A few years ago, I was looking for a new primary-care doctor. I was hoping for someone who was kind, smart, and caring, someone who’d listen with full attention. I didn’t care what the doctor looked like—or so I thought, until a woman clicked into the room in stilettos and a tailored expensive-looking suit. This wasn’t a case of a low-cut blouse or a thigh-revealing skirt. And yet I felt put off. I felt like a slob. The doctor was nice enough, perhaps a little brusque, or maybe her clothes were brusque, and I didn’t end up sticking with her. What I remember most was the feeling that she had somewhere more important to be, like a board meeting, where the discussion would involve the business of medicine rather than the art of it.
Maybe it wouldn’t have bothered me if I were meeting her at the Mayo clinic, where all doctors wear business suits—a uniform, really—where I would have expected it. Or if she were a cosmetic surgeon, a field where it behooves a doctor to look chic and well-coiffed, with skin as silken-smooth as the ubiquitous subway skin doctor Jonathan Zizmor. But primary-care medicine is a different beast, where it’s less about a couple of visits for Botox and more about the relationship between doctor and patient, which ideally will last for years and years. And what the doctor wears—part of the patient’s first impression—can have an effect.