Primitive peoples looked to witch doctors and medicine men to banish what they perceived to be the causes of illness: demons, evil sorcery or the malevolent influences of spirits. Consequently, primitive peoples' healers dressed fantastically in animal skins and other outrageous attire to inspire confidence in their supernatural powers. As man advanced, the influence of Hippocrates and his disciples prevailed. In the Hippocratic sphere of influence, a physician dressed well in clothes contemporary to the times. In the Middle Ages medical treatments fell out of favor as they were based upon the false premise of balancing the four humours of blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm. The healer/physician became a priest or cleric and donned the robes of the church. Later, when the bubonic plague visited Europe, the plague doctor's uniform became one of a black waxed robe, beaked mask and a wide brimmed hat. Up until the late nineteenth century physicians wore black -- considered a more formal color of dress -- to reflect the seriousness of patient and doctor interactions. With the introduction of antiseptic conditions, physicians began to dress in white. The white lab coat was adopted by medicine in the early twentieth century as a means of distancing allopathy from the quackery of nineteenth century medicine and to cloak allopathic medicine in the respected garb of laboratory science.
Less formal traditions have invaded modern business and the healing arts. Recently, the topic of physician attire has been revisited in the indexed literature. A review of the findings of these studies is reviewed with implications for current practice.