As we move forward from yesteryear’s gender-typed roles in medicine to today’s more equitable representation, women entering science and medicine are a now-global phenomenon. While there’s still plenty more progress to be made, recent years have seen a positive increase of women working in and pursuing careers in science.
Additional barriers are torn down every day, yet there do remain many that make it difficult for women to don the iconic white lab coat. One of those barriers, ironically, are the lab coats themselves.
What with science being a traditionally male-dominated field, there has been a historically low demand for fitted lab coats for women. As more and more women enter the industry, at Dr. James we thought that normalizing women’s lab coats would be a natural solution—and yet, we seem to be the “odd ducks” in the industry for doing it.
How “unisex” is unisex, really?
While we at Dr. James think it seems natural to start making women’s lab coats for the women entering the field, a different “solution” has been followed by the larger market. Ever since the demand for women’s white coats started going up, many manufacturers started selling unisex cuts in tandem with their male cuts.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A well-tailored, well-cut, and well-executed unisex doctor’s coat can be a great fit for many different body types, male or female. That said, not all unisex coats are designer or custom lab coats—and an even smaller number of lab coats are properly tailored.
In fact, many “unisex” lab coat models are really just smaller men’s cuts. There are several things wrong with this.
- First, the labeling is simply dishonest. Women don’t just need their own lab coats, they deserve their own lab coats—not just a relabeled men’s model.
- Second, a poorly-executed unisex lab coat tends to be baggy and uncomfortable for women. Of course, this looks unflattering, but it can also border on tedious and even dangerous in a clinical or hospital setting. A properly-fitted lab coat is as much a safety concern as it is a fashion one.
A properly-fitted lab coat is a safe lab coat
When trying on a shirt in the fitting room, you aren’t generally considering how safe the dimensions are. What changes with a lab coat?
Function and context, of course. A lab coat that fits properly shouldn’t be baggy, but it also shouldn’t be so tight that it restricts movement.
As far as length goes, the sleeves should cover your arms but, again, should not be baggy or hang so low it inhibits your movement. How far down your coat goes really depends on your likes and environment, but any labcoat should at least cover your entire torso.
And finally, a lab coat really isn’t the right garment to try and show off much skin, so you should be able to button it shut quickly and comfortably and, again, in a manner that doesn’t wear baggy.
These rules aren’t because science is anti-fashion. Actually, this is all in the name of safety. If your lab coat is baggy at all, you run the risk of some of the fabric snagging on doors, counters and equipment that could lead to a hazardous spill, an accidental fire, or a terrifying combination.
Dress as conservatively or as fun as you’d like outside of the lab, but inside the lab or in the hospital your lab coat serves as a barrier between your body and any hazardous materials that may find their way onto you.
It should be clear by now that everyone needs to be able to find a lab coat that fits properly. And baggy, poorly-designed unisex coats aren’t going to cut it.
Safety first doesn’t mean fashion last
Safety is, of course, the priority. That certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be allowed to feel good about ourselves at work, however. In fact, multiple studies have shown that feeling good leads to working better—this means having flattering lab coats for women can actually promote workplace efficiency!
Aesthetically, there are plenty of things that should be considered for women’s lab coats that simply aren’t necessary for men’s and unisex coats. One clear example is, of course, bust measurements. These measurements are important to make sure the lab coat will be flattering, but also (of course) to make sure it is neither baggy nor restrictive as before.
Even forty years ago, flattering, designer women’s lab coats were considered a luxury item…with a luxury price tag included. Due to the relatively low demand for well-fitted women’s lab coats, the designer, tailored women’s coat was a niche item.
Today, while we aren’t completely out of this hole (and there are certainly still women’s lab coats being sold for significantly higher prices than their male equivalents), there are now high-quality and spectacularly affordable options for women.
There are other, perhaps, less obvious—yet just as important—things to consider when measuring the importance of women’s lab coats. One of these is the accessibility of pockets (oh yes, pockets).
If that didn’t immediately make sense to you, we invite you to ask your closest female friend about women’s clothing and the pursuit of pockets.
A common design feature for men’s and sometimes even unisex lab coats is to substitute pockets for slits. The idea is that the slits allow you to reach your trouser pockets through your lab coat, therefore rendering extra lab coat pockets redundant.
This is a clever solution assuming:
- You’re wearing trousers.
- And that gender-based fashion hasn’t decided that YOUR clothes don’t need pockets!
While the presence of pockets isn’t only needed in women’s lab coats, it is absolutely an important detail that may (and often does) get overlooked when the lab coat isn’t designed specifically for women. This, among other accessibility details, is yet another reason to make sure there are viable options for women in science that are as useful as they are comfortable and flattering.
The important takeaway with all of this is that women’s lab coats are not “just a luxury” and are certainly not a niche product. As representation continues to grow more uniform in every science and medically-related field, it is as necessary as it is common sense to have the best lab coat options for women in science.