Medical Interpreter Dress Code: Tops


In this series we’ve provided an overview of what a dress code is, looked at identification and, most recently, discussed what not to wear. We’ve gotten some good feedback and we appreciate all of it. Here we’ll look at the most obvious, and most often the first impression of what you wear: your top.


It is easy to go crazy with tops. There are so many options. The most fashionable styles scream at us every time we go to the store. The nice thing about a dress code is that you can avoid this noise by keeping it simple.

You want to choose styles that reflect business casual. This includes polo shirts, button downs, shirts with collars, sweaters and sweater vests. While on the surface this may put you to sleep, you can find very affordable options with a variety of cuts.

Business casual is important because it accomplishes two things. First, it is easy and affordable to achieve. Second, the interpreter can strike a balance between being approachable for the patients and matching the professionalism of the medical facility and providers.

Now that you’ve narrowed your options to business casual, don’t forget to pay attention to how your clothes fit you. Fit is everything! Remember, the medical interpreter should not be showing more skin than the patient who is having the medical exam.

Take a moment to do these two simple exercises in front of a mirror:

  1. Bend forward: Can you see down your shirt? Any cleavage showing? How about chest hair? If you answered yes to any of these questions, please put on an undershirt or camisole!  
  2. Raise your hands above your head: Can you see your stomach? Your top is too short. Whether you have a great figure or it's soft like mine, an exposed midsection is never good for anyone.

Business casual attire and a good fit go hand-in-hand. Great clothes that are 1) too tight to conceal what should be concealed, or 2) too big thus reminding people of the Saggy Baggy Elephant (love that book – but you don’t want people thinking of it when they should instead be listening to you) must be avoided at all costs. Make sure you’re attentive to both style and fit to get this right.

Bored by all this? Don’t be. One of our readers even suggested lab coats with a uniform color. While likely not the first choice you thought of, it’s worth a consideration. Lab coats present a recognizable look and make interpreters easily identifiable. This option may be more practical if you’re part of a team of interpreters employed directly by a medical provider. If you’re a freelancer or work for an agency, this option may not work for you. The point here is sometimes it’s worth thinking outside the box. Consider your unique workplace environment and explore the ways you can blend professional and approachable while yet having a sharp, but not distracting appearance.

Okay. So you have some ideas on what kind of tops to look for. Where can you find good tops? Again, lots of options here. All the obvious shopping options apply, but one you may have overlooked is your local embroidery or printing shop. They always have tops that come in a wide array of colors. Most will have sample shirts and sizes on-site so you can try them on. They also range in price, so your sure to find something that fits your budget. It’s also handy to have a logo put on the shirt if that’s something your group has decided upon. But remember, your logo should be on the outermost level of clothing.

And just in case you were thinking a little too far outside the box, here are some tops to be avoided:

  • T-shirts. While they may be more affordable, the variations of material and fit may be too casual. What’s underneath your t-shirt, including your undergarments, or lack thereof, can be too obvious with the thin material found in most of these shirts. Colors can easily fade when washed. All of this defeats the purpose of a dress code. T-shirts may send a message that you just don’t care. The exception to this rule may be dress t-shirts found at a print or embroidery shop. The quality of material some dress t-shirts of made of may make this an option.
  • Sleeveless tops. I don't want to see your armpits and I'm sure no one else does either! Besides, why do you want to worry about shaving or making sure your deodorant isn’t marking your shirt? Sleeveless tops, no matter what kind, are unprofessional in any kind of weather.
  • Sheer solids: Can you see anything under your clothes? Undergarments and body parts should be hidden discreetly. If you think people will get a look without looking, you might want to find a different top. Sheer clothing is best suited for your non-work life. While they may make you feel good, it may make others uncomfortable seeing body parts that would otherwise be hidden.

We could go on, but hopefully, you get the point. Business casual and fit should be your guiding factors when choosing tops. And don’t feel bad if you stumble upon an option that’s a bit unconventional, but works for your team and environment.

Remember, a dress code is best served if it applies to a group of people. Whether you are part of a consortium of interpreters, have interpreters working for your agency, or want the interpreters entering your facility to present well, creating a dress code will achieve your goal of being taken seriously as professionals.

If you’re a lone interpreter, following these guidelines will create a cohesive and predictable attire will accomplish the same thing. You want to be memorable because you made a good impression not just with your interpreting but with your image as well.

When you look good you feel good. Find some great tops and you’ll be well on your way to interpreting with greater poise and confidence.

Have an opinion or personal experience to share? Comment below!

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Posted on January 27, 2015 and filed under Interpreter, Manager.