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What is Geek Chic?

By Jane Lapham
Updated May 21, 2024
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Geek chic is a fashion trend that embraces stereotypically geeky clothing and accessories and reinterprets them as cool, hip, and highly desirable. Perhaps the most prominent feature of geek chic is the use of black- or horn-rimmed glasses. The birth and growth of geek chic is tied to the proliferation of technology and its acceptance in mainstream society. Because geek chic is the reinterpretation of geek style as cool, an idealization of geekiness is a precursor to the development of geek chic. Once a label to be avoided, "geek" has become a characterization many are now proud to wear.

Geek style is achieved via the careful use of a few items of traditionally geeky clothing and accessories. Chunky, plastic rimmed glasses are key. T-shirts with slogans that refer to computers can be a part of geek style, as can sweater vests, blazers and pocket protectors. Girl geek fashion often features a-line or straight skirts that fall at or below the knee. Subdued colors also play a large role.

The general conception of a geek is one who is smart, obsessed with technology, and socially awkward. The birth and subsequent mainstreaming of geek chic as a fashion style is closely tied to the proliferation of technology, and technology's wider acceptance in mainstream society. Geek chic tends to be most common in communities or social circles that have a high rate of acceptance of new technological gadgets. In academic fields and industries that revolve around computers, the adoption of geek fashion is generally highly acceptable or desirable.

In the early 1900s, the word geek meant "sideshow freak." In the 1980s, the word was adopted into teen slang to refer to people who lacked social grace and were obsessed with technology and computers. By the end of the 1990s, people who were well-versed in technology and computers were becoming not only accepted by the mainstream, but idealized. Those who were among the first to adopt new technologies and gadgets became the trendsetters, blurring the line between geeky and hip.

The entertainment industry has used the mainstreaming of geek chic to draw crowds. Several movies and television shows have featured the idea that geeks are really just hipsters in camouflage. Nerd chic is a closely related fashion trend in which stereotypically nerdy clothing and accessories are considered hip and cool. Some, in fact, use the terms "geek chic" and "nerd chic" interchangeably.

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Discussion Comments
By croydon — On Jun 10, 2014

@bythewell - Honestly, the reason I like my geeky shirts is because they identify me to other people who I know I'll get along with because we like the same things. I used to have this amazing Battle Royale shirt (it's a Japanese film) and I would get into all kinds of cool conversations whenever I wore it and people recognized it.

Geeks like to talk about the things they love. If they are wearing something promoting what they like, it makes it that much easier to find other people who will be willing to have that conversation.

By bythewell — On Jun 09, 2014

@MrsPramm - I can appreciate that the term "geek chic" is describing a particular kind of aesthetic, but I hope we eventually get beyond describing people as jocks and nerds. One of the nice things about the current popularity of science fiction and comic book series is that people don't have to be embarrassed about admitting they like them now. And why shouldn't they like them? I've never considered myself a geek but I like some science fiction and some fantasy. Just like people might like certain kinds of geek chic clothing but not want to wear a whole costume of it.

By MrsPramm — On Jun 09, 2014

I always thought the difference between a geek and a nerd was in specifics. Nerds are very smart people, more interested in intellectual subjects exclusively and don't really care much about aesthetics. A nerd might not be interested in anything except getting good grades or performing well at their job.

While a geek is someone who is obsessed with a particular thing, whether that happens to be a TV series, or a game, or whatever. So geeks usually have to identify themselves as part of a specific subset by saying something like "I'm a gaming geek" or "I'm a science fiction geek" and, of course, geek chic changes depending on what they prefer.

My sister absolutely love star wars, for example and has things like light saber earrings, but I'd never consider her to be a nerd. She's extremely sporty and has always been more of a jock.

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