This season, the longest waiting list is not for a Birkin bag, a Dyson fan or even an iPhone 14. It’s for an appointment with a dentist. So it stands to reason the fashion industry is encouraging us to start dressing like one.
Crisp single-buttoned lab coats with sharp lapels opened the summer catwalks at Balmain, Courrèges and were also a key look for the late designer, Issey Miyake. Neon perspex goggles, designed to protect eyes from spraying water or flying tartar, are alarmingly similar to the oversized acetate sunglasses at Versace and Kanye West’s Yeezy Gap collaboration. Even white Dansko clogs, the NHS footwear of choice, has competition in a new line of industry-approved polyurethane “super Birki” Birkenstock clogs that routinely sell out among non-NHS workers.
But it was the dental term “flossing” that planted the seed. Emerging on TikTok, as these things often do, and referring to dresses, swimsuits and trousers precariously held together by super-fine straps – or “floss” – the look has become a trademark of emerging designers such as Nensi Djoka and Supriya Lele, and is worn by actors Julia Fox, Zendaya and half the cast of Love Island.
There are sites devoted to rating the “dental look”. According to Nurses.org, Figs is the top brand for scrubs, while YouTube offers hundreds of tutorials for “scrub reviews”. Actual sales from Figs and the pricier Italian brand Pastelli are not available but white scrubs remain Pastelli’s top seller.
Fashion enjoys co-opting a uniform and selling it back to us, often at a profit. In the last five years, catwalks – and the high street – have urged us to dress for the great outdoors (hiking wear or gorpcore as it became known), the great indoors (think tech bros in expensive grey hoodies), or simply with doors – in 2017, New York Magazine claimed we all want to look like architects, and the British high street followed suit.
But with the UK in the midst of an NHS “dental desert”, is this trend simply a case of scarcity value, of dressing not for the job you want, but for the treatment?
“I’m not surprised at all and I’d bet that social media has helped propagate this,” says Anjli Patel, a Derbyshire-based orthodontist and spokesperson for the British Orthodontist Society, pointing towards dental colleagues who post about their “Jordans” on Instagram.
“But it’s really about the [casualisation] of the industry. What I wear to work has changed enormously. Like every workplace, uniforms are out and comfort is in. The stuff we’re wearing is conducive to work but that much more wearable.” Patel sees a lot of Crocs “and I was sure they were for the garden”.
Patel mentions trousers with cuffed hems and “trackie b scrubs” that look like the sort of loungewear you might find at Arket but are from uniform suppliers such as Cherokee. For sunglasses, Euronda is the professional’s choice, though they bear a striking resemblance to the glasses worn by the musician Steve Lacy.
There are guidelines, though. “The main concern is cross-infection so whatever dentists wear to practice, they don’t wear in public,” says Anshu Sood, a specialist orthodontist. “Clothes need to be launderable, with slightly shortened sleeves so you don’t drag your sleeve across the patient, but otherwise it’s quite relaxed.”
Like most quirky trends, the key is in the styling. Worn head to toe, you risk looking Halloween-adjacent. Cherrypick certain elements – a lab coat or some white clogs – and no one would know you are actually wearing clinical-wear. The white lab coat in particular “means you could wear your own clothes underneath it and then simply pop it 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 took dentistry for granted, avoided it or put it off,” says Sood. “The NHS used to tell us that a uniform inspired clinical confidence, particularly given the reputation,” she says, referring to the theory of enclothed cognition, or the use of clothing to affect opinion. “Based on that, we tried to look the part.
“Now I think people are valuing our worth.”