Sunday, October 14, 2007

Wardrobe Management: Ideas for Graduate Students

Pheeeeuuwf. Nothing like a Sunday to catch up on a couple of months of dirty laundry. At least it's done. Now I can go back to wearing clean clothes for a few days or so. But I really need to come up with a better system. I hate how much time I spend doing laundry. It seems like such a waste when there's so many other interesting and worthwhile things to do, like experiments in the lab. So I'm trying to come up with ideas and tricks to increase the efficiency of my system for keeping myself in clothing.

The first task I guess is to determine my minimum requirements. Unfortunately, I suppose living with a certain amount of clothing and laundry are a necessary evil. So doing away with these things altogether, while tempting, is out. In part this is out of respect for my labmates - I think they would eventually stop talking to me if they had to watch me pipette in the nude or were forced to suffer in the stench of my horrible body odor every day. Plus, Ottawa is too cold for nudity in the winter anyway. With this in mind, here are my basic wardrobe needs:

1) Coverage/nudity control - clothing must cover all vital areas that others might find offensive or scary, including the nipples, buttocks and groin area.

2) Temperature control - clothing must help my body to efficiently maintain physiological homeostasis when subjected to the seasonal outdoor temperatures of Ottawa, while being adaptable to the climate controlled lab environment.

3) Comfort - I find comfortable clothing helps me to relax, which in turn helps me think more clearly and concentrate on experiments. Also helps to diffuse stress and fatigue which seems to be more and more of a limiting factor to doing science the older one gets. So tight collars, rigid fabrics and business suits are definitely out.

4) Minimal cleanliness - As I alluded to above, my main concern here is not stinking. Also, highly visible stains are undesirable to the extent that they might lead colleagues to question one's attention to detail or suggest sloppiness in the lab.

Measures to Be Implemented - Here are some ideas:
  • Only wash clothing that comes into direct contact with the key sweat glands. Most of our potentially offensive body odors are produced by glands in the armpits, groin and feet. This means that underwear, socks and perhaps a light t-shirt or undershirt are all that really need to be washed regularly. It's hard to gauge exactly how often is necessary - everyone's body odor potency varies, and we're bad judges of our own scents. If possible, get a second opinion "smell-test" from someone you trust before deciding whether to wear or wash. Alternatively, use the "itch-test", and wash once the area of skin in contact with the garment in question becomes itchy and irritated. Occasional washes of superficial clothing like pants and sweaters are only necessary once embarrassing visible stains accumulate. A well-designed coffee mug can go a long way to decrease the frequency of these washes.
  • Think layers. This is an easy way of giving your wardrobe variety and adaptability. Layering allows you to easily adjust to temperature differences, for example when moving from the frigid winter on the way in to the lab to the warmth inside. Also gives you the maximum number of combinatorial style options with the minimum number of clothing garments. So, you can mix and match the same articles in different combinations so it doesn't look like you wear the same clothes to the lab every day, and for special occasions like your thesis defence. There are lots of potential layering systems out there, and many more undoubtedly waiting to be invented. One of my personal favorites is the long-sleeved T-shirt/short-sleeved T-shirt/cardigan combination - a great mix of versatility and comfort. Also popular with many of my colleagues in the lab is the hoody, of either the front-pocket or zip-up varieties.
  • Choose dark-colored garments. Especially avoid white. Helps make sure that most stains (especially coffee and tea) are invisible and therefore do not demand immediate washing. Except underwear, as most stains on these articles require immediate attention so it helps if they're visible.
  • Patch tears and holes. For most people, this type of damage means it's time to throw clothes away. Instead, this could be where the fun starts. Patching clothes not only totally restores structural integrity, but adds character. Sewing is super-easy, but iron-on patches are even easier.
  • When you must acquire new garments, go second-hand. A trip to the local thrift store makes it obvious that there's more than enough pre-existing clothing stashed in people's closets and basements to clothe at least all of North America for the next thousand years. Sure, not all of it will be currently in "fashion", but lots of it is. Fashion tends to repeat itself every 5-10 years or so there's always something to be found. Plus, being out of fashion is way more original anyway. Anybody can stop by the nearest shopping mall and buy what the ads are telling us to. And if you're lucky, you'll find some sweet and timeless retro classics. Going for second-hand clothing is also a great outlet for your activist tendencies and curbs consumerism. Buying second-hand reduces demand for new mass-produced clothing, meaning less fossil fuel consumption, less production of CO2 and other pollutants, less consumption of water, and less sweat-shop labor and/or exploitation of foreign governments and people. You also support the charities who collect unwanted clothing and sell it to the thrift stores. Most of all, second-hand clothing is perfect for the grad-student budget - it can be had for about 90% less than new stuff. Just go to the thrift shop prepared with antihistamines and find what you what fast - these places smell like everyone's musty basements combined. But a couple of washes are all it takes before your second-hand finds are allergen free.
So there's a few ideas. If anyone else has any short-cuts or tips to help us all spend less time and resources doing laundry, and more time doing science, I'd love to hear them.


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