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Can Hospital Gowns Be Functional -- Even Fashionable? One Dallas Company Thinks So

The hospital gown may be one of the least fashionable clothing items out there. But one Dallas company says it's possible to make hospital outfits functional -- and even fashionable.

In the movie "Something’s Gotta Give," Jack Nicholson walked into a hospital hallway, wearing a gown that exposed his backside. When Dusty Eber watched that scene, he groaned.

“Hospital gowns probably haven’t changed in 100 years or so," Eber said. "There was a need in the marketplace for comfy, cozy hospital gowns that addressed modesty comfort issues.”

So Eber started PatientStyle – a company that sells custom-designed garments to hundreds of hospitals in Dallas-Fort Worth and across the country.

The gowns are made with overlapping panels, giving the gowns "extra-wide sweep." That means backsides are no longer bare -- and Nicholson's movie character can walk down the hallway without embarrassment. Gowns can be tied on the sides (instead of the back), making it easier for patients to dress themselves, the company says.

There's also a wrap-around mammography top and pediatric wear for kids.

One of the company's bestsellers is a nursing gown that has snaps running along the arms to make it easier to adjust IVs. The gown also comes with two slits hidden behind a pleat that runs down the chest to make it easier for nursing moms to breastfeed.

Women "demanding better choices"

In Dallas, UT Southwestern Medical Center hands out the gowns to about 1,500 new moms each year. Denise Bulpitt, a nurse and lactation consultantat UT Southwestern, says most moms want to look at least somewhat stylish after they’ve had their baby – especially since visits usually mean photos – but they also want to be able to breastfeed and not have, you know, anything embarrassing happen.

"Women are now demanding better choices," Bulpitt said.

For a long time, gowns were both uncomfortable to wear -- and a hassle for nurses, she said.

"They would have a tie in the back, and that was it," Bulpitt said. "So if you had IVs or anything else you’d have to untie everything, thread all your IVs through, you’d have all sorts of spaghetti lines trying to get gowns on and off. And, for our new moms, it was even worse because if they wanted to breastfeed they almost had to take down the whole front of the gown.”

Today, there are a handful of companies selling more stylish variations of the hospital gown that cater to new moms.

Modesty gowns for Muslims

In addition to the nursing gown, the company also offers a modesty gown, which is designed for the Muslim and orthodox Jewish communities.

“What we developed was a product that has a longer sleeve," Eber said. "So it goes all the way to the wrist, and it also goes all the way down to the ankle."

There’s a detachable head covering and a hole for wires hidden behind a front pocket.

All the gowns feel like soft pajamas – there are no scratchy tags – and patterns range from stripes to checkers to flowers. Eber admits his products cost about three to four times more than traditional gowns. But there’s a reason hospitals are willing to spend the money.

In an effort to improve health care quality, the government has tied hospitals' Medicare reimbursements in part to how patients rate their experiences.

“They’re focusing tremendously around patient experience and patient satisfaction because there’s a lot of ... dollars that are going to come back,” Eber said.

In other words, hospitals hope a little injection of fashion will pay off.

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.