Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Sequins_macroOver the past 6 months, 3 different colleagues have made comments that I have found odd. They have all made disparaging comments about wearing clothing with sequins. One colleague told some research experience for undergraduates (REU) students not to wear sequins to lab because, “the lab is not a night club.” Another colleagues mentioned his daughter was wearing a sequin-covered tank top and remarked that she looked like a “street walker.” While the first is perhaps a little silly, the second comment freaked me out.  My colleague was talking about his own elementary-school aged daughter. Shocked, I asked him why he would say something like that. He commented that the shirt yelled, “look at me!” and that is what prostitute clothing does. Actually, I never thought about what prostitutes wear and why, but I can see that what they wear should be attention-grabbing. I get that. But, I thought prostitutes were more about T and A. I associate them with spandex 5 sizes too small – not sequins. I associate sequins with fancy party dresses.

But, on the subject of your clothing saying, “look at me!” Is it really such a bad thing? As I have said before, maybe your boobs shouldn’t say, “look at me!” but so what if you wear a sharp suit, or purple loafers, or a sequin tank top under a nice jacket? Is it bad to grab for attention? I have had a number of prior posts about self-promotion (here, here, herehere), and sometimes in order to stand out from the crowd, you have to look a little different. Wearing sequins seems like a relatively innocuous way to do this. And why not? I already don’t look like everyone else. I am not balding with a paunch and a beard.

I am someone who often wears sequins – not to night clubs – but to work, to conferences, and even at my tenure-talk in my department. I even have multiple pairs of Converse All Stars covered in sequins.  I see sequins all over clothing, and I thought they were cute. So, I ask you: are sequins really so bad? What do you think? Post or comment your thoughts here. To get an email every time I post, push the +Follow button.

Comments on: "What’s so wrong with sequins?" (9)

  1. where do you work?? (rhetorical). does the colleague have field data that sequins are for “night clubs”? the only reason for not wearing sequins to lab may be: if there is an open space high power laser whose beam path is somehow not confined/enclosed within the optical table.

  2. I think there is nothing wrong with it. Sequins is used in high fashion for one and two, it’s how you present the clothing, not the clothing itself. T&A is definitely a no, but a little flare to spice up the everyday suit should not get you judged as a prostitute.

  3. Wow, those sequins comments are pretty over the top. I think sequins are fine.

    I guess the way I think of it is that occasionally I’ll see a man dressed in a fancy suit. Unless it’s a dean, it makes me stop and notice what they are wearing, but then I forget about it. Likewise occasionally I’ll see a woman (not a dean) dressed in something a bit unusual — a fancy dress, sequins, a suit, whatever — and I’ll stop and notice, and then forget about it. Does it matter that I think for a moment about what someone is wearing? I think it’s harmless. And I’d say these comments include undergrads, grad students, postdocs, faculty.

    Occasionally it might be too distracting, and take away from the person’s ability to do their job effectively. But here I am thinking of the day I taught class in a Halloween costume. The students didn’t mind, but I think in hindsight it was probably too distracting from my teaching. So in summary, Halloween costumes are too much, and sequins are fine. Life is a bit more interesting when not everybody dresses in the same boring pattern.

    … I guess in the interests of full disclosure, I should add that I occasionally wear rather loud shirts in professional settings. The other day I taught my graduate seminar course wearing a shirt that had cute whales all over it. I’ve met with the head dean once wearing the same shirt, but that was during the summer when I figured I could get away with dressing casually.

  4. Karen Hayes said:

    At first I thought you were going to say that the REU supervisor did not want sequins in the lab in the event they came off (which they often do) and might risk contaminating something or ruining a piece of equipment!

    I’m a 53 yo professional woman in higher ed. I have two sequined tank tops that I wear to work with various outfits. I have received numerous compliments about those outfits from colleagues (mostly women) and even strangers (mostly women) that I look great. Sequins feel “lively” and full of “flash”. They definitely say “look at me!” in a way a man’s bold tie would, or a brightly colored scarf. Nothing wrong with that. Some of us ladies love shiny things.

    When I see lots of flesh (very low cut shirt/tons of cleavage or skirt barely reaching cheek bottoms) I think “prostitute”. That’s advertising of a sort. Sequins aren’t advertising — they are self-expression.

  5. Robin Selinger said:

    Choice of clothing/accessories transmits information about social status and is a key aspect of culture in human societies. The “language” of what status or message is transmitted by clothing varies enormously between communities. There is no right or wrong. It’s just the culture we live in and it changes constantly. Cultural expectations vary with setting, time of day/year, and age/gender/race of both the wearer and “audience.”

    You need to know what’s going on in your local culture to be sure that you don’t accidentally send the wrong message via your choice of wardrobe. This idea was brought home to me in a big way when I visited Argentina and there was a big soccer match coming up in the town. I learned that if I accidentally wore the colors of the opposing team I might get beaten up on the street by a gang of local soccer fans.

    In his first year working as an attorney, my brother was advised by one of the partners in the law firm that it was inappropriate to wear cotton-poly blend shirts and from then on, he should wear only the best pinpoint cotton. These fancy shirts were quite expensive and required ironing and it wasn’t an easy thing but he complied.

    So, should you wear high fashion clothing in the lab? First there are safety issues to consider. Synthetic fabrics burn easily and for instance contributed to the tragic death of a female lab assistant at UCLA/Chemistry a few years back. If you wear a synthetic fabric to the lab it had better be covered by a lab coat at all times. (Keep in mind also that long hair should also be kept neat and tied up lest it contaminate your work space or (worse) become entangled with anything that spins, a problem that led to the tragic death of a female physics student at Yale a few years ago.)

    Should you wear high fashion clothing in your office or to class or to meetings? If you are a conformist, you’re fine as long as you stay within a standard deviation or so of the local social norm. If you are a non-conformist, people will notice. My older son, for instance, became fond of stetson hats and started wearing one around campus when he was in college. People probably thought of him a that weird guy with the hat. He outgrew that phase at some point. Another student I know gets around campus on a unicycle. Some people love to push the envelope of social expectations.

    If you want to be the weird guy with the hat, or the prof who wears high fashion to class, it’s your privilege to be a non-conformist, as long as you pay attention to lab safety. That includes no sandals or skimpy heels in lab, or pants with holes in the knees.

    That being said, if you dress like a student and look young, people will thing you are a student.

    One question: Do the female profs in your department dress in ways that distinguish them visually from the admin staff?

  6. I want people to look at me and bask in my awesomeness (e.g. Robin’s son’s hat). As long as there is not a safety issue you can wear what you like in academia. People that think sequins are whoreish have their own issues – a nice sequin top under a jacket is posh – a skin tight bodycon dress is another issue and more nightclubbish. The question we should be asking though is why are women always just one step away from prostitutes in some people’s minds?

  7. theLaplaceDemon said:

    A lot of people have touched on this in their comments, but I think it bears repeating: “Attention-getting” clothing treated differently when it’s a man with a loud tie or fashionable suit than when it’s a women in a sequined top. He’s confident and bold, she’s attention-seeking and unprofessional.

    I also think Linda makes a great point as well, when she says “The question we should be asking though is why are women always just one step away from prostitutes in some people’s minds?” Particularly when the standards for “fashionable yet professional” and “fashionable but too sexy for work” seems to be HIGHLY variable, depending on who you ask/what department or institution you survey, and changing over time.

  8. […] of posts about proper attire for certain parts of this job – for instance conferences and what not to wear. But, no matter how I dress there is one thing I cannot change – I look young. Lately, for […]

  9. […] becoming more confusing for young men, as well. I have had a number of prior posts about clothes (here, here, here, here, here, here – OMG, that is so many!), but I really love this one!  Thank […]

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