MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Hospital gowns have been around for 100 years, and we’ve been complaining for just as long.

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They’re flimsy, ugly, uncomfortable and way too breezy.

“You can’t get to where you’re tieing, so you end up leaving it open,” said Dennis Haskin, of Bloomington.

And while they’re meant to keep you clothed, they can leave you feeling less than covered.

“You have to cover up,” said Cheryll Walker of St. Louis Park, “so there’s no way you’re ever going to wander around the hospital without hanging onto a piece or part of it.”

It’s the rare design where form and function both fail, but the folks from Park Nicollet are looking to change that, by funding a $40,000 design competition, open to students around the country.

“We are 100 percent committed to make the best patient experience possible through this gown,” said Park Nicollet Foundation President Christa Getchell.

And it’s the perfect opportunity to solicit fresh ideas.

“The idea of bringing students into the mix,” said Design Guys Creative Director Steve Sikora, “is that they will approach the problem from a direction that the industry would never approach it from.”

Eric Geiger, a design student at the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul, has first-hand experience.

“My mom is a nurse,” he said, “and of course we’re hearing her gripe and complain about it all the time.”

He actually designed two gowns for the contest, with hidden pockets for hanging bags, Polar-Tec material for comfort and Zip-lok closures instead of zippers.

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“People can’t reach around to the back to tie them,” he said, “so this is nice and easy to use. It’s recommended by the Arthritis Foundation.”

University of Minnesota student Linsey Gordon and Silvia Guttmann used a huge sheet of paper to sort out their ideas.

“It’s important to think as far outside the spectrum as you can and then you work back down into the problem scope,” Gordon said.

Their gown features a kangaroo pouch for hands, built-in pocket for glasses or tissues and a pull tab and snaps instead of the traditional ties.

“You have to only pull and all the snaps will come off with the one pull,” Guttmann said. “It’s very easy to use.”

They even designed a special folding system for their gown before sending it off to the judges.

“I think we ended up with some stuff that is very, very close to satisfying the most important criteria,” Sikora said.

The 15 designs came from as far away as Purdue and Chicago, and were evaluated by a team of judges with backgrounds in fashion, design, manufacturing and nursing. Even a few patients.

“And each design was so unique and so different,” said Getchell. “It was a gift that these college students gave us.”

The winner will be worth $20,000, and Park Nicollet hopes to not only use it in its own clinics within 18 months, but market it to hospitals around the world.

Quite an inspiration for an aspiring designer.

“I’m sure one day I’ll end up in a hospital, too,” said Geiger, “so I’d rather be wearing my own clothes, something I designed.”

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The nine top designs will be part of a runway show on Saturday night, and the top three designs will be announced at that time.