Rage Against “Geek Chic”

When you put [blank] in front of the word “chic,” suddenly that [blank] is a novelty. “Geek chic” is the same. Thick-framed glasses, short-sleeved plaid shirts, suspenders, high-waist pants and a bowtie—congratulations, you just pulled together the aesthetic 1950s stereotypical geek. Now make it sexy and socially acceptable!

“Geek chic” is a trend or style (some might go as far as calling it a movement, but I’m not one of them) that takes elements that are stereotypically considered geeky. This article defines it as, “You take key pieces of a typically geeky wardrobe and wear them with purpose and aplomb, to make a point. Not because you’re clueless and out of the fashion loop, not because you can’t afford Ralph Lauren — because you want to…. It’s about reclaiming the geek identity as something not only meaningful, but also stylish.” And while I dig the sentiment of that statement, I disagree with where it’s coming from. There should not be a stigma to wearing “typical geek wardrobe” without a purpose or fashion statement. If someone wanted to wear something that was meaningful, it wouldn’t be geek chic or even a geeky look, it would just be their look; whether it’s stylish or not is subjective.

It was a few years ago when Canadian design team Dsquared unleashed a “geek chic” collection that turned heads among the industry elite and prestige. So why does it bother me? The collection itself is not offensive; it’s the idea that these elements that are defined as geeky or nerdy can only be embraced when shed in the right light. When you do that, though, you lose the essence of what it means to be a geek. The thing about being a geek is that it’s about loving something so shamelessly that you don’t care what people think; it’s a badge of internal honour with no hint of irony at all. You don’t choose to wear a bowtie because someone else said it was cool; you choose to wear a bowtie because The Doctor said it was cool.

Veering off fashion for a moment and focusing on another medium, the insanely popular show The Big Bang Theory is another example of appearing to take the non-existent stigma out of being a geek. I’ve been told that I should love this show because it’s about geeks. While I’ve definitely managed to laugh at the odd bit here and there, it doesn’t grab me the way shows that are actually aimed at me without insulting me do. The Big Bang Theory has four guys who are into virtually anything that can be deemed geeky (D&D, Lord of the Rings, Buffy, comic books, video games, Star Wars AND Star Trek; yup, the writers definitely did their homework on what constitutes as geek culture) and clearly it’s a show for geeks because we’ll get the references. But are the jokes at the characters’ expense meant to get the audience to relate to them or are they meant to have those quirks laughed at because of how odd they are? The eyes through which we see the world in this show are Penny No-Last-Name’s. She is the outsider in their geek world, but when she raises an eyebrow at them, the audience raises an eyebrow at them.

As I read up on “geek chic” trying to find the proper way to define it, one word popped up frequently that made me realize the true root of why I dislike the term so much: stereotypically. We have based a look on a stereotype; one that, for whatever reason, was once considered somewhat negative. Now it’s being embraced because it’s been given the okay by the masses. On the runway, it’s hot. On television, it’s relevant. It’s okay to be the image of a geek now. We accept you. But here’s the thing: It was never anything that needed acceptance. Geeks love what they love; they express it in any way they see fit, be it through their attire or Tumblr account or even through silence. You want to pull off the ultimate “geek chic” look? Here’s what you do: wear whatever you want, you beautiful snowflake!

(Source – originally posted June 14, 2013)


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