What's the Big Idea?
The hypercerebral – and particularly the math and science-minded – have an unfortunate reputation for being totally oblivious to personal appearance. While there are some obvious exceptions to this stereotype, society forgives self-neglect in the brainiac on the general principle that her mind is on loftier things. In retrospect, Einstein, who reportedly couldn’t manage to put his shoes on the correct feet, was an accidental fashion pioneer with his iconic, anarchic mane, but back in the 1950’s he probably looked quite mad indeed.
Simon Doonan is the author of Gay Men Don’t Get Fat, a hilarious look at gay and straight culture through the lens of the foods we eat and how we eat them (Doonan calls sushi, with its perfect marriage of high aesthetics and low-calorie nutritiousness, the "gayest food on Earth.")
A fashion and culture critic for Slate.com, and the mastermind behind two decades of world-famous window displays for Barney's department store in New York, Doonan doesn’t expect everyone to wear a leopard jumpsuit to work. In fact, he’s an archenemy of fashion conformity, no matter where it falls on the Fabulo-meter. The point of personal style, says Doonan, is that it reflects and communicates your personality. Authenticity means being yourself, inside and out – rather than an unintentional stereotype of distracted self-neglect.
Scraggly geniuses of the world, Simon Doonan is impressed by your towering intellect and sympathetic to your slap-dash appearance. And he's here to offer some friendly advice.
Why Should I Bother?
While your fellow lab rats may be too hunched over their bubbling beakers and festering petri dishes most of the time to notice, paying some attention to your appearance can enhance your social life – an important component of the typical homo sapiens' psychological well-being.
Superficial though it may seem when contrasted with your groundbreaking research into epigenesis, a snappier look may translate, too, into more positive unconscious regard from superiors, students, and (should you decide to pursue science celebrity), the general public – all of which could have obvious benefits for your career.
Eyewear, Eyewear, Eyewear!
Dear Simon, I am a fashion-challenged mad scientist. Your advice is terrifying me. Since the age of 16 I have been wearing the same, white, wrinkle-free shirt and blue polyester pants, along with a sensible pair of black sneakers. How do I even begin to discover a sense of personal style?
Don’t panic, says Simon Doonan. If, like many mad scientists, you have terrible eyesight, you can get a lot of mileage out of a well-chosen pair of glasses. The next time your gold-plated, Soviet-era functionalist glasses fall into a vat of hydrochloric acid, consider seeking out a slightly more distinctive pair.
Simon Doonan: Eyewear, eyewear, eyewear is number one, because nine times out of ten that’s all people see of you is your head bobbing above a cubicle or a lab bench, so your eyewear should be very extraordinary. Like my eyewear, which I happen to have with me, these are great. They came from a vintage store in the East Village called Fabulous Fanny’s and they were like 20 bucks or something and they’re ‘70s, you know, sort of groovy, Robert Evans type look. And go get yourself some vintage eyewear that nobody else has or, you know, some kind of super individual thing.
There’s no shortage of groovy eyewear in the marketplace. You can buy fabulous optical eccentricity at any time of the day or night on the Internet for virtually pennies right up to Tom Ford and Chanel prices. So there’s no excuse.
Color is not the Enemy
While muted tones may project a stolid, serious approach to life and work, they are also extremely dispiriting when deployed by every single person in the lab. Aren’t the harsh fluorescent lights, the gunmetal gray shelving, and the speckled linoleum tiles enervating enough without your contributing to the whole Orwellian nightmare with some kind of self-imposed, ultra-functional uniform? Unlike doctors, who are expected to project a kind of conservative reliability, mad scientists are completely free to to fly their freak flag.
Simon Doonan: I think color is under-exploited in the techie lab environment. I think you see a lot of people wearing greige and beige and chambeige, and champeige as well too. There’s a lot of muted tones. So, you know, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of orange. Orange looks great with dark brown. Pale blue looks great with dark brown. Just like experiment a bit more with color. It’s light enhancing for you and for those around you. So in a way it’s a form of politeness.
Ladies of Science, Meet the False Eyelash
False eyelashes don't have to be an inch and a half long. Applied tastefully, they can call subtle attention to your beautiful, all-natural eyes.
Simon Doonan: I would say for women, learn how to glue on false eyelashes, because while other girls were at beauty school learning to glue on lashes, a lot of super-nerdy science girls were too busy, head in a book, trying to sort of absorb this massive amount of information that they need to get their career going. So take a step back, be that chick who was at beauty school learning to glue on lashes. They’re very transformative, and kind of meditative and soothing to apply. I wouldn’t know, personally, but the girls I know who do it tell me that.
But I Have No Time for this Nonsense
How many hours of your life have you devoted to reruns of Doctor Who? Making a few intentional choices about personal style doesn’t take long. Consider taking an hour-long time out fromt the next Twilight Zone marathon to choosing one or two distinctive items of eyewear or outerwear (you can get a lot of mileage out of a distinctive hat, for instance) that might unleash upon the world a slightly less anonymous-looking you. You owe it to yourself, your career, and the aesthetic edification of everyone around you.
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