Ask Laia: What Do I Wear Under A Lab Coat?

I have to dress within the rules of lab: long pants, close-toed shoes and sleeves.
Publish date:
August 4, 2011
shoppables, science, ask laia, lab coats

Hi Laia!

I'm a graduate student who spends most of her days sporting safety glasses in a chemistry lab. The atmosphere in my department ultra-casual: My peers and professors rock grungy tennis shoes, T-shirts and ill fitting denim or long, matronly skirts. *shudder.* I'd prefer to look classy and fashion-conscious without seeming uptight and overdressed. I have to dress within the rules of lab: long pants, close-toed shoes and sleeves. Nothing too dangly or drapey, lest I pass too close to an open flame or a bottle of caustic chemicals. Oh, and I live in central Texas where we'll be dealing with extreme, nausea-inducing heat through Thanksgiving, so cute sweaters are out of the question (sigh...). My weekend wardrobe is full of breezy dresses, matte gold jewelry, red lipstick, sheer blouses and chunky heels -- all scavenged from vintage stores and sale racks because, you know, grad school budget!

So, think you can help brainstorm some lab appropriate wear for a style obsessed science nerd on a budget? You're the best!


Thanks for writing in! I will start by acknowledging how badly I want to answer this question with "What to wear under a lab coat? Why, nothing at all!" But that isn't really productive and I am not in the business of turning normal people into flashers. Sometimes you just gotta give in to your impulses so you can move on with the serious stuff. Which is what I'm doing now; this is very serious stuff.

You said you wear a lot of sheer blouses so I'm kinda honing in on that. Not that I picked sheer blouses for you but I think your uniform should consist on a great pair of trousers worn with your nice blouses and some cool ankle boots. It's a failproof formula!

Short Sleeved Peter Pan Shirt $36 & Camel Sleeveless Shirt $66, Topshop

I always love a button-down shirt and it seemed like the perfect place to start. Breezy short-sleeve styles in nicer fabrics will make you feel dressed up and not stuffy, and I would find ones with cool details like a peter pan collar or a puff sleeve or anything else that will give you just the right amount of femme edge you are after. Since the weather sounds like a total nightmare, I think you could also do nice sleeveless shirts worn under a super-lightweight short-sleeve sheer cardigan like this one from Urban Outfitters so you meet your sleeve requirement but don't have to sweat through your day.

New Cafe Capri $39.99, J.Crew & BB Dakota Staci Pant $78,

I find that it's really hard to find nice trousers (which my friend makes fun of me for, but like he's a guy so what does he know?), and lately I've taken to hitting the men's department at Topshop and buying their men's suit trousers when they go on sale. I think a cropped style looks cooler and it also gives you a chance to show off a cool sock moment, which is always good. The tapered and narrower styles will look better under your lab coat but if you had a pair of wide leg trousers you really like, then you shouldn't really discount them just because you might look weird with all that fabric. After all, you really just need to be comfortable and able to focus on doing your thing without distractions!

Aiden Leather Lace Up Brogue Boot $86.20 & Andre Leather Chelsea Ankle Boot $77.58, ASOS

Little ankle boots are the perfect thing to top off your look, a vintage-y ankle lace-up is always a bit unexpected and would look really rad with your dresses on the weekends. Actually, a chelsea boot would look cute, too. A thin trouser sock (in black or a color if you're feeling adventurous) scrunched down so you can only see a hint of it above the boot is the perfect way to make your look a little bit more exciting.

Have fun at the lab!

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