What to Wear: Dressing for the Classroom
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12
Winter clearance sales are in full spring with stores trying to get rid of sweaters to make way for swimsuits. Now is the time to stock up on staples of the teaching wardrobe. Student teachers building their wardrobe for their first job often need some guidance in what is appropriate, but still suits their style. Veteran teachers can identify with the must-haves for any closet. As with anything, check with your school and district for specific rules.
You can’t go wrong with a pair of khakis. It doesn’t matter the color, it doesn’t matter the cut. Find a brand that fits and stock up. I had a friend that wore her “uniform” every day of the year: white shirt, khaki pants, and the same brown flats. She would take them straight to the trash on the last day of the year and start new. Khakis go with everything, are a universal weight for different seasons, and aren’t going to have any accidental malfunctions if you bend over, go up the stairs, or sit on the floor. Avoid anything tight enough to read the tag on your underwear, or loose enough to see a boxer style, and you are all set.
You cannot teach in heels. Sorry, you just can’t. Maybe for a day, maybe for a week, but not for a lifetime. You will hurt yourself. Just don’t do it. Teachers are mobile bodies. Long-gone are the sit-at-the-desk days. All that walking and interacting means a lot of time on your feet. The first week of school, no matter what, my legs burn and ache each night.
What’s sensible? You need shoes that aren’t slippery, so tile floors don’t send you skidding. You need several pairs. Wearing the same shoes every day will wear you, and the shoes, down. Some options? Ballet flats, Sperry-style boat shoes, fashion tennis shoes, flat boots, or any style loafers. If your school allows it, tennis shoes are a great option. Many schools don’t allow flip-flops and open heels or toes, so check before you put your paycheck into something you can’t wear.
The Cardigan (aka Sweater, Jacket, or Wrap)
Schools are well known for fussy and unpredictable controlled climates. My classroom can go from a dry arid desert in the morning, to a wet and frozen blizzard in the afternoon. Every teacher I’ve ever known has “the sweater.” This might be a favorite old black wrap that matches everything, a lightweight school pullover, or a cozy fleece. The key is, you like it and it keeps you warm without a lot of bulk. It might become your school-time security blanket, so it also shouldn’t be your best cherished date-night cover-up. You will be wearing (and possibly leaving) it at school after all.
Invest in at least one school spirit item. High schools make this easy, with a shirt to support every sports team or dance that comes along. Most schools have a shirt that teachers can purchase, or it may be given out each year. You need this, no matter how you feel about the school itself. You will wear it on field trips, spirit days, and can always throw it on in a pinch. If you can’t bring yourself to invest in a purple t-shirt with a cartoon lion, you still have options. Get something in the color or pattern associated with your school. (As an Alabama girl, I have houndstooth and crimson pouring out of my closet.) The other option is to get a shirt that you like the fit of and take it to be monogrammed or screen-printed with the school name or logo of your choice.
What to Avoid
You know better than to wear your clubbing clothes to the school, and clearly college party shirts, ripped jeans, or stilettos are a no-go. I’ve had student teachers who feel they have the basics down, but then have other teachers comment on their appearance. Here’s a hit list of what to watch out for:
Peek-a-boo blouses — Go ahead and lean over in the dressing room. Can you see down your shirt? Then kids can too. Either buy a fitted camisole or pick another top. Gaping buttons can be a problem too. Don’t be afraid to dance around a bit in the dressing room.
Tight trousers — You are wearing pants, so you think you are good to go. First, can you breathe? Can you sit? If you answer no, it’s time to size-up. Seeing all the junk in your trunk is great on a Saturday night, but not appropriate for a Monday morning.
Leggings are NOT pants — This is important. They are heavy tights, they are perfect under tunics or long shirts, and they are an extra layer of warmth. In school or not, everyone should know better than to wear skin colored leggings — ever.
Short skirts — Long-legged ladies, I’m very sorry. You probably are wearing something completely reasonable for a shorty like myself. The problem is all that leg just isn’t ok in a workplace. The fingertip length can’t be your go-to anymore. Here’s a test: would your boyfriend think it’s sexy in any way? It’s probably too short. If you have staircases in your school, walk up and have a good friend check you from below. You don’t want to be entertaining anyone as you go upstairs.
Affiliations — If I can tell your religious, sexual, or political preference from your clothing, it won’t be ok for public school. It is better to err on the side of caution in this case.
Strong smells — Students and co-workers can have allergies and sensitivity to strong smells. Make sure you know your kids before you break out the smell-good.
Feeling funkier? Check out my guilty pleasure read, What the Art Teacher Wore for truly unique takes on teacher dressing.
I’m by no means fashionable. I don’t usually wear makeup, and my skirt wearing has taken a serious decline since I started teaching younger grades and am sitting on the floor more often. I’m not trying to tread on anyone’s style, but some simple basics in your closet, and knowing which few things to avoid will make dressing for school simpler. Who couldn’t use those extra few minutes in the morning?
Everyone has their own “school uniform” of sorts. From a few years back, Classroom Solutions blogger Jeremy Rinkel, for instance, points out the effect his "uniform" has on his students. What is yours?