Fashion in the Field

Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest scientist of all…

This week I was re-reading some old Women’s Health magazines (being a student I’m too poor to buy new ones so use the oldies for fitness motivation!). I came across an article called “(Don’t) Take a Good Look at Yourself“, which was about the trend of mirror fasting. This got me thinking about the effect fieldwork can have on your appearance…

Mirror Fasting
Bloggers in the US started the craze of mirror fasting a few years ago. The idea was that by avoiding your reflection for a set period of time (generally a month), you will start to realise how much time and attention you waste worrying about your appearance. And hopefully by the end of the period, you will have weaned yourself off the need for constant visual consultation, and thus be devoting more time to other things such as relationships, career, etc.

Generally people find this pretty tough, especially with regards to hair-dressing and make-up application, combined with the fear of looking like a crazy homeless person without realising. Which is admittedly pretty concerning when you’re on your way to a big work meeting or presentation. Once on a work trip, a girlfriend and I stayed in a motel for a couple of days which didn’t have a single mirror in the unit. Each morning I would find her pressed against the side of the truck, applying her make-up in the side mirrors.

Dressing Like a Biologist

Dressing like a biologist in 2004...

From dressing like a biologist in 2004…

Several years ago, my sister told me I dressed like a biologist. I looked down at my red hoodie, baggy jeans and sneakers, and thought “Huh, I guess so!”. Fashion sense wasn’t a part of my teenage self, and it only occasionally makes an appearance even now, generally prompted by third-party advice.  Although this is partly aided by the fact we only have an above-counter bathroom mirror and a small square mirror in our house, meaning it is impossible to get a full-ensemble view without balancing on the bed and moving furniture around.

... to dressing like a biologist in 2014!

… to dressing like a biologist in 2014!

Particularly during fieldwork, comfort and practicality are my key clothing choices.  So it’s not unusual to find me rocking up to uni in between theodolite shifts rugged up in holey baggy jeans and a hoodie, with the latest addition to this ensemble is my big cosy ski jacket.  Not especially sexy, but means I don’t have to worry about wear and tear (mostly because it’s already happened…).

Looking around our office, you can usually see the distinction between desk- and field-based scientists. Pretty skirts, nice boots and proper shirts vs. fleeces, walking shoes and multiple layers. There are always a few ambiguous characters – but generally if people look surprised when you dress smart, you’re probably edging into the latter category!

Fashion Evolution

Whenever I have volunteers new to the experience of fieldwork, it’s always interesting to see how their clothing choices change over the field season.  Particularly in the summer, some of the new vollies start out pretty keen in short-shorts and strappy tops.  But after a few days of realising that it can be pretty cold early morning and that by afternoon the Australian sun is taking it’s toll, fashion choices began to edge towards knee-length pants and t-shirts.  As soon as it started edging into winter, I was busting out my scarf, ski jacket and fingerless-gloves – much to the amusement of many volunteers!  Now it’s woolly hats all round on the hill and arguments over who gets to use the one pair of gloves.

Some students are academics in the making

Some students are academics in the making

So where does this go in the long run?  I guess every university has a band of socks-and-sandals professors, but I think my career has a long way to go before that becomes a legitimate option (at this stage, even I know that’s not cool).   Last week we bought a full-length mirror, the first we’ve owned since 2011 – so perhaps a brief phase of appearance-conscious behaviour will follow!  But in the end, I’ll probably always come back to dressing like a biologist.

Well, if the (sun-smart, collar-clipped field) hat fits…

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