The Fashionable Chemist

Nobel Laureate Melvin Calvin--publicity photo c. 1962

Our faculty specialize in a number of chemical disciplines, from physical to theoretical chemistry to chemical engineering. But one thing they all have in common is a sense of style. Fashion has changed a lot in the past century and a half — evolving from tailcoats to Euro-style suits for men, and from full-length skirts to jeans and sneakers for women. Even the “traditional” lab coat has gone through variations in color and materials. Comfort and practicality have driven much of the diversity, as has the invention of new materials for clothing. But rest assured, our faculty and students have never missed a beat in being on-point for trends.

1880s — The first female students brought their own sense of style and panache to campus. They were generally dressed in casual Victorian clothing, spurning corsets, frills and rear-enhancing bustles for more relaxed day wear. Their attire included long narrow skirts, high-neck blouses and (very) long hair pinned up and tucked into brimmed hats known as “plugs.”

1890s — Professor, and long-time dean, Gilbert N. Lewis went to Harvard. In this 1890’s student portrait he looks incredibly dapper in an Edwardian sack suit made of wool. He is wearing his signature mustache that he would keep throughout his life. His stylish beard is neatly trimmed.

1900s — Classrooms were full by the 1900s with science courses well attended. In this South Hall photo, the women students are wearing coats and plugs. The men’s suits are likely readymade with close-fitting jackets that buttoned to the top.

1920s — Men’s fashion took a radical turn with the invention of Gillette’s safety razor. Here, a clean-shaven Professor Joel Hildebrand is wearing a three-button suit with vest, white collar dress shirt and necktie. He is sporting rimless glasses that became the rage in the 1880s.

1930s — Professor and Nobel Laureate Glenn T. Seaborg was a strikingly tall man at 6’3”. He cuts a dashing figure rushing through Sather Gate in 1938 in a trench coat and fedora.

1940s — Professor James Cason taught organic chemistry for nearly four decades at Berkeley. This 1945 photo shows him wearing a breezy summer outfit, with a button-down shirt and cuffed linen pants. He has added bold horizontal striped sport socks to complete the look.

1950s — The white lab coat had already been around for more than 100 years when this photo was taken of Professor Darleane Hoffman in her lab. She had not yet arrived at Berkeley, but her sense of style was well established by this point. Originally, lab coats were beige, but they were changed to white because it was easier to distinguish stains from spills.

1960s — Nothing says 1960s fashion like color. Here, in vivid Kodachrome, is the element 104 discovery team (from left) Matti Nurmia, Jim Harris, Kari Eskola, Glenn Seaborg, Pirkko Eskola and Albert Ghiorso, photographed at the Berkeley Lab in 1969. Pirkko is wearing a Coco Chanel inspired green tweed suit. The men are in business wear with Jim Harris wearing a brushed cardigan and smooth sweater.

1970s — Professor Judith Klinman arrived at Berkeley in 1978. She was the first woman in materials science on campus and came with a strong sense of personal style. Jeans had become the rage for women. The New York Times declared, “The more worn in they seem, the better.”

1980s — Professor and Nobel Laureate Y.T. Lee (left) is dressed in dark pants, a classic white button-down shirt, and roundrimmed glasses. His then-students on the equipment, Alec Wootke (left) Gary Robinson, and Daniel Neumark (now a professor of chemistry), sport polo and long-sleeved plaid shirts with de rigueur jeans and tennis shoes.

1990s — Professor Jeffrey Reimer arrives for the 1997 inauguration of Tan Kah Kee Hall dressed in a European style dark suit with black sweater. He has embellished his fashion statement by arriving on his Yamaha YZF-750.

2000s — Professors Richmond Sarpong (left) and David Wemmer attend a function in stylish modern menswear. Sarpong is wearing a slim fit suit with open shirt. Wemmer has on a western style leather sports jacket. Both are styling the ever popular 1880s rimless glasses.

2010s — A group of CBE students walk through the UC botanical garden for an AIChE field trip in early spring. Dressed for the northern California Mediterranean climate, they are wearing the current UC Berkeley uniform of shirts, ripped jeans and tennis shoes with short-waisted jackets.