The great dress code debate

dresscodeFrom the Fall 2013 issue of Scrubs
Back in the days of Mad Men, as mod fashion blossomed, nurses wore white dresses with caps to match—and looked out of place.

With a nod to the times, in the 1970s nurses began wearing pants suits, but still in white. Of course, when your job entails contact with blood and other bodily fluids, white is not the most practical choice.

When the 1980s rolled in, white was on its way out and hospital scrubs became de rigueur. Specialty uniform stores offered “designer” scrubs in an array of styles, colors and chic prints. Finally, nurses had choices: They could wear what they liked and what was flattering.

Over time, off-price and dollar stores and direct web sellers got into the action. Some nurses bought scrubs from them because they were cheap—but the prints were tasteless and the solids were off-shade. What’s more, the sizing was off and the scrubs fit poorly and were unflattering at best. The result: Many nurses looked sloppy, even inappropriate.

Not surprisingly, some administrators felt the pendulum had swung too far, and they responded with dress codes. Sometimes these regulations have worked to achieve the desired professional look, sometimes not.

On the positive side, in hospitals where nurses can wear solid tops and bottoms, or approved print tops with solid pants in brands they have come to trust, the result is a polished look. Of course, there are some grumblings about the lack of personal expression, but by and large, most everyone—administrators, nurses and patients—is satisfied.

On the other hand, there are some hospitals that are biased toward bargain-basement prices because they often transition into their dress codes by paying for at least one or two sets of scrubs for everyone. In these cases, that old adage “You get what you pay for” best describes the outcome. Nurses aren’t happy because the scrubs aren’t up to snuff; the quality—in terms of fit, comfort and durability—just isn’t there. And that’s not all: These scrubs often come from supplier-manufacturers, who, unlike capable local retailers who know their customers and take personal pride in caring for them, offer next to no service. Problems abound with orders and returns.

We’d like to start a conversation about free dress versus uniforms mandated by brand. Where do you stand on the issue? Or do you think there’s some middle ground where nurses have some choice, albeit limited, but the result is still a professional, tasteful look? Let’s discuss here.

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