everything all planned out and never buy random clothes I don't end up wearing.

  11. I dress like Dr. Katie: slacks in black, navy, khaki and various twin sets. The tops do need to be replaced every few years as they wear out and start to look dated.

    Scarves add the chic factor.

    Talbots and Ann Taylor on sale have very consistent sizing so you can go in, buy, and try on at home to confirm fit.

    Plus I have two teen aged daughters to yea or nay my outfits which helps.

  12. IMO, button down shirts are full of pitfalls for a woman with bosoms.

    A tank top under shirts addresses a variety of problem issues.

  13. Great post Fizzy!

    Three words - Ann Taylor Loft. The sales at the main store are good, too. Can't you do scrubs? I wear them twice a week. Some of my partners wear them all the time but I need a waistline every now and again to keep me in check.

    A great added bonus about Ann Taylor is that, in my experience, sizes run really big so it makes you feel great to walk out in a size or two smaller than you might wear at any other store. Not that you would have to worry about this with your 110 lbs, but my 145-150 like a little ego stroke every now and again.

  14. I got some new clothes after I became an attending and realized I needed new nice clothes. My main solution though: white coat! It holds my stethoscope, prescription pad, reflex hammer, insufflator, calculator.... If my shirt rides up when I raise my arms, no one knows! It's under my white coat! Cleavage is showing? Covered up by the white coat!

  15. I was mocked in the med school show for my dress habits,and years back my dept chair had a woman staff member speak to me about my "unprofessional" shoes (clunky but open sandals), so I can relate. I am not a good advertisement for sartorial advice, but I do highly recommend thrift stores--when something you take home doesn't fit, you just donate it back(and you can feel good about giving away stuff that you got as gifts but can't wear, etc). Value Village/Unique thrift stores are well organized and well stocked, and they have 25% off sales Mondays and 50% off sales on Monday holidays. (Columbus day approaches...)
    Also, it helps to reorganize the closet so that all the blouses are together, and all the skirts, pants and dresses are also grouped together. Makes it easier to grab stuff that matches in a hurry.
    Marshalls, Ross Dress for Less and Filene's Basement have all sorts of well made clothes at very good prices--they take unsold stuff after the end of the department store seasons (Stuff is actually often in season when you buy it in places like that). And they seem overstocked with smaller sizes.Dress Barn sales are also really helpful.

    I have three daughters and I am glad I got them into this way of shopping--they could and did spend a lot of time and almost no money experimenting with different looks and styles and they have escaped the tyranny of brand names that afflict many of their friends.

  16. "that he could see your stomach under your shirt."

    OMG, what does it even mean??

    To me it sounds as ridiculous as:
    "Dr. Fizzy are you out of your mind? I can see you are completely naked under all those clothes."

  17. This is a little late, but I heard a story of a friend of a friend who had a supervisor call her out in front of colleagues and patients because she was wearing white pants and supervisor told her to cover up because it appeared that she wasn't wearing underwear! To me, that seems like more unprofessional behaviour than actually going commando.


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