How to Dress Professionally on a Teacher’s Income

Ask 10 teachers the question “Do teachers really need to dress professionally?” and you’ll likely get 10 different answers.

The truth is that the answer depends on a lot of factors. And what works for one teacher may not work for another.

Basically the younger you are, the newer you are at teaching, and the older your students are, the more important it is to dress professionally – especially at the beginning of the year.

The difficulty a lot of us run into, though, is how exactly do we do this? What exactly is professional enough? And how can I afford all these new clothes on a limited teacher’s salary?

how to dress professionally on a teacher's income or how to dress professionally on a budget

When I first started teaching I sure wished I could just clear the racks at Express and Macy’s, but that just wasn’t a realistic option. I had just finished paying my way through college, and my brand new husband had gotten laid off from his job 2 days into my teaching career. The money wasn’t exactly flowing.

But the good news is that you don’t need an entire new wardrobe from the best stores in order to dress professionally. Not even close….

Tips to Dress Professionally on a Budget

[Sorry, guys, these tips mainly apply to the ladies. Your professional dress is pretty simple. Grab a few dress shirts (like these) and a few ties (like this one), and you’re good to go. For us ladies, it’s a bit more complicated….]
  1. Invest in a few staple items. A blazer or two, a black skirt, some cardigans, and a couple pairs of dress pants will take you a long way. Make sure you like how they fit you because you’re going to be wearing them a lot…. (And this doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune on them. For example, here’s a cute blazer under $25 and an awesome cardigan for under $20.)

  2. Use what’s already in your closet. The best money-saver is to use what you already have, even if you might not think it’s professional. A bright pink shirt – pair it with a dark blazer and dress pants. Voila – a cute, professional outfit. A cutesy dress? – try adding a matching cardigan and some professional jewelry.

  3. Mix and match. Remember those staple items? You can use them over and over again without your students even noticing. That cardigan can professionalize multiple outfits. And the look changes completely when those dress pants are paired with a different shirt.

  4. Shop the sales. This should be obvious, but it bears mentioning anyhow. Don’t just go to the mall and say, “I have to come away from here with a wardrobe of professional clothes.” Instead, shop a little every time you’re out – always looking for a great deal. And definitely check out the discount stores in your area that sell the name brands at a great price.

  5. Be smart about your shoes. This advice is more for pre-service teachers because those of us who have taught for any length of time have probably figured this out by now: You don’t need ten pairs of heels. In fact, you probably don’t even need one pair of heels. I love wearing heels – I wear them to church all the time and even managed to wear them during my student teaching. But when you’re on your feet teaching all day every day….well, it’s a rare woman indeed who can keep the heels. My advice? Get two pairs of cute and comfortable flats – one black and one brown – and you’ll be good to go.

    (By the way – I always just get cheap flats and replace them every few months when they wear out. But I wonder if it’d be worth it to invest in some higher-quality shoes – like these – that would probably last longer and be more supportive. Thoughts anyone?)

Professional Teacher Outfit Ideas

Take a look at our Professional Dress Pinterest board for some ideas & inspiration:


What’s your best tip for dressing professionally? Where do you find the best deals or the best items? Leave a comment below.

Please note that this post contains affiliate links. I have not personally purchased any of the products in this post and thus cannot vouch for their quality. I have simply linked to items that appear to be great pieces for a good price.

Image by photostock via

Linda Kardamis

I believe that when God calls us to teach, He promises the strength & wisdom to do it well. All we need to do is keep learning, growing, and depending on Him. I'm here to provide practical advice and Biblical encouragement so you'll have the confidence and perspective to not only inspire your students but reach their hearts as well.

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