Alexandria's Research Outfit
Alexandria’s Research Outfit (looks like the mirror needs cleaning)

This one comes from Judy in Minnesota who sent me an email asking, among other things, about my research outfit. My research involves combing through old books and papers. The outfit above is one I recently wore to the library for research. If I was in a more hands-on field my research outfit would probably need something else.


It’s in climate controlled libraries and private archives, and is often cool.

Most often the spaces I am working in are clean and clear. Now and again there’s somewhere that’s a bit dusty, with boxes and other obstacles on the floor or desks.

There’s a LOT of sitting, some standing, lifting and carrying. You’ll be bending and reaching, potentially crawling across the floor and climbing ladders.


Obviously I recommend favourite colours and styles (within the limits of practicality).

But I’m a writer, and the people I deal with have unarticulated expectations about what writers look like. While I don’t deliberately put on a costume, it does kind of happen by accident that I end up looking somewhat disheveled. There are the smudged glasses, mismatched buttons, a sloppy ponytail, and a pen or pencil tucked behind the ear by occasionally ink-stained fingers.


Similar to most of my outfits, the best clothes are clean and comfortable. Something semi-fitted or with a little stretch will prevent you being caught in compacti, copiers, or furniture.

Jeans or other durable pants offer good protection from floors and modesty when you’re up ladders. Long sleeves offer some protection from books and papers while you’re carrying them.

Some researchers like to wear the white coat to keep their clothes clean, and minimise contact with potential allergens.


I’d say yes. Something pretty as well as supportive, because you never know when you’re going to end up caught on something and exposed.


Very comfortable shoes. Something flexible, flat but supportive, and ideally cushioned.

You may find that you are standing or sitting still for a long time, and your feet may swell as a result, so a bit stretchy is good too. Something sneakerish is prefect.


A little jewellery is fine, but not big earrings or long necklaces that can get caught on things.

If you don’t have prescription lenses, you might like magnifiers to help make sense of old and faded writing (and look writerish).

A warm stretchy cardigan or vest for when you get cold. Again, something fitted that won’t get caught on things.

Depending where you are researching, you may have to check your main bag, so consider taking only your essentials. Having said that, you might be permitted to carry your laptop in a sleeve, with your notebooks and pens. Some places will even let you plug your lap top in and use their wi-fi!

Some researchers wear cotton or latex gloves as protection against potential skin allergens. And sometimes you will have to because the materials you are looking at are very old and delicate, and if this is the case, the institution will supply them.


I prefer a minimum of makeup as it looks a little more professional and credible for passers-by (i.e., they don’t ask if you have authority to be there).

I also like to tie up my hair (à la Violet Baudelaire), because I feel like it gets in my way when I am trying to think. And it’s one less piece to get caught in machinery.

Wrap Up

All in all, my research outfit is not very different to some of my other outfits (which is one of the benefits of having a small wardrobe).


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