What To Wear For C.P.E.

Wintry Mix came out of lurking to ask PeaceBang about CPE-appropriate clothing, given their fairly stringent (and appropriately so) dress code.

Wintry, blessed are those who are brave enough to ask for sartorial help, for they shall receive it.

First of all, consider your role: chaplain in a hospital. Someone who needs to be able to get around fast in slippery hospital corridors, to stand for lengths of time around beds, and who needs to look approachable and yet still professional.

Open toed shoes are out. Good. They should be, as they are neither appropriate for the role nor hygenic in a hospital setting. We’ll get to shoes later.

Look to the doctors for your role model: they stay crisp and tailored, and so should you.
I advise you to stay with the basics:

> Twill pants with a nice cut (not Dockers or the like — shop for something with shape). Navy or black, nothing light (you don’t want someone’s last vision to be of your pantylines as you go out the door). Two pairs should be fine. Have them hemmed if necessary. You should *love* them.

> A couple of nicely tailored blouses, and I wouldn’t recommend anything but solid colors. A rosy color is nice, as is a beautiful sea blue/green. Think soothing, not busy. Long sleeves or 3/4 length will do nicely, and nothing that wrinkles too quickly. Yes, it’s the summer but hospitals are CHILLY!
If you want to run out and play right after work, wear a camisole under the shirt and rip off the shirt at the end of the day.

> A beautiful, classic belt buckle. Wear it everyday. Make it your major accessory. Tuck your shirt into the trousers and set it off with the belt. Lovely. Are you of slim or ample shape? It helps me to know that.

> Layer. Wear a cotton/spandex NICE t-shirt that FITS your body under a lovely cardigan. (But be aware of silk blends with an unfortunate odor.). When they specify no t-shirts, they don’t mean nice t-shirts with a satin trim neck, a fitted bodice and cap sleeves, etc. They just don’t anyone showing up in either Hanes or shirts with the latest youth ministry conference logo on it.

> Accessories should be simple. A nice watch, and a simple necklace and earrings. A small cross, if you’re Christian. There’s no need to make the common Beginner Minister mistake and adorn yourself with huge religious symbols. Chaplaincy is as chaplaincy does, my dear.

> The reason I’m not recommending summer jackets for you is that cardigans and blouses are softer and less “professional.” You are going to be comforting people and praying with them. You need utmost mobility in your clothing without being sloppy. Blazers look wonderful but they’re constricting. PeaceBang is too generously-sized to look good in a cardigan, so she does blazers a lot and knows this.

> If you go with skirts, and if you have the figure for it, a nice pencil skirt that hits just below the knee shouldn’t cause anyone to cite you for dress code violation. For heaven’s sake, don’t buy anything long and floral! Again, as in the trousers the fabric should be non-clingy and beautifully tailored. Dark colors with lighter tops.


Dear heart, I went shoe shopping today and was HORRIFIED by the big rubber messes passing for sandals this season! There seems to be a new trend in Shoes That Resemble Tires, which may allow you to scoot around the ER with utmost confidence, but are far too sporty and give a girl a floppy gait, which is NEVER comforting to the afflicted. This is especially a problem with those ubiquitous backless shoes. Do avoid clogs and the like, unless they have a back piece. Clogs are generally okay (just okay) but they do clop, and you don’t want to sound like My Friend Flicka making your rounds.
L.L. Bean has a nice Kennebunkport clog that I like in the neutral color. They’re over $50 but you can be sure they’ll be made well and offer excellent support. Just don’t clop, and don’t wear them with a short skirt.
(If you get this for your shoe, stay with a lower-calf length skirt. Just make sure you’re not drowning in too much skirt. Keep it streamlined. A matte jersey would be good, but wear a control top tummy slimmer with it if you’re chunky or you’ll jiggle fore and aft.)

It just so happens that flats are wildly in fashion right now, and there are oodles of styles to choose from in every color and in every price range. Get yourself some flats with some good support in them, with a round toe (pointy looks fabulous but is impractical for your job), and a rubber bottom for good grippability. I swear by Dr. Scholl inserts myself, and you may want to purchase some trimmed in your shoe size before you hit the DSW Shoe Warehouse or wherever. It may be that your CPE shoes need to be 1/2 size bigger to accomodate the inserts. At the end of the summer, believe me, you’ll never want to see those shoes again. Have a shoe burial party when it’s all over.

You may be forgiven for wearing a slightly frumpy shoe for your CPE position. Buy yourself some strappy stilettos for when you’re off duty and samba the night away. Promise me you will. And please don’t feel the need to wear navy shoes with navy slacks. A lovely taupe or neutral will get you through any outfit. Just stay away from cutesy ballerina flats or anything with big bows.

P.S. Make sure to stock purse-sized Purell for yourself before you start, and lay in a supply of those fresh white hankies.

Oh, and Wintry? NO PERFUME WHATSOEVER when you’re in the hospital. Not even heavily scented hand creams or hair products. Sick people are very sensitive to odors and their immune systems are compromised, and they may react badly to heavily scented products. Be a love and pass that along to your comrades in the program.

Take care of yourself and your own immune system. Make sure to play every day.
May God bless you in this ministry, and may the Good Fairy of Shopping send you just the right clothes for your CPE. Let us know how it goes.

8 Replies to “What To Wear For C.P.E.”

  1. I think a good unscented hand cream is even more important than the santizing wipes. I never washed my hands so intensely as in my CPE unit.

  2. And beware striped blazers or jackets. I had a nice unstructured blazer in grey and white stripes that long ago summer. I wore it a few times before I realized that every patient thought I was a candy striper and asked me where their flowers were!

  3. Take PeaceBang’s advice about comfortable, sturdy shoes seriously! My feet ached a lot after walking around the hospital floors for hours each day. One CPE resident I know got full-blown plantar facitis (sp?) with all the walking she had to do.

    Clogs were *very* popular among doctors and nurses at my CPE site, so my Danskos blended in well even if they did clop a bit. They were what I had left to wear after the weak little shoes I originally bought for the purpose had worn out. 🙂

  4. Danskos are indeed good. I like Earth Shoes myself. The funky negative-heel thing keeps me from slouching while I’m on my feet all day.

  5. I lived in the Danskos during CPE.
    I love the advice about dancing in stilettos. There was no summer of my life in which I needed more opportunities to act out or up in the off hours. Some Friday nights, I actually partied! I invited the younger members of my group over and we sat outside in my kids’ treehouse. I met men (I was three years divorced at the time), including my now husband. There is something about doing CPE that makes reaching out and grabbing for life an absolute necessity. And that definitely requires a fun shoe for the off hours!!!

  6. All sage advice, Peacebang and commenters, but I feel compelled to riff on the subtle caution about pantylines.

    Where shall I begin? Let me do away with tact and be as direct as possible:

    Dear, dear sister-friends: DO NOT WEAR brightly colored panties under your white-ivory-ecru-eggshell trousers, or any other garment that displays to the whole world your boyshorts with the red and blue stripes.

    If I sound exasperated, it’s because we (that’s the royal “we”) were supposed to have learned this in, let’s say, the second grade. (God knows that it’s time to review sartorial philosophy in divinity school, but that’s a whole other story…..)

    It’s an agonizing situation I find myself in, every few months, when I see a beloved colleague stand in front of a gathering, bend over to light the chalice (wearing her ecru trousers), and give us all a peek as to which day of the week is stitched across her backside.

    Does one say something (albeit privately) to one’s colleague? (This falls under the “I would want to know” ethical field.) Does one pretend, along with the rest, not to have seen London/France/our colleague’s underpants?

    How does one handle such a conundrum?

  7. PeaceBang, I’m a staff chaplain and I recently began wearing a black lab coat with otherwise “business” dress. How do you feel about that? I was frustrated at the futility of pockets in women’s clothes. I didn’t want to do a white lab coat because one CPE center where I trained did that and folks always thought we were docs. The black does nicely.

    I also have a navy lab coat and a “dressy” non-cuff-sleeve scrub jacket on order. We’ll have to see about those.

    How do you feel about the lab coat plan?

    PS. You are wonderful. I can’t count the hours I’ve spent worrying and planning and thinking about my wardrobe and you make things easier. Bless you and this ministry! <3

    [Thanks, sweetie! This is a good question so I’m gonna lift it out of the comments and turn it into a post, okay? TTFN. – PB]

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