Geek Chic: What to Wear to Lab

Dressing for lab is tricky but it doesn't have to cramp your style - check out our stylish and lab-appropriate outfit ideas and tips!
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During my time as a pre-med biology major, I spent a fair share of my time in various labs: general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, anatomy, environmental science, and so on.

They ran the gamut from "dry" computer-based labs in physics to dissection labs that didn't require a lab coat per se (but I usually wore one because who wants pickled cat juice on their clothes?) to lab coat and goggles-required wet labs - like the weekly four hour gen chem lab I dreaded so very much - to really wet labs, like the one time in environmental science that I volunteered to trudge into the Charles River wearing waders to collect water samples.

I imagine that my fellow fashion-loving science majors have all felt the tinge of jealousy on lab days as we watch our humanities-studying peers walk by in their stylish, open-toed shoes or the business majors head to presentations in their snappy corporate wear and polished heels.

It's easy to fall into the rut of sweatpants and sneakers when you know that most of your outfit is going to be covered by a lab coat anyways, but come on, my fellow geek chic scientists! We keep hearing that "science is sexy", so let's rise to the occasion. (Although you really should never ever wear heels to a four hour lab. Trust me on this.)

Read on for tips and ideas about how to look cute, comfortable, and ready to get experimentin' in lab! 

Top 6 Tips for Lab Dressing

  • Fitted 3/4 Sleeves. A three-quarter sleeve eliminates the possibility of your cuffs peeking out from under a lab coat and getting stained, or worse, ignited on a Bunsen burner. Avoid billowy sleeves for the same reason.
  • Thin Layers. Prevent bulk under your lab coat by wearing thin layers that you can easily remove if it gets warm. Conversely, lots of labs are freezing, so it's nice to have a light jacket or cardigan on hand.
  • Rock that Ponytail, Work that Updo. I'm sure it says this in your lab syllabus, but long-haired ladies, don't forget to put your hair up in a ponytail or bun.
  • Close-toed shoes. Okay, I've definitely been guilty of wearing ballet flats to lab and calling it a day, but keep in mind that the top of your foot is just as susceptible to caustic chemicals as your toes. If you're clumsy in lab like me, you'll want to make sure that the hydrochloric acid you spill doesn't end up burning a hole in your flesh.
  • Spills and Stains. While we're on the topic of stains, you'll probably want to leave your absolute favorite family-heirloom-that-could-never-be-replaced clothes at home, just in case of the event of a spill.
  • Glasses vs. Goggles. Depending on your lab's policies, you may be able to wear lab glasses instead of lab goggles. If you find that your goggles are constantly steaming up or if you wear eyeglasses, lab glasses are an easier option. But remember the cautionary tale of Carol and always wear your safety equipment if you're told to!

4 Stylish & Lab-Appropriate Outfits

Try these ideas for ensembles that are perfectly functional for lab, but also won't look out of place once you take off your goggles and head out into sweet, sweet freedom the street.

Look 1:

college lab outfit blazer faded jeans striped t-shirt stud earrings chucks

Products: T-shirt - ASOS, Blazer - Charlotte Russe, Earrings - Banana Republic, Jeans - Nordstrom Rack, Converse - Nordstrom Rack, Hair Ties - Sephora

Go for a classic look with the no-fail combination of Chucks and faded jeans. A colorful striped t-shirt jazzes up the outfit, while a black blazer (with 3/4 sleeves) ties it all together. You'll want to keep jewelry small -- think stud earrings -- and avoid wearing anything on your wrists to lower the chances of getting your accessories caught on lab equipment.

Look 2:

lab-outfit-moto-jacket

Products: Tunic - ModCloth, Earrings - Nordstrom, Ponytail Holder - Nordstrom, Leggings - Aerie, Moto Jacket - Urban Outfitters, Boots - Lulus

If you've got a more rock-and-roll fashion sensibility, try a pair of edgy motorcycle or combat boots as your close-toed-shoe du jour. Leggings are a great option for lab because they're so comfortable (if you're staunchly anti-leggings, you could definitely swap in a pair of black jeans). Wear 'em with a long tunic that covers your bum and throw on a moto-style jacket.

Look 3:

lab-outfit-riding-boots

Products: Shirt - Abercrombie, Belt - Target, Boots - DSW, Earrings - Nordstrom Rack, Jeans - Old Navy

A sock bun is another great way to keep your hair out of your face and away from potential flame sources during lab. If you're like me and own that one tricky pair of jeans that looks great, but is always slipping down at the waist, try out a fun belt. That way, you won't have to pull on your belt loops with your formaldehyde-coated gloves. Riding boots are another ideal footwear choice for lab.

Look 4:

lab-outfit-sweatshirt

Products: Blouse - ASOS, Jeans - Old Navy, Sweatshirt - H&M, Hair Tie - ASOS, Socks - Forever 21, Oxford Flats - ModCloth

For a quirkier vibe, try out a floral sweatshirt layered over a sleeveless blouse. The flowers will provide a pop of color that'll be visible even when you're wearing a lab coat. If you're wearing shoes that don't completely cover your foot, such as these oxfords, slip on a pair of patterned socks for an extra layer of protection. Plus, the socks will help keep your feet comfortable even after you've been standing at a lab bench for hours.

What did you think?

Would you wear these outfits? Do you have lab courses?  What do you like to wear to lab? Have you ever felt compelled to look cute for a general chemistry lab because your TF was really cute? (Oh wait, that's just me.) Let me know in the comments! 

Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2013; it was completely updated and revamped in 2018 by Sharon with new photos, outfit sets, and information.

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