Internist from Point Breeze creates, markets lab coats tailored to women
The slits in the sides of a lab coat were more than just openings to access pants pockets.
They let through an idea for something better.
“One morning after coming home from an especially difficult shift, I complained to my husband about my awful lab coat,” says Dr. Leslie Latterman, a board-certified internist and a practicing hospitalist for Allegheny Health Network.
“It was dingy and heavy and it fit me like a tent. In exasperation, I yelled at my husband, ‘What are these stupid holes on the sides for?' His response was, ‘That's to allow men to reach into their trouser pockets.'
“That's when it hit me,” she says. “We've been forced to wear a lab coat designed for a man. There was once a time when women physicians felt they had to look and act like a man to be respected. Those days are over. Today, we command respect as a physician and a woman.”
And so, these women doctors want a lab coat that suits their needs, Latterman says. It took her six years to launch Designs by Dr. Leslie, a company that makes designer lab coats with women in mind. Her motto is: “You're extraordinary! … Shouldn't your lab coat be?”
Latterman's creation is a brilliant idea, says Audrey Guskey, a professor of marketing at Duquesne University and a consumer-trends expert.
“What took so long for someone to come up with this idea?” Guskey says. “There are so many more female doctors today.”
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the number of female medical graduates has grown significantly — from 6.9 percent in 1965-66 compared to 47.8 percent in 2011-12.
“Women are into fashion and they want something that looks good on them when they are working,” Guskey says. “They also need to carry items with them and they can't really bring a purse when they do hospital rounds to see patients. So having the various pockets is perfect. They won't have to worry about wearing a coat that not's comfortable or doesn't fit properly.”
When Latterman started her first job, she was asked what size she wore in a men's lab coat.
“A men's lab coat?” she says. “I had to ask again to make sure I heard the question properly. It's the same basic coat that doctors have worn for over 100 years. They didn't have pagers or cell phones back then and they certainly didn't have very many women physicians back then. That's when I decided to make something better.”
She met with a group of women residents to discuss what a modern woman's lab coat should be like. They determined it should be designed to fit a woman's shape. The fabric should be soft and light, as well as wrinkle-free and stain-resistant.
They replaced the holes on the sides with large, zippered pockets. An addition of a Velcro shoulder loop secures a stethoscope. They agreed the sleeves should be able to be rolled up.
Latterman enlisted the expertise of a panel of textile experts, including the head of the fabric lab at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
Helping her move the project forward was Ali Zacharias, who owns U Design 4 U, a company based in Los Angeles that works with entrepreneurs in reaching their business dreams.
“I can suture, but I definitely can't sew,” Latterman says.
“She thought of everything,” Zacharias says. “She is so meticulous, from including the special extra details, even down to the finishing — making it stain- and wrinkle-resistant. These lab coats are about function meets fashion. It's a wonderful option that females didn't have before.”
The logo is based on the caduceus — the medical symbol of two snakes winding around a staff.
The coats are priced at $199, including shipping and embroidery. Most men's lab coats cost $60 with additional pricing for embroidery and shipping.
“When you are doing your job, you want to be able to perform at your best,” says Latterman, of Point Breeze. “My neck was hurting because of the stethoscope around it all day, and I couldn't find my keys and my wallet.”
Dr. Yenny Cabrera-Kapetanos, an internist who specializes in hospitalist medicine for Allegheny Health Network, recently purchased a Designs by Dr. Leslie lab coat.
“I had a very busy day and this coat delivered,” Cabrera-Kapetanos says. “I was able to use all the features Leslie advertises and they were great. From the separate loop to carry the pager to the shoulder lapels to attach my stethoscope to the fantastic zippered pockets. It fits a woman's body. As I wore it at work, all I kept thinking was, ‘Gosh, I should have gotten two coats right away.' ”
Dr. Marcie Mitre, a gastroenterologist for Allegheny Health Network, also recently purchased one of the lab coats, which has attracted inquiries from colleagues — female and male. There is definitely a need for these coats, says Mitre, who plans to buy a second one.
“We want to look good,” Mitre says. “We want to look sharp. We want a lab coat that fits. And this one fits and fits well. The response I got the first day I wore it was amazing. I am so proud of Leslie, because I have seen her work on this for years. She did her homework on this. The material is comfortable and durable, and they are beautifully crafted and so well made.”
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7889.