A team at North Carolina State University’s College of Textiles is asking patients to help them solve a long-standing problem: embarrassing hospital gowns.

Anyone who has been a hospital patient knows the uneasy, drafty feeling the unisex garment that “ties” loosely in the back. The “johnny gown” endures largely because it fulfills the hospital need for a garment that is light, durable, launderable and inexpensive. Patient modesty takes a backseat.

Traci Lamar, professor of textile apparel technology & management at N.C. State, has led an effort to solve this problem. Lamar’s gown opens in front, making it easier for patients to fasten the gown themselves with a snap near the chest and a loop and tie at the waist. A front overlapping closure gives clinicians access to check a patient’s heart rate and or administer an IV. The gown also comes with multiple pockets and loops to carry medical devices and personal belongings.

As of 4:30 pm Eastern on May 31, the team had just met its goal $5,000 to cover supplies and manufacturing for 500 gowns. The group used the SciFund Challenge, a global organization of scientists that uses crowdfunding to fund research. This month 75 campaigns, including the N.C. State “Down with the Gown” effort, are trying to crowdfund projects. Once the test gowns are manufactured, they will be tested at WakeMed Health & Hospitals in Raleigh.

Patient dissatisfaction with the garments is almost universal, according to surveys the N.C. State researchers conducted with patients, caregivers and hospital purchasing managers.

“Patient comments from these surveys referenced feelings of embarrassment when trying to walk or perform physical therapy in a traditional hospital-issued garment, which is open at the back and often exposes part of the patient’s body,” graduate student and project manager Anne Porterfield wrote in the project’s blog. “Our data suggests that what may be dismissed as a minor issue may in fact impact patient recovery by making patients less willing to engage in their own care.”

Those patient concerns resonated with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which supported N.C. State’s early gown research with a $224,532 grant in 2006.

The idea for a new gown is not unique to N.C. State. In 2010, fashion designer Ben de Lisi designed new hospital gowns for the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. Later that year, The Cleveland Clinic introduced a new gown designed by designer Diane von Furstenberg. The RWJF report on the N.C. State project notes that new gown designs haven’t caught on because of their cost or because they restricted clinician access to the patient’s body. The N.C. State team could address some of those concerns with the next phase of its research, a field trial.