Step-by-step menswear tips for building your professional wardrobe.
Universal rules of fashion aren't — choose the ones that fit your role in life.
This series of articles looks at clothing choices for men in specific, individual careers, from undergraduate college student to high-powered financier and everything in between. Find the style and the menswear that suits you and your path in life!
Find the style and the menswear that suits you and your path in life!
People have a lot on their minds when they visit the doctor, yet professional studies have repeatedly shown that casually-dressed physicians are less trusted by their patients than the sharpest-looking M.D.s. A white lab coat is appropriate, and even desirable, but what goes under it?
Different hospitals have different expectations and dress codes, but male doctors should always err on the dressy side of menswear.
A clean dress shirt and well-tied tie will not only set patients minds at ease, it will also stand you in good stead with colleagues and superiors — and ensure the best possible appearance if unexpected conferences, inspections, or other career-affecting meetings crop up suddenly!
The Medical Doctor's Style: Crisp Professionalism
Most doctors fall somewhere between the uniformed worker and the office worker in their wardrobe needs.
The outer layer of clothing will almost always be a plain white coat (although a few hospitals, including the Mayo Clinic, do require business wear for their doctors instead), and it is generally expected that a collared shirt and tie will be worn under the coat.
Since this code allows for less flexibility than the changing jackets, blazers, and vests of other working professionals, menswear for medical practitioners should focus on crisp professionalism rather than stylistic flourishes.
Daily Wear: The Doctor's Dress Shirt
It's unusual for a man's shirt to be a primary concern in his ensemble; avoiding egregious color or pattern clashes is sufficient for most needs. A doctor, however, is primarily an expanse of white cloth — a blank canvas.
The shirt and tie stand out as the color and pattern that define your fashion when you wear a lab coat, so choosing them becomes a significant decision.
Where most men invest in bespoke suits and other custom tailoring, your wardrobe budget will want to focus on quality suits and ties. The fit of your shirt will largely be hidden by the coat (although a shirt that is too loose will “balloon” around the trouser waist), but its pattern, buttons, and collar are clearly visible — those are the places to focus your efforts.
There are several different styles of men's dress shirt collars to choose from, and you will want whatever frames your face best.
Very generally speaking, narrow-faced men will want a wider collar spread, while thicker-faced doctors do best with a steeply-pointed collar.
Button-down collars, while slightly less formal in the business world, are still perfectly appropriate and may be the most practical option for a hospital, since they are less likely to be flipped up or set askew by movement or the use of a stethoscope.
Very bright or bold-patterned shirts can seem informal, and clash with the plain white of a hospital coat, so your best fabric choices are usually textured solids: plain colors in a patterned weave.
Modest patterns like pinstripes are acceptable, but try to avoid bold windowpanes or checks — these will make you look like a computer programmer stuffed into a doctor's coat, rather than the medical expert you want your patients to see.
Anything with a white base is worth avoiding, since it matches your coat too closely.
An often-neglected detail, the front of your shirt should be of good quality; mother-of-pearl buttons will be thinner and more appealing than plastic, while on the left side of the shirt you should look for a French placket, which simply means that the panel where the buttonholes are is formed by creasing the shirt over rather than sewing a new strip of cloth down the front.
It should go without saying, but between the long hours and high stress, doctors benefit even more from undershirts than most men. Don't skimp here — buy absorbent, high-quality V-neck undershirts. They will surely be put to the test, so avoid “value packs” of shrink-wrapped undershirts made from synthetic blends.
Medical Style: The Role of a Doctor's Tie
Like the dress shirt, the tie is a valuable accent for all men, but only a primary concern for a few. Doctors are among those few; more of your tie is visible than even your shirt. It is the single most defining article of clothing that most patients will see (unless you wear very distinctive trousers or shoes).
As a result, you need a slightly better understanding of neckties than most men; details will make or break the look here.
Regardless of its color or pattern, your tie should always be well-made: the fabric should be thick and solid, and not too sheerly slick — many cheap synthetic materials will give your ties an unattractive glossiness that makes it look plasticky, especially in fluorescent hospital lighting.
Silk is an excellent material, as it hangs smoothly and takes patterns well; wool ties are less common, but hold bulky knots better and can offer a very traditional look that older patients (and older doctors) may approve of.
There are three basic types of tie patterning: printed patterns, embroidered designs, and woven knits.
Prints will offer the greatest variety, but are also usually the least distinctive, since the source of the pattern adds nothing physical to the tie — it is simply a design dyed onto the fabric.
Embroidered designs, which are sewn into the tie in differently-colored threads, add a textured look but no extra bulk; individual loops of thread lie next to one another to make the pattern.
A woven knit is actually worked directly into the fabric of the tie during its construction, and adds its pattern as physical bulk; these ties (almost always monochrome) will hold the thickest knots, and offer a very noticeable elegance that most men lack.
Generally speaking, a well-tied tie should have a symmetrical knot directly at the base of your throat, and should dimple slightly below the knot. This lifts the tie away from the body a fraction of an inch and allows it to fall smoothly down the front of your body, and gives a generally tidier appearance.
Men with particularly fine or narrow faces may want to choose a less bulky knot to avoid making their head look small, but for the most part, the solidly-symmetrical triangle of the classic Windsor is the only knot a doctor should be sporting.
Hospital Clothes: Trousers for the M.D.
Unlike the shirt and tie, your trousers are not something that patients are going to spend a great deal of time staring at — unless they happen to be particularly awful.
Opt for neutral, solid colors and a comfortable fit, ensuring that the pants fall all the way to the tops of your shoes; an odd bit of ankle sticking out when you move will create a distracting visual effect.
Most doctors need to move around during the day, and your coat hides the upper part of your trousers, so choose a looser fit in the seat and thighs.
Belts should be modest and simple, or can be replaced altogether with suspenders, which will be completely hidden by most coats and can be quicker to shrug out of at the end of the day as well.
Of course, if you wear a loose coat that tends to hang open, avoid sporting visible suspenders and looking like a lumberjack — stick to a plain brown or black belt and matching shoes.
Personal Menswear – Clothing Outside the Hospital
Of course, not all of a doctor's life is spent on the job in the hospital — but can still have a professional impact. Even social events with fellow practitioners can require a good personal appearance, to say nothing of conferences and other business travel, so invest in a few smart suits.
A single-breasted, two-button suit in charcoal gray is an excellent default for most situations, with a lightly-patterned suit for less formal settings making a nice backup choice when variety is called for.
Your large collection of shirts and ties should make matching easy, and you can always wear one of the suit coats with differently-colored slacks to create a casual trousers-and-jacket look — or buy a few more aggressively-patterned sport coats for personal wear, if your salary can cover it.
Sample Wardrobe: The Doctor's Closet
A doctor's personal wardrobe will largely be shaped by personal tastes, but the professional wardrobe should always include at least a few shared basics:
Wardrobe Basics – Clothes Every Doctor Needs
5+ white lab coats
1+ pair dress shoes, beginning with a classic black Oxford
2+ pair comfortable leather shoes (many shoemakers offer orthopedic versions for working on your feet)
belts to match each pair of shoes
12+ high-quality dress shirts
12+ high-quality ties
12+ absorbent, V-neck undershirts
5+ dress slacks, light and dark colors
10+ pairs dress socks, matched to the color of your trousers
Wardrobe Options – Extra Style for Medical Practitioners
2+ sport coats
2+ pairs jeans for days off
1+ pair leather gloves (black and then brown are the obvious first and second choices)
1 quality overcoat, wool or leather
cuff links, collar pins, tie clips, etc.