I'm a Ph.D. candidate in a theoretical field, so there is only math and programming involved (as opposed to a wet lab). The environment is very casual, everyone just wears jeans and a t-shirt everyday. Sometimes I dress semi-formally (e.g. a dress shirt tucked into nice slacks) just because I like to. I notice people tend to give me quite odd stares when I do this. In the blue hair thread, a highly voted comment remarked:

I only remember one situation in my field where somebody’s looks were commented on and that was somebody wearing a tie and a suit as a PhD student.

and further in the conference appearance thread (which is a dressier occasion than daily lab work):

if you are young (<30) , wearing a suit and a tie would probably seem a little weird.

I'm likely over-thinking this, but is it inappropriate for me to wear dressy clothes in the lab? Obviously it's not offensive or anything, but I wouldn't want to make anyone else feel uncomfortable or have them dislike me for what I wear. Any thoughts?

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    You know, the answer to this is actually trivial (imho). Why do you care? People get used to things pretty quickly and if others look more at your appearance - especially if it is good - than your work you should probably not deal with them anyway.
    – Nox
    Jun 2, 2015 at 22:20
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    So long as you're not violating any university dress code (and I can't imagine you are), it's probably an issue of why you're changing your routine. Again, nothing to make a big deal. A well-timed joke or two (not making fun of them, of course) might break the tension and put the whole issue behind you.
    – aeismail
    Jun 2, 2015 at 22:50
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    A good part of theses comments come for the fact that it's fashionable to look unfashionable as an academic (I dress goofy/too casual, hence I'm a genius, right?, right?). Just ignore the hype. I wore a shirt, proper pants and decent shoes everyday to the lab (that occasionally included experiments for which I wore a lab coat) as a postdoc in the US and nobody frowned upon the practice.
    – Cape Code
    Jun 3, 2015 at 8:42
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    I notice people tend to give me quite odd stares when I do this. There is only one way you can solve this. Get a ridiculous bow tie!
    – Compass
    Jun 3, 2015 at 15:16
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    Cedric Villani? Jan 11, 2017 at 22:49

2 Answers 2


It is perfectly appropriate since most university dress codes for students is to make sure nothing offensive or too revealing is worn (local definitions for both of those are widely variable). It sounds like you are having trouble working out if it is simply that you are unusual or if it is actually a problem. The simple solution is to ask some of the folks in your lab what they think.

If it turns out you are worrying on their behalf when they don't care, then keep wearing nice clothes.

If it turns out they care then you actually need to address that, whether by asserting your right to wear what you choose to within the official dress code or by making adjustments. Since clothes are social markers it might be what they perceive to be your statement that is the problem and not the clothes themselves.

It is always possible they are glaring at you for completely unrelated reasons. Again feeling that out is worth your time.

A personal story, I wear Hawaiian print shirts every day while teaching. One day I wore a plain button down shirt and my students asked what was wrong. It was laundry day. So don't discount the possibility that the only thing going on is that you stand out from the norm and nothing beyond that.

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    True labs, of course, have their own additional requirements to ensure safety of personnel and visitors.
    – aeismail
    Jun 2, 2015 at 22:48

There is nothing wrong in dressing formal. The whole point of dressing "casual" is to feel comfortable. If you like dressing up then for you this is comfortable.

I myself have noticed that people in science/tech start treating their "casual" wear as some kind of a uniform, like forcing everyone to wear a jeans and a t-shirt just because Steve Jobs did. This obviously misses the point of "casual" wear.

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