How have I possibly been working for 3 months already AND have graduated 5 months ago – just doesn’t seem possible that it’s already October! The last three months I’ve become quite comfortable in my quality control lab position, but only after spending multiple weeks perfecting my professional wardrobe. From my experience, most science blogs like to promote stylish bloggers, which I’m all for, but I’ve never seen anyone cover how to dress for a professional lab. Yes, my lab requires the laboratory employees to dress in business casual despite having to also wear full lab coats all day.
My 3rd day of work I showed up in a simple top, leggings, and comfortable sneakers and was then promptly told about the dress code. This was an entirely new concept to me. All of my prior lab experience was in academia where everyone rocked jeans, a comfy sweater, and cute sneakers – it was all I knew. This gave me a fun (?) challenge to figure out how to dress business professional, follow all appropriate PPE guidelines AND wear a lovely pair of steel-toed boots daily. Since I run QC tests for the manufacturing floor I am running to the plant multiple times per day – so my company also requires that everyone on the floor wear the boots as a safety precaution. See my fashion dilemma? So in case, anyone else out in industry is struggling with this same, unique issue I am here to offer up my capsule wardrobe for working in a professional lab!
PPE & General Guidelines
PPE = Personal Protective Equipment. Any lab will most likely have at least 10 signs posted around the floor about the requirements and regulations for PPE in the lab. Typical PPE includes nitrile or latex gloves, lab glasses/goggles, and a long sleeve laboratory coat that buttons up. In addition to these PPEs, lab rules require scientists to wear full-length clothes (long pants, no tank tops), close-toed shoes, limited jewelry, and hair pulled back.
God bless not having to wear lab goggles anymore. Lab glasses I’m still struggling with sadly. I enjoy a good pair of lab glasses that are smaller and don’t give me a headache. Unfortunately, I didn’t save my trusty pair from undergrad and got stuck with the giant clear pairs that gave scientists a bad fashion rep. So if anyone has any suggestions (I’ve been obsessed with finding a gold pair) for cute but safe lab glasses I’m all ears – please slide into my DMs and let me know your favorites!
This category gives me the most flexibility with my fashion choices for lab. Any cute and flexible blouse or nicely pressed tops will work great. There are a few guidelines I have for the shirts I wear to work. (1) Although I could definitely get away with wearing a more casual top since I’m in my coat all day I think it’s better to err on the more professional side than not. I stocked up on cute blouses from Kohl’s (ELLE and LC Lauren Conrad are great lines for this) and TJMaxx. (2) Some trends just don’t work for this environment. Off the shoulder tops are adorable but they don’t allow much movement and aren’t the most professional. Cut-outs can be appropriate as long as they’re not excessively highlighting cleavage. Fringe, crop tops, and extremely tight tops are all no-go’s. One trend that I’ve been having so much fun with is the bell sleeve trend, but you have to make sure that they’re short. Long bell sleeves will get in the way of your work, so quarter sleeve tops are the perfect length. (3) Finally, as I mentioned previously movement in the top is very important. A lot of “professional” tops can be restricted in the shoulders which aren’t great for non-desk jobs. Most lab jobs require us to be moving all the time and if your top bunches up every time you reach in the higher cabinet you’ll have a rough day.
Bottoms are very easy to find and come down to personal preference. 99% of my work pants are all black which is great because they go with every top and provide a nice clean look to your appearance. My personal preference is to wear straight leg or skinny pants so I often wear a pair of thick and structured leggings that keep me comfy all day long.
Steel-toed boots are the bane of my fashion existence. However, they do give me a grunge-edge when I wear them with my skinny pants. Essentially my steel-toed boots are giant black combat boots that require me to wear thick ski socks daily so I don’t get blisters. If I did get the freedom to wear non-steel boots I’d rock low-heeled ankle boots, riding boots, full-coverage loafers, and flats.
Jewelry & Accessories
Sadly wearing multiple rings, long earrings, and pendant necklaces aren’t ideal for lab bench life. Since I work with samples in the warehouse I don’t wear necklaces or long earrings in case they were to fall off and mess up production or end up in a sample. I don’t wear rings either because they’re a pain to deal with when wearing gloves. However, a lot of the women in my lab wear their wedding rings and take it off each time they glove up or wear the ring on a chain during the day. My opinion on jewelry for lab: studs are life. Stud earrings allow you to add a personal flair to your looks and won’t get in the way.
Unless you’re a very cold-blooded person I wouldn’t wear a big scar for lab, but a thinner one would be appropriate for winter time or when the AC is blasting. Watches and smartwatches are a definite go for lab wear. Not only do they make you look like extremely put together but it’s a great way to help time experiments and look cool when you check it instead of the wall or phone clock.
My lab isn’t very strict about having hair pulled back, it’s more of a preference for the women who work there. Personally, I leave my hair down most of the time unless I’m doing a test that requires mixing or measuring so that it doesn’t get in the way. Currently one of my goals is to perfect a few up-dos for work. My list includes a good low pony-tail, a high (but not Ariana Grande level) ponytail, a braided look and a chic top knot. So far I’ve found fabric ties and hair clips to be helpful.
So there you have it. My (very long) guide for dressing in a professional lab! Thanks for reading along, if you have any suggestions or comments I’d love to hear below!