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Stripping Off the White Coat

LabLit and SciCult challenge designers to modernize the humble lab uniform

10 July 2007

Conceptual design © 2007 Vera Bravo

Editor's Note: "Stripping Off" was also covered in today's Guardian (scroll down to second feature).

PRESS RELEASE LabLit and SciCult

Embargoed until 10 July 2007 01:00 GMT

London, UK - 10 July 2007

Sexing up the white coat

LabLit and SciCult announce plans to hold a competition challenging the fashion world to shake up the standard uniform of scientists worldwide: the humble white lab coat.

Former scientist Wynn Abbott, a graduate of Birkbeck College’s Science & Culture master’s and director of the science-art agency SciCult, said: "It amazes me that while science, technology and fashion have metamorphosed so extraordinarily, the common labcoat has remained so unchanged. Maybe it’s a case of ‘if it ain't broke don’t fix it’ but I think it’s more institutionalised than that – in most senses, scientists aren’t encouraged to express their personality and individuality."

The white-coated boffin has become a staple stereotype of modern scientists, along with glasses, messy hair and maniacal laughter. But the reality is far more complex than the stereotypes suggest. Many researchers have a hip, edgy or arty fashion sense, but this look is obliterated when they don the mandatory white coat to do their experiments.

According to Dr Jennifer Rohn, a cell biologist at University College London and editor of LabLit magazine: "In the age of litigation, protective clothing has become obligatory in most research institutions. But there is absolutely no reason why the coats have to be shapeless, sexless and colourless to do the job."

"The current design, which has been with us for nearly a century, is highly unflattering to both men and women," Rohn added. "And white is a disastrous colour for lab work, as every last little spill shows. Surely we can do better."

The competition, entitled "Stripping Off the White Coat", will challenge fashion designers to reinterpret the white coat for the 21st century. A panel of judges from the world of science, fashion and the media will select a shortlist of designs that are flattering, original and challenge the stereotypes without losing practical functionality. Students of fashion all the way up to top designers will be encouraged to participate.

“This project is our way of opening the laboratory doors to artists and designers, and to show that modern design and technology can free science workers from their bland monochromaticity,” said Abbott.

According to Rohn and Abbott, the LabLit/SciCult competition will culminate a gala catwalk event in central London.

More details about entering and deadlines will be provided on both websites in due course.