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Athletic Trainers and the Culture of the Khaki

If you are watching a game on television it's pretty easy to spot the stereotypical Athletic Trainer, the guy/girl with the khakis on. Even if they weren't wearin a fanny pack, taping someone, or providing hydration to their athletes, khakis are a dead giveaway. This is because one of clothing's functions is communication. The way a person dresses assigns a certain meaning to that particular type of style of dress. So does our profession wearing sweats or khakis affect how we are percieved?

When you go to a doctors office or a hospital you typically relate scrubs with pretty much anyone who is a healthcare professional, if you see a guy/girl with slacks on or other business attire you automatically assume doctor. If you walk into any type of store most people would assume that the person in khakis and polo works there. (If you don't believe it try it out and see how many times you get asked for help finding an item). So what happens when parents and patients see an Athletic Trainer dressed in khakis what do they think? What about in the clinic when the Athletic Trainer is in khakis and the Physical Therapist or Occupational Therapist is in business attire? Is it possible that our dress affects the perception our profession?

I understand that many of the environments that we work in are not conducive to wearing nice clothing because they will get wet, dirty, or torn and the fact that how we carry ourselves plays a role in how we are percieved. However, I am more curious as to how those in the Athletic Training community feel about this topic. The way a person dresses not only has an effect on the people around them but also on themself. Peoples dress affects how a person feels about themselves and their overall identity. Is it possible that some of the "bad apples" might perk up in their profession if they changed their outer appearance? I dont have the answer to that question but I am intrigued to see what others think about this.


  • Interesting topic. For the athletic trainers here at the HS or college level, we do seem to dress 'stereotypically' for the typical workday. On those days or times when a game (especially TV or tournaments) are scheduled, we seem to dress in slacks with a polo shirt. I assume this is to present ourselves more "professionally".

    For myself though, I dress everyday at work in the stereotypical khaki shorts, polo shirt and athletic shoes. However, my situation is a bit different, as my primary job title is "P.T.", and I work in outpatient rehab clinics that are part of a hospital. I'd estimate that about half of my colleagues dress as I do, a quarter dress in slacks and polo or dress shirt and another quarter dress in hospital scrubs. These are basically our choices for work attire. I know there is some stereotyping by the patients because at times I'll see a patient who was previously seen by my colleagues (dressed in slacks and polo) and he/she will inquire as to my precise position/degree. Of course, once I inform the patient that I am also a P.T., any apprehension they have regarding my qualifications are alleviated. But this does illustrate your point: that work attire does affect the general public's impression of us healthcare workers. So we should be somewhat mindful of our presentation (no ragged shorts or shirts, walk shorts vs cargo shorts, no advertisements unless it's for your work setting), although I don't believe in trying to 'fool' the public by 'overdressing' with slacks and long-sleeve, button-down shirts.
    I believe one way my workplace tries to immediately convey our qualifications and avoid any stereotyping (despite our 'casual' attire) is to inform the patients upon meeting them of our job title, education/degrees, and years of experience. This works wonderfully for our patients and their families. And hopefully this will gradually help reduce future stereotyping of us based on attire.

    I do believe that our attitudes and how we carry ourselves is far more important than our attire and this is what helps distinguish the 'bad apples' that exist in every profession from the majority.

  • I also think this is an interesting topic and something I think about especially when beginning work in a new setting. I agree with Kyle in that our professionalism should be represented more by our behavior than our dress. However, our appearance and attire are often the first things people will notice. Especially around people who do not know your qualifications or even your line of work, it's good to project a professional appearance. I work in a traditional college setting and for the most part, I think business casual works fine. Slacks or khakis and a polo or blouse are still professional looking, but also allow me to be functional with the physical aspects of my job. On bus rides, I think warm ups or athletic clothing in good condition are acceptable. I think the key is finding a balance between looking professional and being functional. Ultimately, I believe if you demonstrate professionalism, competence, and other qualities, it will do more to represent our profession than whatever you choose to wear.
  • This subject has been on my mind quite a bit as all the big box stores have created a dress code of........khakis and tops of one color which the company has picked. Now, I have only ever worn khaki shorts in my 30 year career when it was appropriate or above 60 degrees. In a profession with a daily chance of being baptized with mud, blood, water or other bodily fluids, why would you wear a color that will show all of those items. I wear dark slacks, wind pants, occasionally a nice skirt or pair of shorts depending on the venue. As far the khakis and professional attire, AT's are now linked with the big box employees who make from whatever minimum wage is and, say, $11/hour. We're already unhappy with the medical professional/wage inequity. Who gets the respect aside from doctors and PT's - paramedics. They wear navy blue shirt and pants in anticipation of getting dirty and make a lot of money about twice as much as AT's. I guess a golf cart and a fire truck just don't have the same weight.
  • Folks - this is a simple answer - "dress for the job you want....not for the job you have". I was presenting at a conference on the topic of professionalism. I made that statement and an individual in khaki shorts, a polo with his high school team on the chest and ankle-high socks with his Nike's jumped up and said "maybe I like being a trainer. Maybe I like the school I work at" and he stormed out. Great. I bet he's still there and I bet he is wearing the same stuff he did 10 years ago when we had that exchange. I love going to NATA conferences. You can spot "trainers" from a mile away. They all look like trainers. And that's all they'll ever be. If you want to brand the profession, then dress the part. If you want something more, then dress the part.

    It makes me wonder about the commercial "What are you wearing 'Jake' from Allstate?".......I would not be surprised if he's a "trainer" with a night job to make ends meet.

  • I love this post! It makes me smile. Indeed the khakis are a general "uniform" for an AT. If working a typical long day in a hot and humid environment, of course, wear khaki shorts! When I get back to my sportsmedicine center I can change back into fresh clothes. I strive to keep my on field dress consistent and such that I can be easily identified by the sports community. I don't think khakis are demeaning, but supremely practical. Clean, well cared for clothing is not unprofessional. The Polo type shirt is another iconic dress worn. I would like the NATA to bring back the ATC patch, badge or pin that we can use to identify our professional role in public.
  • I don't wear khakis that much. I realized a few years ago, that I can still present myself as a professional without wearing the same thing over and over. I will sport shorts, or anything that Imfeel comfortable in. Clothes don't make the trainer, my skill set does.
  • Years ago, believe it or not, AT's wore white - pants and shirts. In fact, AT uniforms for the 1984 LA Olympics where just that, white pants and shirts (with some gray trim). For some reason, this transitioned to khaki - maybe because of the "invention" of khaki Dockers.
    AT's should dress (at the least) to reflect the other professional athletic department employees, including head coaches and team physicians. This can include a change in attire following pre game prep to sideline attire.
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