Does Back to School Mean a Jacket and Slacks?
My son has spent the last year as an advanced EMT, answering 911 calls in the rural parts of two states. His clothing style is best described as “jump in and don’t bump your head on the gun rack.” Now he is about to start medical school. Is sending a child off to school with a new sports jacket and slacks utterly behind the times? — Sheryl, New York City
First, please thank your son for his service over the last year. I am sure it made a difference to many people.
I am also sure clothes were the last thing he was thinking about and rightly so, except to consider how they might protect him and how often they needed to be washed.
This probably isn’t going to change much now that he’s back in school, where he will also have other things to think about. The biggest difference is that rather than dressing for his job and his co-workers, he’s going to be dressing for his peer group — at least in the first year or so.
And as far as that goes, there’s no better judge of what that means and how he wants to be perceived than your son himself. At this stage in his life, I’d pretty much leave him be to make his own sartorial way in the world. We all have to learn at some point, and as you point out, what was de rigueur for one generation is likely to be anathema to another.
Navigating this landscape while also navigating school can be complicated, which may be why a surprising number of blogs and YouTube tutorials have sprung up with advice from med school students about what to wear. They are kind of fun and worth checking out, as much for your own education as your son’s.
That said, medicine can still be a surprisingly formal discipline, in part because of the need for practitioners to convey a sense of authority. Whether we like it or not, most of us still associate authority with a traditional uniform of shirt, jacket and so on. Once your son starts his clinical studies, he’s going to need a wardrobe heavier on business casual than simply casual. Indeed, Stanford School of Medicine offers “Dress Code Rules for the Clinical Setting” that include button-down shirts, khakis and a ban on jeans.
There’s nothing wrong with planning in advance (and as a parent, it’s always good to prepare a child, even a grown one, for what is to come). To that end, Guy Trebay, our men’s wear critic, advises nudging your son in the directions of brands like Quaker Marine Supply, Faherty and Alex Mill for trousers; and Todd Snyder for tweaked American classics if you want to splurge. (These are pricey but investment worthy).
Then let your son dissect the import of his choices on his own.
Your Style Questions, Answered
Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.