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The November AARP Bulletin highlights a promising development in hospital couture: trendsetter Diane von Furstenberg has designed new, unisex gowns ready for wearing in hospitals. The new gowns provide style and full coverage, with options for opening in front or back according to the bulletin. A trial is underway at the Cleveland Clinic.

Turns out Newsweek (which will soon marry Tina Brown’s Daily Beast, but I digress) ran a more detailed feature on the von Furstenberg hospital gowns last August. For those of you who missed the medical fashion story of last summer, here’s the scoop:

In May, 2010, the Cleveland Clinic held a Patient Experience Summit with a bifocal theme of “empathy and innovation.” There, on Day 2, the gowns were unveiled. Jeanne Ryan, a nurse who leads the redesign team, gave a presentation. In sum: the garments should be comfortable to wear, provide dignified coverage, allow ease of access for medical examination, and meet the needs of both ambulatory and bedbound patients. And cheap – the gowns cost about $9 each, according to Newsweek.

The magazine provides some history on hospital gown innovation:

… In 1999 the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey redid its gowns with the help of designer Nicole Miller. In 2004 the Maine Medical Center in Portland introduced a floor-length option to accommodate the requests of female Muslim patients, and in 2009 the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation offered $236,110 to the College of Textiles to work on designing, producing, and marketing a new style of gown…

It’s not obvious to this reviewer what will be so much better with the new DvF wraps, but I’m encouraged by the Clinic’s efforts to get this right.

Initial feedback has been good, according to Cleveland.com. Some men find the print a bit feminine, so the team may change the color scheme. Also, because the fabric shrinks upon washing, the gowns may need lengthening.

The team painstakingly chose a fabric not too heavy so as to be warm or uncomfortable for patients lying in bed, but not so light as to be transparent. The gown incorporates the Cleveland Clinic’s diamond logo in a von Furstenberg signature, repetitive kind of pattern. There’s an elastic waistband, a wrap-around closure, and a wide V-neck. The gown is functional while preserving modesty. “Physicians can open the gown to expose the part they need to access without exposing the patient completely,” Ryan told Newsweek.

As someone who’s experienced one-size-fits-all including me and a basketball player, both, in pre-surgical outfits, and who’s spent weeks lying in hospital beds barely clad while all kinds of people came in and out without knocking, and who even in this year felt embarrassed in a revealing “gown” that was supposed to cover me as I walked down a hall to a room for an x-ray but didn’t, in front of other patients and sometimes former colleagues, I see this as definite progress, or at least a step in the right direction.

These gowns needn’t (and shouldn’t) be expensive, and I have some concerns about the V neck, which sounds too open for a post-mastectomy style and for frail patients who might catch cold, or pneumonia. (Will Diane design matching scarves?) But in general I think this is a favorable trend, or at least a start, that some hospitals are noticing how patients are treated – apart from the meds and procedures and strict nursing care – affects their experience and, potentially, their wellness.

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