Hmmmm….good question. If you ask some people, the answer is an emphatic yes. But if you look at some very successful teachers, you might think the answer is not necessarily.
So does it matter what we wear as teachers? Should we focus on comfort and ease-of-movement or should we put forth the effort to dress professionally?
While I do think that it’s wise to err on the side of being more professional, I’ve come to realize that the real answer is this: it depends.
For some teachers in some situations, dressing professionally may be the difference between success and utter failure. But for others, the difference it makes is practically nonexistent.
Now, a slight disclaimer, I firmly believe every teacher should look nice and of course dress modestly. We all need to be good examples to our students and we certainly shouldn’t be distracting with our wardrobe (unless it’s spirit week, of course.) But the question here is whether or not we need to bust out the suits and blazers every day. Ladies, do we need a drawer full of pantyhose? Or are khaki capris and a semi-casual top occasionally acceptable?
Once again – it depends.
When Do Teachers Need to Dress Professionally?
I see the need to dress professionally on a bit of a sliding scale. There are multiple factors that affect this, so you can’t necessarily just look at the other teachers in you school and do exactly what they do.
You probably need to dress more professionally……
- The younger you are. When I was fresh out of college, it didn’t matter what the veteran teachers at my school were wearing. I was young. Really young. And I needed to look like a teacher. Apparently I needed my dress to be a distinction because whenever we had dress down days parents kept thinking I was a student.
- The less you’ve been teaching. That first year, professional dress can be pretty important – both in how you portray yourself to your students and in the confidence it gives you. Once you’ve been teaching for twenty years – well, it’s probably a little less critical.
- The earlier it is in the school year. Even if you’re a seasoned veteran in your mid-fifties who has it all together, the first day of school brings new students who don’t know you. At all. So dressing professionally at the start of school is always a plus. First impressions are still important.
- The older your students are. If you’re teaching preschool, your students will not be paying much attention to your dress. Okay, they probably will love your necklaces, but they won’t really care if you’re dressing professionally. On the other hand, if you teach high school (or even middle school) then dress starts to matter much more, especially if you’re somewhat close in age to them.
- The more parents are involved. It doesn’t matter how old you or your students are, when you meet with parents, you want them to see you as a competent professional. So when it’s time for parent-teacher conferences, orientation, or open house, you should probably step up the professionalism of your dress by a notch or two.
- The less you have a natural air of authority. Some people exude authority. Just looking at them, the students start shaking in their boots. That is not me. I am petite, young, and naturally soft-spoken. I have to develop my authority through other means – and professional dress is certainly one of them.
- The more formal your school is. Finally, the culture of your school is a big factor. In some schools, acceptable dress for the men is nothing short of a suit and tie. At others, wearing a button-down shirt and makes you seem uber-professional. Take this into account, but remember that it’s definitely not the only factor to consider.
And since we all know how great visuals are, we could picture it like this:
When I started teaching, I was new, young, my students were semi-older (middle school), and I did not carry much natural authority in my look and demeanor. So my default was professional dress, especially at the start of the year and most certainly during my first year. So if you’re like me – new, young, and maybe even lacking a bit of confidence – get shopping and find yourself some professional clothes. And be sure to check out the next post: How to Dress Professionally on a Teacher’s Income.
So what about you – where do you fall on the spectrum? How much effort do you put into dressing professionally? Do teachers at your school wear jeans? Share your thoughts with a comment below.
Picture by JonoMueller