Why it’s chic to be a geek

SLOWLY and stealthily being a geek has become positively fashionable — flat shoes, large glasses, sensible clothes and minimal grooming have entered the contemporary style lexicon as badges of cool.

Trying too hard is just so obvious and looking as if you don’t really care (well at least not too much) is so much more real.

Geek chic is the physical and intellectual antithesis of the over-styled, under-gifted celebrity culture, which reached its peak in the recent Kim and Kanye marital marathon. It seems that we are fatigued by all the ubiquitous relentless self-promotion and product placement and that popular culture is shifting to a more serious place.

Brainy is the new black — and the visual expression of nerdiness is creeping stealthily into mainstream culture. Spring/Summer’s favourite shoe, the Birkenstock, was a geeky favourite before Celine’s endorsement. The new trouser shape, the culotte, is reminiscent of earnest librarians, the Olsen twins are sporting sandals and socks combos and style guru Sonya Lennon favours 1980s glass frames. The she Geek’s accessory of choice, are her spectacles — they must be large, heavy framed, and convey the utter seriousness of her intent. They may not contain prescription lenses but they do lend gravitas to her waifish features. Geek icons such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Moss of the IT Crowd, Alexa Chung, Chloe Sevigny and Lena Dunham of Girls have all contributed to the rise of this understated anti-bling lifestyle.

Geeks of both genders favour substance over style, modesty over exhibitionism and prefer to evolve their own idiosyncratic approach to fashion. For her a typical look is vintage t shirt or blouse, cropped culottes, hand knitted cardi and Birkenstocks, while for him it its all about buttoned up polo shirts, anonymous chinos or non-branded denims and logo-less trainers. Not to be confused with Hipsters, genuine Geeks disdain the pack mentality, don’t sport facial hair and disapprove of super-tight trousers. Early adapters everywhere are subverting fashion and seasonal trends by adopting normal, middle of the road and resolutely non-branded clothing. They are reacting against the commodification of so much of contemporary life where people are defined as consumers before all else and technology has been turned into one massive marketing tool which attempts to analyse, interpret and anticipate our desires before we even form them.

Distaste and disapproval for too much stuff, too many seasons and too much fast fashion with disastrous consequences for both humans and the environment have been distilled into a sartorial slapping on of the brakes. Choosing not to consume and not to spend — at the rate dictated by the fashion industry, the geeks are subverting throw-away culture and disposable style by choosing classic brands, second-hand and non-remarkable pieces.

By opting out of transient trends and mainstream brands, geeks are making a quiet but profound statement of intent — they are choosing to live without fashion but now ironically their very norm-core tendencies are being celebrated as a new lifestyle trend. Geeks don’t quite know whether to be resentful or flattered by this elevation of their signature (lack of) style.

As with all street-up movements, it has taken the fashion industry time to absorb the geek movement — but now they are attempting to channel its anti-style ethos into inspiration.

Miucca Prada (an intellectual designer with a PHD) is the queen of geek: she has always marched to her own tune stylistically by favouring unconventional items such as arm warmers, saggy socks, ugly footwear and A-line skirts. This season her Miu Miu label is a paean to train-spotter chic with quilted anoraks, backpacks and round spectacles while her mainline Prada range is full of art inspired prints and clumpy shoes paired with severe middle partings.

If a geek must reluctantly shop on the High Street, then their shop of choice is the understated COS which melds understated styling with arty pretensions.

In terms of glamour, geek girls have a resolutely low-key approach. Their minimal beauty regime usually features soap and water, some Dr Hauschka, a little lip balm and artfully undone hair. Flat chested but sharp-minded she disdains the usual clichés such as cleavage, abbreviated hemlines, body-con silhouettes, high heels and make-up. Overt sexiness is akin to desperation in her mind and anyway, her boyfriend really prefers her to look natural.

Ironically her low-key approach has now infiltrated the beauty world with a new generation of “no make-up” beauty creams that promise radiant pretend perfect skin from a bottle and mussed up hair replacing poker-straightened tresses as the directional do.

The Geek aesthetic is not for everyone — but those who embrace it don’t want to look like everyone else. That is exactly what is wrong with mainstream fashion in their opinion — global mass communications and supply chains coupled with the emergence of everywhere-retailers such as Zara has led to a blanket of homogeneity around the world.

You can now buy the identical outfit in Dallas, Dublin and Dubai whereas as in the past, cultural, geographical and climatic conditions all led to unique dress codes in different continents. Sameness has crept into style as a defining force and while some may argue that fashion is more democratic than ever before others say it is also more boring than at any time in its evolution.

With key geek pieces such as voluminous knits, midi skirts, conceptual prints, parkas, anoraks and chunky glasses with thick resin frames all featuring in the Autumn/Winter collections and designer labels such as Christopher Kane, Sacai and Dior creating technically complex and unconventional garments, there is definitely an intellectual influence in the zeitgeist this season. In these post recessionary times the geeks have had enough of WAGs and bags, red-carpet frocks and borrowed rocks — the question is will we follow their low-key lead in embracing their anti-fashion manifesto?


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