Professional Fashion Files

Caitlin’s Style

Janel and I differ both in personal style and body shape and we both arrived at Banana Republic with open minds, ready to experiment. We browsed most of the women’s section of the store, gathered items that caught our eye, and finally headed for the dressing room. Here are a few of my suggestions for finding clinic appropriate clothing with style and personality.

  1. Wearing patterns on the bottom: One way to create some visual interest in an outfit is to incorporate a pattern. There are many and varied patterns out there, and I think most geometric patterns will generally work in a professional setting. In both of the following examples, I chose patterned pants with solid tops and shoes to mute the impact and keep it office appropriate. Top left: The color of this Caitlin's Stylecashmere blend sweater caught my eye. Because of my dark hair and light complexion, I know that jewel tones work for me and I end up wearing a lot of rich, solid colors. The solid color also gave me the confidence to try this silver jacquard patterned pant. These pants are a great way to break up a clinic uniform of traditional trousers and the cropped, slim ankle is an additional modern spin. I balanced the pattern with a neutral, nude pump. Top Right: Same idea here, except the blue is in a button down blouse in a beautiful royal blue. Another note on patterned pants: I carry weight in my legs, and patterns are a great way to visually slim that area. Medium to small patterns on the pants can help with that, particularly if the pattern background is dark with a light contrast, as seen below.
  2. Patterns on top (bottom left): The options for wearing patterns also extend to blouses and tops. Though some people advocate for mixing patterns on the top and the bottom, I am cautious about this because of how busy an outfit will start to look. This is especially important to remember when trying to keep a look professional. The clothes should not distract from our role – learning and helping patients. To accomplish that here, I separate a dark snakeskin pump and a striped patterned top with solid trousers, keeping the two patterns away from one another. Additional tip: Stripes can be hard on plus size women, especially in shirts and tops, but sticking to large horizontal stripes or combining thin horizontal stripes with vertical ones can combat the widening effect of stripes on the chest and abdomen.
  3. Finding the right skirt length… is challenging (bottom right). I loved the green color and lace details of this dress, especially for a formal event, but I was shocked to find very few regular length dresses at Banana Republic that Caitlin's styleI considered office appropriate- for my height, anyway. Professional skirts should hit slightly below the knee when standing. When sitting, the skirt will then hit just at the knee. Opinions may differ on this point, but anything that hits above the knee I avoid for the sake of personal comfort and modesty. This dress is obviously not an example of what I mean, but every dress I tried ended at a similar point on my leg. To combat this effect, I have started ordering online in tall sizes so that they fit this way.

Janel’s Style

A quick glimpse into my mind would reveal the chaotic creative swirl that perpetually reaches out into the world for inspiration. Such musings are the remnants of my creative past before medical school. When I worked as an assistant art and dance instructor in Brooklyn, my wardrobe was a reflection of that adventurous and youthful sprit. Needless to say, as a medical student, those days of distressed jeans and crocheted midriffs are long gone.

While my wardrobe has most certainly matured, I like to think that it still carries with it the creativity and eccentricity unique to my personality. Fashion, after all, is a personalized expression of the visual self. We are the most comfortable when we allow ourselves to be who we are; style is part of that process.

Speaking of comfort, in a clinical setting, it is key. It would be ill-advised to saunter around in six-inch stilettoes when one should be running in between patient rooms. For this, I can always rely on a pair of ballet flats or kitten-heels to help me do my job. On another practical level, the way I dress should communicate to patients that I am a competent and responsible professional. In other words, if the way I dress makes others around me uncomfortable, then it is not professional. I always keep that in mind when I am styling a clinical outfit.

My past work as an amateur fashion blogger helped me develop an eye for pieces with photographic potential, and for better or worse, my current style still exemplifies this keenness. Today, my style is tempered by both the professionalism of my role as a medical student and the practicality of working in a clinical setting. For this, my closet staples include: a small collection of tailored sheath dresses (in different colors), knee-high riding boots, and printed ballet flats. Occasionally, in between reviewing lecture notes and making breakfast, I will find the time to add a vintage accessory like a silk houndstooth checkered scarf or chunky crystal necklace.

Below are a few suggestions for styling a clinic-appropriate wardrobe:

  1. Find a piece you love and buy it different colors: Capitalize on what works for your unique style and body type. As a petite professional, I gravitate to styles that distract from my 5’ 3’’ height. For me, the sheath dress is my Janel's Styleprofessional equivalent of a school uniform: It functions like a canvas and is easy to wear (no fuss, buttons or strange zippers). At the right length (which for me, is about an inch above the knee when standing), it keeps me proportioned. Some professional etiquette gurus will say that this length should be at the knee exactly, but I find that for petite women, an inch higher makes us look more proportioned, and if paired with tasteful tights, the look is still professional. Given the versatility of this dress and cut, I own the same tailored sheath dress in a myriad of colors – raspberry, royal blue (bottom left), charcoal, and canary yellow (bottom right), just to name a few. Find a style that works and stick with it. And if your style is more feminine, there is something disarmingly lady-like about a well-tailored sheath dress cinched at the waist with a gold ribbon or silver chain links.
  2. Decide on what you like visually and stylistically: Knowing this will likely ensure that you feel comfortable and confident. But remember that this self-knowledge must be tempered by the fact patients can and will judge you based on how you present yourself. So keep it professional by wearing pieces that look polished and mature. For example, red is my favorite color, but sometimes it can come off as too visually empowering. So if I want to wear a “loud” color, I need to tame it. For this outfit (top right), I paired a chunky scarlet sweater with black-and-white patterned pants. The basic color palette of the trousers muted the brightness of the red. Additional tip: for petite women, be careful not to let your clothes overpower you. I chose this chunky swear in a size smaller so that it looks more tailored. It is fine to experiment with volume, but no one wants to look swallowed by what they wear.
  3. If you look happy, you’ll likely look good in anything: Medicine is an undeniably social profession. The ability to build successful professional relationships is important. Sometimes, something as simple as a pleasant smile can set the atmosphere in building a trusting relationship with your patient. I learned this during my Doctoring in Vermont sessions in a clinic in Shelburne. Yes, what you wear is important in communicating your identity as a professional. Yes, you want to look polished and mature. But what can really cinch your whole “look” together is a good attitude and maybe even a friendly smile. So my tip is: show those pearly whites and smile. AdJanel's Styleditional tip: for women with long hair, experiment with different styles that allow you to keep your hair out of your face. My favorite is a simple braid tossed to the side. If you worry that a patient may grab your hair (i.e. a pediatric patient who just learned how to grasp), then maybe a sleek bun is a better choice.


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