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When OTs Wore White Shoes

What Do You Wear to Work?

Published September 15, 2014 12:44 PM by Debra Karplus

Cleaning out a closet here at home the other day, I stumbled upon a couple of lab coats, lurking in the back of the closet.  One is jacket length, the other is three-quarter length.  I can't remember the last time I wore either of these.  But supposedly, wearing one of these white garments, made me look "professional", at least that was what I must have believed at the time.  I can't imagine I would even wear either of them ever again.  It may be time to pass them along to my pre-teen grandchildren to be used as part of a Halloween costume!

When I was finishing my occupational therapy training and doing my clinical practicums (c. 1974), white uniforms including white shoes was the required dress code in medical and rehabilitation settings.  Work in mental health and related settings involved simply dressing like the other therapists who worked in these places.  Keeping white clothes and shoes staying white and looking pristine is not something that comes easily for me; I seem to be a sort of magnet for stains and smudged that have no obvious source.  So, you won't find many white garments in my closet these days.

When I started working as an OT in the mid-1970s, therapists at my work setting, typically a nursing home, wore white blouses, the style that resemble the top part of a uniform, and navy blue pants.  Navy blue shoes completed the ensemble.  Some wore lab coats, too.  Those giant-sized pockets were actually quite handy for holding a pen, small goniometer, a little container of therapy putty, or some other OT tools of the trade.

In the 1980s, I worked as a subcontractor for various companies as an OT and wore what I guess is called business casual attire, not a business suit, but not blue jeans or a T-shirt either.  And I always wore closed toed shoes, mostly because I am so darn practical, and that seemed safer to me given that I move quickly and am often clumsy.

More recently I've worked in schools.  I see that the therapists typically dress like the teachers, so I take the cue from that.  Students, especially the younger ones, think of me as a teacher, but I see that as a non-issue.  Some school professionals wear name tags, but many don't.

Something that concerns me is school professionals, often student teachers, wearing clothing that, in my sixty-something year old stodgy opinion, may be a bit too revealing.  I see them bend over to assist a student, and I'm seeing more skin than I think I should.  That especially doesn't resonate well with me when working in a middle school and especially in high school, where the students, especially hormonal adolescent males, are not much younger than their soon-to-become teachers.  Yes, call me old fashioned, intolerant, close-minded, or whatever.

I looked on some web sites of universities offering OT programs, and see little reference to dress code.  So what do you wear on the job?

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Thanks for reading and commenting on my article.  It sounds like comfort and practicality, as in many jobs, and dressing in a similar fashion to co-workers is the rule regardless of what setting you work in. And yes, pockets, are indeed very handy for a pen, pad of paper, small goniometer and other tools of the trade.Debbie, author

Debra Karplus September 19, 2014 10:00 AM
Champaign IL

Navy blue scrubs were required in one SNF I worked in and I just kept wearing them at my next job. It had a lot of pockets, the top was not tight (too revealing) and I didn't care if it got dirty because it was work clothes. Other therapists wear maybe scrub pants and a t-shirt, others wear business casual. I like to look different than CNAs but people know I am by the way I approach them and talk to them. Some OTs still wear lab coats on cold days.

Marcie LaBucki, SNF - COTA September 18, 2014 7:34 AM

I am a traveling COTA. I am currently in a school setting in Alaska and I primarily wear jeans and occasionally business casual clothes. This is acceptable only because of the area I am in. When working in a SNF I tend to wear scrubs.

Melanie Melsheimer-Bradley September 18, 2014 2:03 AM
North Pole AK

I work in rehab and wear docker type pants. Polo shirts, Running shoes for comfort and safety. And a vest which I love due to good sized pickets which  hold a pen, oximeter, and occasional other items. Enjoyed your article!

Ann September 18, 2014 12:57 AM

Very true, Kevin.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Debra September 16, 2014 7:11 AM

Lab coats are very good for judging science fairs—kids "know" that real scientists wear lab coats, because that's what they've seen on TV and in their books.

Kevin Karplus September 15, 2014 2:08 PM

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