Most conservation labs that I have worked in or visited have had an assortment of aprons and lab coats available for staff to use.  Given the nature of our lab here at ISU Library, lab coats are necessary PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).  We wear lab coats to protect ourselves and our clothing from chemical splashes, dirt, mold, red rot, and other nasty substances with which our work requires occasional contact.  The lab coats also protect us from splashes and dripping water during aqueous treatments, spilled glue, and, sometimes, the chilly lab temperature!  Finally, during disaster response or at preservation events, lab coats make our staff easily identifiable.


Wearing lab coats while washing flood-damaged architectural drawings after the 2010 Ames Flood.

Our lab coats have a basic, thigh-length, unisex design that gets the job done, but hardly in style.  The boxy cut presents problems when using the boardshears or double-fan adhesive press, since the loose fabric tends to snag on levers and handles.  The white color hides PVA residue well, but easily stains with mold, dirt, and red rot, so even after washing, the lab coats tend to look a bit dingy.  Also, the cotton twill fabric tends to shrink with repeated washings, so even if sleeves were full-length to begin with, they tend to shorten up over time, which isn’t always desirable.


Wearing a lab coat while getting messy at the bench (2010).

Fortunately for us, Iowa State University’s Apparel, Merchandising, and Design program consistently ranks among the best fashion design and apparel/textile programs nationwide.  We are currently exploring the possibility of working with a student from AESHM to design lab coats which meet the specific needs of the Preservation Department staff.

What would your ideal lab coat look like, if you could design one from scratch?  Please share your ideas in the comments!