May 11, 2009

Fashionable Hospital Gowns?


I like my body and I have no problem wearing short skits or low cut shirts. But as a young adult cancer patient I shudder at the exposure of a hospital gown.

I excel at finding new fashionable ways to tie on a hospital gown, using excess fabric to craft fancy bustles, pleats, and empire waistlines. My creations are often inspired by beat up copies of Vogues sitting next to me in the ladies waiting room.

Despite my loathing for hospital gowns, I recognize that those fly-away openings and simple, barely-there closures exist for easy access. In the end, forget designer garbs, I’d rather docs be able to access my body – especially in case of emergency.

An article in the Wall Street Journal today describes a new grant by the Robert Wood Johnson foundation that will support the creation of new hospital wear. They also report on the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey that commissioned new hospital wear by designer Nicole Miller. The argument exists that new privacy promoting gowns that will boost patient morale.

None of us want our asses hanging out as we stroll the unit with our poles. And, I think patient moral is incredibly important – it helps us comply with doctors orders. But, I think our moral suffers way more from administrative issues, cost issues, and lack of face time with doctors. Given that these new fashion gowns will cost more money to produce and purchase, I say the Robert Woods Johnson foundation and hospitals find other ways to spend their time, dough, and new discovery resources.

What do you think? How important is it to you that we design new hospital gowns? What do you think about current gowns? If you were to redesign an new gown what would it look like? Share any good hospital gown stories you have.

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  1. Aftercancer Says:
    May 11th, 2009 at 4:37 PM

    There is no doubt that the current gowns are hideous and that’s from a girl without a fashionable bone in her body. That being said I’d much rather have an extra five minutes with my doctor or not be asked to accept discharge the day after major surgery. Healing Threads ( has some beautiful pieces that are available for treatment or for use in the hospital. I only wish I’d found them earlier, particularly during radiation.

  2. Wendy S. Harpham, MD Says:
    May 11th, 2009 at 7:25 PM

    When I set up my private practice in 1983, I commissioned someone to make me gown that snap together on both sides with velcro. My gowns came in small, medium, large and extra large. And I hung a robe in each exam dressing room, so patients wouldn’t get cold if they had to wait a bit.

    The downside was that my medical assistant had to wash and fold a dozen or more gowns a day in the office laundry machine.

    The upsides were many. My patients appreciated having no more crinkly, scratchy gowns that tore if you accidentally sat on it wrong. And I appreciated the quiet gown and easy access to every inch of my patients in a modesty-preserving fashion.

    It wasn’t rocket science. I’d likely get kicked off Project Runway in a heartbeat. But in my office, I was haute couture.

    With hope, Wendy

  3. Catherine Says:
    May 12th, 2009 at 6:21 AM

    Patient empowerment is all the rage today. We are responsible for preventing medical mistakes – asking doctors if they washed their hands and nurses to read the name on the medicine bottle. We are responsible for keeping costs down – asking about generics and if a MRI is really necessary. When I’m wearing a gown that gaps at crotch and breast while facing a fully dressed professional, I find it hard to speak up and manage anything other than a squeak – and I’m an attorney.
    I’m all for patient empowerment. Let us start with the ability to cover our privates.

  4. Cathy Bueti Says:
    May 12th, 2009 at 1:01 PM

    Although I agree that it is difficult to feel empowered with your privates hanging out from those god awful gowns I would rather see money pushed toward the other stuff that we as patients stress over…cost issues, not enough time with docs, that kind of stuff. And I have to say that at Sloan when I go for my tests they have better gear, a long robe that covers me up pretty good and it doesn’t make me feel any better or calm my fears about hopping in that MRI machine or getting my boob squished in the mammo.

  5. Ronni Gordon Says:
    May 12th, 2009 at 5:59 PM

    Having just spent three and a half months in the hospital due to complications after a bone marrow transplant for AML (acute myeloid leukemia), I applaud you and anyone else who tries to improve on hospital gowns, which I hated. They are definitely not one size fits all, and as a thin person, I was embarrassed by the way they fell off me. On some days when I felt better, I wore a T-shirt and yoga pants; when I ran out of yoga pants, I wore hospital-issue pajamas. They were huge! Someone should come up with better sizing and with flies that actually close.

  6. Michelle Says:
    May 13th, 2009 at 7:52 AM

    As someone who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer and is not rail-thin, I am currently in the middle of chemo and awaiting surgery. I am tired of being asked to put on gowns backward for various tests and having them barely cover me. It upsets the power balance when I talk to my doctors (just stepping out of street clothes does that, why else would they make you do it?). And yes, I am a fully informed, medical journal reading, 39 year old woman, capable of taking charge of a medical encounter. If I need a gown to feel comfortable doing so, I think that’s a worthwhile investment, and long overdue.

  7. Kairol Rosenthal Says:
    May 14th, 2009 at 1:12 AM

    You all are persuasive about the need for new gown design. Still, I need to give one more vote for the old fashioned fly away gown:

    When I am in-patient, walking with my IV pole to the toilet looking like a 95-year old woman, and making the “ughhh” sigh when I bend my knees to sit on the pot – I love it when those damn gowns just fly open with no additional effort and I can just take a piss or a shit. Those are the moments when all shame flies away, I don’t give a damn who sees what part of my sick body, and I am grateful for no extra velcro, snaps, or ties.

  8. HollyAnna Pinkham Says:
    May 14th, 2009 at 10:51 AM

    My theory is if they make me wear the stupid ugly thing then they have to put up with all that comes with it. my body parts hanging out.

    Once i was so sick, exhausted & medicated I guess I put the thing on like a coat and decided I wanted to go for a walk. I don’t remember. They said I walked the loop twice before a nurse wisked me away to my room.

    Like I said I dont recall due to medication. Later I was told the DR had told me I could go home as soon as I was up and walking around…. I they should be careful what they ask for.

    Me personally why cant we have shorts? tank tops? comfort clothes instead of the generic industrial cookie cutter clothing????

  9. Garnet Says:
    May 14th, 2009 at 10:52 AM

    You bring up a very valid, very TRUE point, Kairol, about those uber-sickly times when we’re grateful for the easy-access fly away gowns.

    Early on in my cancer party, my motherly figures took a free pattern I have linked on my website and made me some custom hospital gowns out of soft, colorful, fun cotton fabrics! The best and most functional/doctor-friendly gown that I have was made basically with the front piece and the back piece coming together at the shoulders with large, simple buttons. There’s a slot cut into it on the chest area so that my port can be easily-accessed. And ribbons plus velcro along the backside, though it doesn’t meet in the middle, but overlaps itself a few inches in, thereby covering my privates discreetly. Plus this and my other fun gowns are made a little bit longer than the hospital ones, so they cover my knees should I get cold.

    I wish everyone could make their own gowns or get someone to make them for them! If I had the time and the sewing skills, I would whip them right out, one after another, and donate them to anyone who asks! I’d leave piles of them at the infusion center where I get my chemotherapy! And give even more to the nurses on the oncology floor of the hospital to hand out to patients who want them.

    Cotton fabric, even with licensed characters on it (Tinkerbell, Hello Kitty, Bob the Builder) can be rather inexpensive at your local craft stores! So if anyone is interested, follow this link that I found a few years back and beg someone to stitch you one up!

  10. Morgan S Says:
    May 14th, 2009 at 5:25 PM

    The one I had this week tied on the side, how fancy!
    I think when you’re really sick, you’re not gonna give a shit what you wear, but I prefer scrubs. At least ditch those horrible patterns.

  11. cindy Says:
    June 2nd, 2009 at 9:40 AM nice Hospital Gown Selection and they custom made our practice some mamo gowns

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