Director of Professional Affairs
What should psychologists wear to their offices? Should I wear formal attire, casual attire, or business formal? As with the use of names and titles, the standards for dress vary according to context, such as the services being provided, the clientele being seen, the preferences of the psychologist, local customs, and other factors. For example, when going to court, formal attire is mandatory and doctoral level psychologists would generally refer to themselves as “doctor” in court. Generally, psychologists who provide services to upscale clients will dress differently from those who provide services to lower income patients. Problems can occur if psychologists who work with upscale clients dress too informally, in that the patients may not consider them professional enough. On the other hand, psychologists who work with lower income patients may appear “uppity” or out of touch if they dress too formally.
Women have to be careful because some men may misinterpret clothing perceived as too attractive, especially in combination with the use of first names, as an invitation to a boundary crossing. Psychologists who treat children often wear more casual clothing, especially if they do play therapy or other therapies requiring movement or getting on the floor. Also, some children view adults in formal attire as authoritarian and might be less likely to open up. Psychologists who work in hospitals or other institutions often wear softer and more comfortable shoes to accommodate the walking that they have to do as part of their jobs.
Local customs also influence dress choices. Other parts of the United States tend to be more informal in their dress, as are some rural parts of Pennsylvania. In Key West, Florida, Dr. Stephen Ragusea, a Florida psychologist transplanted from Pennsylvania, says he is the only psychologist (or professional) he knows who wears a shirt and tie, and health care professionals commonly wear Hawaiian shirts there. One younger psychologist from Hawaii resisted wearing skirts because she had a tattoo on her ankle. Although tattoos and body piercing are common among Hawaiians and many younger persons even on the Mainland, some older persons in Pennsylvania view them as disreputable. Although teenage clients might think it is cool to have a therapist with body piercing, their parents often feel quite differently.