whether you're casual or professional, it's up to your practice and what your customers expect

In the era of technology startups, coworking spaces, and the gig economy, standards of professionalism are rapidly evolving, including what is considered appropriate to wear to work. Does it matter what you look like when your coworkers can only see you on a screen, and only from the waist up? If everyone around you is wearing cargo shorts, does it make a difference if you wear slacks?

Some of these questions are obviously not relevant to professionals who work in an orthodontist office. However, the question of how your dress influences your patient’s impression of you and your practice is worth considering, along with how standards of professionalism have evolved in the field of orthodontics. When it comes to dressing for work as an orthodontist, opinion generally falls into three different camps: dress code, dressing casually, and dressing professionally. Here are some purported advantages and disadvantages for each approach.

Dress Code in an Orthodontic Office

While requiring all of your staff to wear a uniform might seem really old-fashioned, there are benefits to asking everyone in your office to wear the same color scrubs, for example. Internally, for your staff, it conveys a sense of belonging. For patients, it presents a vision of equality amongst everyone in your office. Uniforms also make employees feel equal to each other. On a very basic level, patients can easily identify people’s roles and who can help them. In addition, a uniform can also easily eliminate any safety concerns related to dress.

If you are trying to attract patients of a younger demographic, it’s possible they may not react as positively to a uniform visual appearance. This is because they’ve grown up around more casual workplace standards depicted in the media. Another disadvantage of mandating uniforms is your staff won’t be able to express their unique personalities through their dress. This can make it harder for your patients to recognize things they have in common and get to know your staff.

Dressing Casually to Make Patients More Comfortable

Some orthodontists encourage their staff to dress casually. When your staff looks like the patients they are seeing, it can help patients feel more comfortable. If your personality is laid-back, this might feel like the right approach for your practice.

Many patients associate white lab coats and scrubs with highly impersonal, sterile environments. An advantage of encouraging your staff to dress casually (while maintaining high standards of cleanliness and safety, of course) is if your patients have any anxiety about visiting the dentist, the casual appearance of your orthodontic staff will differentiate them from their experience with dentists.

Of course, when you invite your staff to dress casually, people can interpret this very differently. If you make the decision to let staff embrace a more laid-back approach to their attire, it can be helpful to set some parameters around what is acceptable.

Dressing Professionally

Some people might claim that dressing casually will impact your patients’ perception of the value you offer. If you want your patients to think you are offering a highly specialized service that requires years of education and professional vetting, which orthodontics does, dressing formally in your practice can convey a sense of decorum. Patients are always going to take in the way you dress and form an opinion, even if it’s unconscious.

For the most part, how you dress is a personal preference. Some people feel more prepared to interact with patients in a button-down shirt and a tie. Other orthodontists feel more comfortable in jeans. Because it’s hard to predict–and impossible to control–your patients’ perception of you, the most important consideration when making the decision about how to dress in the workplace is determining what will help you and your staff perform their best.