What To Wear Under The Lab Coat: Safety and Functionality

When you picture lab wear, images of bland, lifeless outfits might come to mind…white coats, monochrome scrubs, the color scheme of a sad movie, etc.

This stereotype does not need to be perpetuated, however. Safety is a priority when working in a laboratory or in a healthcare setting, but that doesn’t mean your outfit needs to be drab. Nice shirts, comfortable and formal blouses, jewelry and other accessories can all be worked safely into lab wear.

And, depending on your lab or work place’s specific dress code, the possibilities for creative, expressive and fun outfits are truly endless. Read more about how to put together a fun and work-safety appropriate ensemble in the first installment of this two-part series.


That said, there’s something we still have to talk about with safe and smart lab wear

Safety and functionality still come before aesthetics. In this article, we’ll be focusing more on the styles and types of clothing and accessories that you can wear safely and those that you should avoid. Looking good and feeling great are important in the work place, but being safe and able to do your best always come first.


Accessories

Perhaps one of the quickest and simplest ways to add a bit of personal flare to a professional outfit is with jewelry, ties and other accessories. Especially if lab coats are work or lab-issued and are consequently indistinguishable coworker-to-coworker, throwing on a pendant or a bracelet seems like a relatively fuss-free way of adding a bit to your look—and it is!

Generally speaking, jewelry and ties are both great ways to make your otherwise bland or uniform outfit look livelier and more personalized. What needs to be taken into account, however, is the accessory’s ability move away from your body. If the adornment dangles, it could dangle into a solution or into a patient’s face. It could even interfere with important hand-eye coordination, affecting accuracy and precision.

Accessories in general should not be ruled out when putting together lab coat-friendly outfits, but they should be limited to non-dangling pieces that can be kept under control and out of unintended places.


Footwear

The majority of professional suggestions and warnings throughout this article pertain to laboratories, examination rooms and other environments with some sort of potentially harmful chemical or biohazard. However, “dry” chemistry labs have much less to worry about when it comes to protecting yourself and others from potential hazards and spills. Though accidents do happen, and even in environments that are meant to be relatively hazard-free, it’s much better to be over protected than accidently injured.

Closed-toe footwear should be the minimum required protection. In those same environments with potential risks, regular close-toed shoes of just about any type should be fine, as long as you can walk comfortably.

If the setting is a wet lab or a university, many people will opt to have an extra pair of “lab-shoes” to avoid the hassle of finding something that “works” both with lab wear and the outfit for the rest of the day. If your outfit for the day consists primarily of what is worn under the coat, however, then some stylish sneakers that are nice enough to be worn outside the lab but protective enough to ward off minor dangers can be a win-win.

In environments with higher hazard risks, you should find footwear made of something a bit more durable and resistant than the standard canvas fabric. In a more formal dress code setting, for example what a physician wears to see clients, durable and protective “smart shoes” can be found on the market.

Otherwise, many more heavy-duty boots can be extremely safe options that don’t forgo a sense of fashion entirely.


Clothing

Generally speaking, the clothes you wear should follow the same guidelines as any accessories you like to sport. Long, flowing dresses for example are a no go—anything that might trip you up or move unintendedly too far from your body can quickly become a danger to yourself and those around you.

Shorts and skirts, just like open-toed footwear, are simply too inviting for a potentially hazardous chemical spill or other biohazard to cause problems.

When it comes to lab wear, the more conservative, the better. This has nothing to do with your own personal style or fashion beliefs and everything to do with minimizing the amount of your body’s exposed surface area. Long pants are definitely the safest option, but that doesn’t mean they have to be a boring option. Denim is trending stronger than before in clinics, labs and hospitals, and khakis and slacks are always great options for a professional and safe look.

As far as hair goes, see the accessory section above. Essentially, hair that can dangle and move unexpectedly, or that isn’t immediately predictable or controllable, can be a major hazard in the laboratory or hospital. Long hair should be pulled back. Unfortunately, this can be quite limiting for those with style preferences, but actually keeping your hair in the face of having to chop off chemically-damaged or burned locks will be a higher priority than wearing it more elaborately at work. Pony tails are not the end of the world. Kayley Melissa can help you keep your hair interesting and expressive, despite having to pull it back every day.


Putting it all together

All in all, the guidelines to follow when deciding what should and shouldn’t be worn with and underneath a white lab coat are pretty simple. Probably the most important of all is to remember that dangling of any kind should be avoided. Dangling necklaces can contaminate whatever it is you’re working with; dangling clothing can cause an accident; and dangling hair can be lost.

Also important, of course, is to know your environment. Knowing what shoes to wear largely depends on just how much protection you need. The golden rule, however, is that no look is worth risking your well-being.

Safe still does not mean boring! Check out how to rock a lab or healthcare-appropriate outfit in a safe and responsible manner in the fashion part of this two-part Dr-James series.

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