Dressing the Female Nerd, or: No

Returning to a brief point about The Librarians (fuck, Cassie, it’s Season 2, I know you have solid-colored sweaters to wear with patterned skirts, LOOK INTO THAT BECAUSE MY EYES ARE BLEEDING, also pick ONE SHIRT, ONE AT A TIME IS HOW NON-BUTTON-DOWN SHIRTS WORK) and also reading Bad Buffy Outfits (which I totally recommend: https://twitter.com/badbuffyoutfits?lang=en)*, I’ve been thinking about how wardrobe confuses “nerdy girl” with “six-year-old”.

Because, while BBO also has a lot of ostensibly-well-dressed characters in bad outfits (the nineties weren’t good to anyone, though I do still like velvet/shiny shirts and I will fight you), the worst offender is Willow, she of the bucket hats and overalls, and it’s been noted that some of her and Cassie’s “fashion” choices could be ascribed to the wardrobe department trying to make an attractive actress look nerdy.

All right. I’ve been a nerdy chick for like thirty-four years now. Most of my female friends are nerdy chicks. I’m not claiming that we always look good (in high school, my style veered wildly toward mom jeans and baggy black t-shirts with dragons airbrushed onto them**) but I’ve noticed four distinct groups.

1) The girl who doesn’t care that much. She just wants to be comfortable and practical, so she generally dresses like a male nerd. These days, that means jeans, sneakers, and t-shirts (sweatshirts if it’s cold) with slogans/cartoon characters/band names/company logos. Usually the hair will be short or in a ponytail/braid, and the accessories will be minimal if present.
2) The fashionable nerd. This one does bother with makeup and clothes, though usually (in my experience) not with what’s currently “in” except insofar as that dictates what stores carry. She might go more Etsy or vintage than mainstream, but she knows what looks good on her.
3) The subculture girl. This is where Abby from CSI falls (though I have yet to meet an adult, no matter how Goth they might be on weekends, who feels the need to Hot Topic it up for the workplace, but whatevs, CSI). It also covers the hippie-nerd hybrid with the broomstick skirts and pentacle necklaces, the chick who dresses like an anime character, and all manner of RenFaire-y costuming.

4) The formal/uniformed nerd. This is the female, twenty-first century equivalent of Mr. Pocket Protector, or of the spinster librarian in fifties movies. Look for a lot of pant/skirt suits, not necessarily flattering ones. She’ll wear makeup and accessories if appropriate, but they’ll be very much the things colleges tell you to wear on an interview: small pearl earrings, light lipstick, no eyeliner, etc. Very buttoned-up, metaphorically and often literally.

People being complicated, a single nerd chick can and often does move between many groups. I myself am generally Type 1 these days when I’ll only see co-workers and fellow commuters, because why bother? When I’m going to meet my friends, I’ll switch to Type 2. Type 3 is for LARPing/RenFaires, and Type 4 for interviews or family weddings.

None of these types covers overalls: not practical enough for 1, not associated with a subculture, not formal, and not flattering to anyone. Likewise, if a girl’s hitting Type 2 with the flattering outlines and the chokers, she’s unlikely to then go for white tights and clashing patterns. It just doesn’t make sense. (A super-trendy Type 2 miiiight go for the ill-advised-but-currently-in outfit, like whatever ridiculousness the Olsen Twins had going on there, but again, it’s unlikely.) Nerdy women are still adults, and we live in the world: we know better than to dress like we’re in first grade.

You can adhere to these principles and still dress your nerdy female characters in less-than-attractive ways. Just ask anyone who knew me when I was sixteen. 😛

* Although the skepticism about jackets and turtlenecks in SoCal is, IMO, unwarranted. I lived in the Santa Ynez Valley for ten years; we had plenty of both. They’re what you wear when it’s below 70.
** And I *still* was surprised I didn’t get laid until junior year. The best and the brightest here, folks.

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About isabelcooper

I'm Izzy. I write stuff: mostly vaguely fantasy stuff, and most notably the following books: Hickey of the Beast, published March 2011 by Candlemark and Gleam No Proper Lady, published September 2011 by Sourcebooks Lessons After Dark, forthcoming in April 2012 from Sourcebooks I also like video games, ballroom dancing, and various geeky hobbies like LARPing. I have been known to voluntarily purchase and eat circus peanuts. Like, a whole bag at once.
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