Dress the way you want to be addressed’ – Tony Taylor

‘If you look good, you look good, and if you feel good, you do good.’ – Georges St-Pierre

One of the biggest and most daunting things to think about as an academic, and particularly as a scientist, is how to dress for an event. This is even more stressful when it is an event full of other academics. This might seem strange – but we are often told in academia that fashion is not important. Why should you worry about your dress code while you can be thinking about your chemical reaction?  I have battled my entire graduate life with what to wear and when to wear it.

I love fashion. I have memories of my undergraduate year when I would carefully think about what I wore each day, expressing myself. One guy friend of mine said ‘Hlapisi, this is not a fashion show, it is a chemistry lecture’. That dampened my spirit and made me wonder why scientists should have to be told how to can express themselves.

I quickly learned though that the dress code for chemistry students is jeans, sneakers and a t-shirt. This was hard at first because I hated jeans, and the outfit felt far too basic. With time I came to understand that wearing sneakers was for my protection in the laboratory against harsh chemicals. However, on days when I was not in the laboratory and just went to class, I did not understand and still don’t. I think culture is created and can be modified, and that is what I always think of science students. The culture of dull and boring fashion has to end, people should be able to stretch and express themselves.

I had the privilege of attending my first conference in medical research. That completely changed my mind and how I saw the research etiquette, and how I understood professional and academic fashion. These doctors and professors wore excellent outfits, so much so that I thought maybe the fashion police were around! It was in Pretoria. I saw women dressed up in makeup who spoke with elegant sophistication and ownership of their work. That is when a light bulb came on that excellence is not defined by how one dresses and whether they enjoy fashion, but rather by the quality of their work, their articulation and their comprehension of their research.

Due to my love for fashion (which has slowly faded), I have discovered some people who invest in academic fashion like a blog by the VOU articulating what academic fashion should look like. One fascinating genre of fashion is called Dark Academia, which draws its inspiration from the Greek arts, writing and architecture. This style is inspired to reflect a subculture on the emphasis on education, learning, and reading. However, the basic phenomenon in this new culture is comfort, passion for art and knowledge.

The pictures above show me on different occasions, the first one shows me on a normal chilly Pietermaritzburg day and the second and third ones show me at a conference, the third is the gala dinner at the same conference in picture two.

Maybe I should give a few tips on what to wear as a researcher.

  • Dress appropriately following the Occupational Health and Safety(OHS) regulations.
  • Allow yourself to be human and allow yourself to be fashionable or classy, or comfortable and practical – whichever fits you and helps you to feel confident.
  • Your dress code doesn’t determine your intelligence or how well your research will go.
  • Dress the way you want to be addressed but be excellent in your work.

The question to ask yourself is is your dress code linked to your intellect? Does it make you more intelligent to not think about looking good?

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