Hospital chic

Ricky Martin, Cindy Crawford and Kelsey Grammer help doctors cure their fashion woes.

By Dawn MacKeen
Published November 2, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

Oh, the staid colors of the medical profession! Moldy green, boring blue
and, of course, the old favorite: white, white and more white. Who said that doctors have to be fashion victims? Wouldn't it be a nice change to see them in embroidered scrubs with floral trim and matching summer shorts, designed by Susan Sarandon for those on-the-run docs "who want to go from the operating room to a barbecue"? Remember, versatility is a must in fall '99! Or how about a scrub adorned with bullet holes and a pasta-lined collar, designed by the mob aficionados on the "Sopranos" cast?

These two scrubs and eight others were auctioned off at Hackensack
University Medical Center's annual fund-raiser, held Oct. 23 at New
York's Grand Central Station. Mark Harmon of "Chicago Hope" was the emcee of
the event, which raised more than $1 million for the not-for-profit hospital.

However, you shouldn't expect to see your doctor donning one of these celebrity-designed scrubs any time soon; they're meant to be collector's items. The cast of "Frasier" put the Seattle skyline on theirs; Cindy Crawford had a winged angel baby on hers and Ricky Martin signed his initials in sequins and added a south-of-the-border fringe
on the bottom. Martin's outfit and the "Sopranos" scrub brought in the most money -- about $1,500 apiece.

While the idea of celebrities' designing doctor scrubs was meant for fun, the concept of more fashionable scrubs isn't. "I'm an anesthesiologist. A majority of my life is
spent in my scrub, and I would love to have something comfortable and
fashionable," says Dr. Mark Schlesinger, the event's organizer and chairman
of the department of anesthesiology at the Hackensack medical center in New Jersey. "If you wear something that hides everything about you, it's
amazing how much weight you'll gain." He recites the old adage: If
you look good, you feel good. So is he suggesting that physicians across
the country are depressed by their daily garb? No, not quite,
but a little more oomph wouldn't hurt.

Schlesinger was also behind last year's fund-raiser, in which designers
such as Nicole Miller and Cynthia Rowley created patient gowns that were later
auctioned off. Now, a year later, some patients at Hackensack are trying out
Rowley's designs, which come in "funky" patterns and use snaps, buttons and Velcro to replace the less reliable strings that generally keep the gown closed. In the near future, Hackensack's children's and infant's gowns will be redesigned as well.

"Image is becoming important," says Ted Thompson, senior vice president of
health-care sales for Angelica Image Apparel, a manufacturer of scrubs,
gowns and other uniforms for the industry. "We continue to try to expand
the product line to be more fun, a little less clinical. Hospitals are
still very price-conscious on the items that they purchase, so they tend to
buy the more standardized products. But individual doctors and nurses are
looking for more fashionable prints."

So what's next? Colors to match the organ you're operating on -- like, say, blood red for cardiac surgeons and a reddish-brown for those transplanting livers?

No, though companies like Angelica are trying to come up with more "fun" colors
-- including deep purple or hunter green. And despite the fashion-conscious trend, Thompson doesn't think he'll be adding the "Sopranos" scrub to next year's line. "That's a little far out for most health-care professionals. You can never say never, but you don't [want to] see doctor scrubs with bullet holes. I thought they were trying to
eliminate that."

Dawn MacKeen

Dawn MacKeen is a former senior writer for Salon, and author of a forthcoming book about her grandfather’s survival of the Armenian Genocide, "The Hundred-Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2016).

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