Grin and wear it: fashion’s new obsession with dressing like a dentist | Meeting

This season is the longest waiting list not for a Birkin bag, a Dyson fan or even an iPhone 14. It’s for a dentist appointment. So it stands to reason that the fashion industry is encouraging us to start dressing like one.

Sharp single-button lab coats with sharp lapels opened the summer catwalks at Balmain, Courrèges and were also a key look for the late designer, Issey Miyake. Neon perspex goggles, designed to protect the eyes from water splashes or flying tartar, are alarmingly similar to the oversized acetate sunglasses at Versace and Kanye West’s Yeezy Gap collaboration. Even white Dansko clogs, the NHS footwear, have competition in a new line of industry-approved polyurethane Birkenstock clogs that routinely sell out among non-NHS workers.

Julia Fox wears a dress held together with ‘thread’. Photo: Rachpoot/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

But it was the dental term “thread” that planted the seed. Appearing on TikTok, as these things often do, the look refers to dresses, swimsuits and pants held together precariously by superfine straps – or “floss” – the look has become a trademark of emerging designers such as Nensi Dojaka and Supriya Lele, and worn by actresses Julia Fox, Zendaya and half the cast of Love Island.

There are websites devoted to rating “dental look”. According to Nurse.org, Figs is the top brand of scrubs, while YouTube offers hundreds of “scrub review” tutorials. Actual sales from Figs and the more expensive Italian brand Pastelli are not available, but white scrubs remain Pastelli’s top seller.

'Super Birki' Birkenstocks.
‘Super Birki’ Birkenstocks. Photo: Birkenstock

Fashion likes to co-opt a uniform and sell it back to us, often at a profit. Over the past five years, the catwalks – and the high street – have encouraged us to dress for the great outdoors (hiking wear or gorpcore as it came to be known), the great indoors (think tech bros in expensive gray hoodies), or straight and plain with doors – In 2017 New York Magazine claimed that we all want to look like architects, and the British high street followed suit.

But with the UK in the midst of an NHS ‘dental desert’, is this trend simply a case of scarcity value, of dressing not for the job you want but for the treatment?

“I’m not surprised at all and I’d bet social media has helped spread this,” says Anjli Patel, a Derbyshire-based orthodontist and spokesperson for the British Orthodontist Society, pointing to fellow dentists posting about their “Jordans” on Instagram.

An Yerevan lab coat from Pastelli.
An Yerevan lab coat from Pastelli. Photo: Pastelli

“But it’s really about [casualisation] of the industry. What I wear to work has changed enormously. Like all workplaces, uniforms are out and comfort is in. The things we wear are useful for work, but they are much more portable.” Patel sees a lot of Crocs “and I was sure they were for the garden”.

Patel mentions cuffed pants and “trackie b-scrubs” that look like the kind of loungewear you might find at Arket, but are from uniform suppliers like Cherokee. For sunglasses, Euronda are the professional choice, although they bear a striking resemblance to the glasses worn by musician Steve Lacy.

However, there are guidelines. “The biggest concern is cross-infection, so whatever dentists wear to practice, they don’t wear in public,” says Anshu Sood, an orthodontist specialist. “Clothes must be washable, with slightly shortened sleeves so you don’t pull the sleeve over the patient, but otherwise it’s quite relaxed.”

Steve Lacy wears perspex glasses.
Steve Lacy wears perspex glasses. Photo: David Levene/The Guardian

Like most quirky trends, the key lies in the styling. Worn from head to toe, you risk looking Halloween-adjacent. Cherrypick certain items — a lab coat or some white clogs — and no one would know you’re actually wearing clinical wear. The white lab coat in particular “means you can wear your own clothes under it and then just put it on and become someone else while still being yourself underneath,” adds Sood. “You know, like Superman.

“Before the pandemic, and certainly before the so-called [current dental] crisis, people took dental treatment for granted, avoided it or put it off, says Sood. “The NHS used to tell us that a uniform inspired clinical confidence, especially given reputation,” she says, referring to the theory of contained cognition, or the use of clothing to influence meaning. “Based on that, we tried to look the part.

“Now I think people appreciate our value.”

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