Smile and Wear It: The New Fashion Fix for Dressing Like a Dentist |  Fashion

Smile and Wear It: The New Fashion Fix for Dressing Like a Dentist | Fashion

TThis season, the longest waiting list isn’t 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 encourages us to start dressing like one.

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

Julia Fox wears a dress held together with dental floss.
Julia Fox wears a dress held together with dental floss. Photo: Rachpoot Images/Bauer-Griffin/GC

But it was the dental term “flossing” that planted the seed. Emerging on TikTok, as it often does, and referring to dresses, swimsuits, and pants precariously held together by super-thin straps, or “dental floss,” the look has become a trademark of emerging designers like Nensi Dojaka and Supriya Lele, and is worn by actors Julia Fox, Zendaya and half the cast of Love Island.

There are sites dedicated to rating “dental appearance.” According to Nurse.org, Figs is the best gown brand, while YouTube offers hundreds of tutorials for “gown reviews.” Actual sales of Figs and the most expensive Italian brand Pastelli are not available, but white scrubs are still Pastelli’s best sellers.

Birkenstock 'Super Birki'.
Birkenstock ‘Super Birki’. Photograph: Birkenstock

Fashion likes to co-opt a uniform and sell it to us, often at a profit. Over the last five years, the catwalks – and the high street – have urged us to dress for the great outdoors (hiking gear, or gorpcore, as it became known), the great indoors (think tech bros in expensive gray hoodies), or simply with doors – in 2017, New York Magazine stated that we all want to look like architects, and the British high street did the same.

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

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

An Erevan lab coat from Pastelli.
An Erevan lab coat from Pastelli. Photography: Pastelli

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

Patel mentions pants with folded hems and “trackie b scrub tops” that look like the kind of clothes you can find at Arket but are from uniform suppliers like Cherokee. For sunglasses, Euronda is the professionals’ choice, though they bear a striking resemblance to the glasses worn by musician Steve Lacy.

However, there are guidelines. “The main concern is cross-infection, so whatever dentists wear for practice, they don’t wear in public,” says Anshu Sood, a specialist orthodontist. “Clothes should be washable, with slightly shorter sleeves so you don’t drag the sleeve over the patient, but otherwise pretty relaxed.”

Steve Lacy wears methacrylate glasses.
Steve Lacy wears methacrylate glasses. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Like most wacky trends, style is key. Worn from head to toe, you risk looking Halloween-adjacent. Choose certain items (a white lab coat or clogs) and no one will know you’re actually wearing clinical clothes. The white lab coat in particular “means you can wear your own clothes underneath and then just put them 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 were taking dentistry for granted, avoiding it, or procrastinating,” says Sood. “The NHS used to tell us that a uniform inspired clinical confidence, particularly given reputation,” she says, referring to the theory of cloaked cognition, or the use of clothing to influence opinion. “Based on that, we tried to show off the role.

“Now I think people are valuing our value.”

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