Dress like a nerd

There’s a widget on this blog that lets me see what search terms people are using to find it. This morning, apparently, someone linked to my blog by searching for the term “dress like a nerd.” I can’t tell you how pleased this made me.

Which got me thinking about how nerds actually dress. Having observed nerds closely in their natural habitat I can verify that the days of lab coats and pocket protectors are long gone. The emphasis in the lab is on comfort, however achieved. For example, when I came to interview for my current job, my boss was wearing her pajamas. At least, I think they were her pajamas. They might have been her “dress sweats.” The standard lab uniform, though, is jeans, a t-shirt, and a polar fleece. The t-shirt may be either ironic (“Stand back, I’m going to do SCIENCE!), or have come from a conference, vendor, or summer course—the latter kinds having the advantage of being free.

There’s something wonderful, of course, about scientists’ complete disregard for presentability, but after a while some of us start to want to…well…look like grown ups. At least occasionally. This is easier said than done. For one thing, there are functional reasons for the standard lab uniform (S.L.U.): Labwear needs to be flexible and concealing— there’s a good chance on any given day that you’ll have to crawl around behind or under something to move some wires or adjust some tubing. It needs pockets to store your ID card and keys. And it needs to keep you warm as the temperature in the average lab is only slightly higher than the temperature in the average refrigerator.

There’s also the power of conformity. Those who break the lab dress code by wearing, say, a nice pair of slacks, a sweater vest, or—God forbid—a dress, are likely to be asked where they think they are going and severely teased. Not being immune to this myself I have evolved my own take on the S.L.U.: wide leg jeans, fitted solid-color t-shirt, and a zip-up cardigan. This allows me to blend in adequately while feeling marginally more put-together than I did at age 13. After many years I have gotten to the point where I can occasionally pull off wearing a skirt. (So long as my sweater has sufficient pockets. Nobody, but nobody, carries a purse to lab.) But I still can’t bring myself to feel comfortable in a dress. Which is why it’s unfortunate that I made plans to sew a whole bunch of dresses this summer:

Perhaps they can be adapted into tops? Otherwise I guess I’ll be making many things for my sister (the top center one is for her). What do you think, fellow nerdlings? What is appropriate to wear to lab?