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.