Tells: Artists, Nurses, 7-Inch Stilettos and What to Wear to Work

This is Crazy Nurse Shoes photo: JParadisi 2010

Artists and poker players learn to read “tells.” Tells are little gestures and habits that inform (tell) an observer how an artist made a painting or what a fellow poker player will do next.

Recent  conversations on nursing blogs discuss the pros and cons of  returning to the white nurses uniform. Bloggers in favor of the idea feel it sets nurses professionally and visually apart, easily identifying us to patients. If a patient is unable to read the staff’s name badges for any reason in a busy hospital environment perhaps this is a good idea. Momentarily forget about printed scrubs versus white uniforms as a nursing issue. There is another tell that non-medical people identify us by as nurses: our shoes.

Can any other career minded group of people use a shoe makeover more than nurses?  What other clique of educated professionals wears brightly colored, clunky footwear with patterned socks and feels good about themselves? Even during off-duty meetings at the hospital most of the feet under the conference tables are wearing comfort footwear and socks. Maybe things are worse here in Oregon where comfortable footwear is an art form.

The other day my neighbor who works in sales and I were collecting our mail after work. As always she was beautifully dressed, but what impressed me most was her ability to stand and walk gracefully in 7-inch stilettos. The line of her legs went on and on; she embodied fashion as art. My neighbor stood as lithe as a bamboo reed.

 Most artists appreciate a strong sense of style. If you look closely even at grunge artists you will see the tells of carefully calculated facial hair and thoughtfully chosen accessories. You can identify the ones with trust funds by their orthodontically corrected, perfect smiles.

I wear street clothes under a white lab coat at my nursing job. I am not a complete fashion slouch, but despite wearing skinny jeans, and a european pea coat, my clogs were the tell announcing I had just gotten off  work.

Shopping in a swank shoe department in the mall I over heard a husky young man loudly announce to his girlfriend  “This is crazy, those are nurse shoes.”  My attention immediately diverted to the couple standing next to a display of brightly patterned, patent leather clogs. Yep, nurse shoes. My favorite brand in fact. The very first pair I ever owned are in my studio, splattered with paint and gesso. I wear them when I paint. Comfortable shoes are another crossover between my nursing and artist careers.

Just for fun I removed my boots and socks and tried on a pair of 7-inch stilettos in the swank shoe department.  The line of my legs went on and on. I stood without teetering, but realized if I took a single step forward I might fall to my death or at least twist an ankle, rendering me unable to work my nursing shifts. Instead, I settled for 2 1/2-inch, sexy little peep- toe booties. I can’t wear them to work, but maybe to one of those off-duty meetings…  Paired with skinny jeans, my legs look longer and I’ll learn to be content with that.


  1. Even though nurses shoes need a makeover, comfort is a huge factor. My mom is a retired registered nurse. And you should see her feet…arggggggh. She has bunions on both feet and her right one is worse. Her feet are caloused and hard. (she will kill me if she knew I was writing this). And the shoes need to work over long term. She worked in the industry for over 30 years.
    But a girl can always dream…


  2. Your comment made me think about this post more clearly, thanks! The question for me becomes: how much does our clothing contribute to the notion that nursing is not a real profession? Or does it? Recently I attended a dinner party, and the host (in his twenties, non-medical) explained that he thinks nursing is elevating into a profession from a blue-collar position. I found that interesting. I thnk it has to do with the physical nature of nursing versus the “behind the desk,” less physically demanding nature of other professions. The physical nature of nursing makes our shoes necessary icons.

    Your Mom has worked hard. I bet she’s a damn fine nurse.


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