Lab coats mean a lot of things to medical patients, providers, and science professionals. But they’re first and foremost about protection from hazardous substances in a lab or a hospital. This means that white lab coats are designed to keep you safe and less about looking spiffy enough for the red carpet.
That said, this does not mean wanting to look good in your lab coat is a lost cause. In fact, there are loads of different ways to make sure you look professional and also put together, even if your outfit is centered around what’s essentially a robe of white LABTEX fabric.
To look good in a lab coat, there are many things to keep in mind. The first and most important is to remember: safety first. There are some unconventional attire choices that will send your hospital “look” off with a huge fashion statement, but that look should never compromise the safety your labcoat was designed to provide in the first place.
The second thing to keep in mind is where we start to get into the formula for how your “blah” attire can become “bang” attire for professional lab coats. This key factor is the look and feel of the coat itself.
Finally, the third thing to think about is the whole ensemble around (and under) the lab jacket.
Curious? Good. We’ll jump right in.
A well-fitted coat is a good-looking coat
Of course, making sure your lab coat fits right is important for multiple reasons. The most important of those being, once again, safety. A poorly-cut or poor-fitting lab coat won’t just look bad, it can be a serious health risk. A loose and floppy lab coat (whether from the sleeves or in the waist or length) is much more likely to get caught on something. When that “something” is a burner or a flask with a hazardous liquid, a floppy fitting lab coat becomes a serious safety concern.
The safer options in this case are also the more attractive, fitted lab coat options. Let’s take a look at the different fit concerns and how you can optimize style without sacrificing health or safety.
1: Sleeves. This is an important topic, and comes down to more than your preference for short sleeve, long sleeve, or three-quarter sleeve lab coats. How about fit, for instance? Some of us prefer long, loose, flowing clothes with baggy sleeves. Some of us prefer slim cut and snug-fitting long sleeves. And some of us would rather forego the sleeves altogether.
In a lab or hospital setting, our choices are limited. Flowing and baggy is a big “no-go” for the same reasons we mentioned before—you might snag something dangerous. Ultimately, though, whether you want to go long or short sleeve really depends on your role and work environment.
Generally speaking, lab coats are needed for situations where hazardous substances are being handled, and in these cases, long sleeves are usually a safer option since they leave less of your skin exposed. Long sleeves should be snugly fitted, but not so tight as to become restrictive. Think of a well-tailored, modern suit: tight, sleek, yet fairly unrestrictive. Short sleeves might be an appropriate option if your environment doesn’t deal with as many dangerous materials. In these cases, opting for a short sleeved lab coat is a perfectly fine, and even an appropriate fashion choice while keeping you more comfortable.
2: Fastening. This is another important point to consider. Safety-wise, your lab coat needs to be able to close and fasten easily, but not fit so tight that taking it off is a struggle. You need to be able to remove your lab coat at a moment’s notice should anything dangerous fall on it (or should it catch on fire).
That said, a well-functioning and easy-to-manage fastener doesn’t have to be ugly. There are plenty of lab coat options with attractive buttons and sleek metal fasteners that are sure to upgrade your lab coat “looks game” while still keeping optimal functionality.
These are the most important details to consider when choosing the right lab coat that will both work and look great on you. Generally speaking, a lab coat that fits right from a safety standpoint is likely to look better as well. Snug (but breathable), well-fitted sleeves and a secure fastening mechanism—plus an appropriate and efficient length—prove that describing a safe lab coat and a well-tailored one aren’t mutually exclusive.
How to make the whole ensemble look great
Of course, the actual white lab coat isn’t the only thing you’re going to be wearing at work. (At least, we hope not.) There are clothes that you will have on underneath, plus accessories that you might want to wear with it. So, how can you complement your coat in a smart, expressive way that still doesn’t forego safety?
First, leave the gala outfits at home. As great as an expensive dress shirt might look underneath your coat, unless you’re wearing it to a strictly-celebratory and (non-infectious) ceremony, donning expensive fabric underneath your coat is practically asking for expensive stains and dry cleaning. A simple, more economical shirt still works just fine.
As far as the cuts for these shirts go, again, it depends on the context. In any case, a super deep V-neck probably won’t be appropriate given that exposing sensitive skin is creating an unnecessary risk when working with hazardous materials. That said, a moderate V-neck can be a great option to be a little more expressive, to stay cooler on the floor, and to serve as an opportunity to show off a necklace as well for those who wear them. Again, you probably won’t wear an expensive necklace for fear of damage, and you don’t want to wear one that will dangle, swing, or snag something dangerous. An appropriately-chosen piece of jewelry, however, can go a long way in transforming your entire look.
The most important thing to keep in mind when designing an outfit around your lab coat is that the labcoat itself is part of the outfit. It’s not to keep warm or make an entrance with, you won’t throw off once you get to work or to school. You’ll wear it all day long. Try planning your outfit around the fact that you’ll be sporting this fitted white lab coat. What do you normally wear under a jacket when you know you won’t be taking it off? Do your outfits typically include white in the color scheme? If not, how can you change or manipulate your closet’s palette to do so?
Regardless of your final fashion decisions, the most important thing to remember when styling your white lab coat and the outfit that goes with it is that safety always needs to come first. Once you’ve made sure you won’t be sacrificing your own safety or that of anyone else, there are plenty of different ways to spice up your look.