The Importance of Educators Dressing Professionally

Jordan Catapano, a high school English teacher, writes in Teacher Hub that “there is a connection between the way one looks and the way one thinks and acts.”   According to a study published in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science, the type of clothing and teacher fashion one wears “Influences cognition broadly, impacting the processing style that changes how objects, people, and events are construed.”  Brian Hadfield, a Middle School Teacher, adds “the teacher’s attire can largely impact the students’ opinions and create either a negative or positive type of educational climate.” What is clear, teachers must distinguish themselves from the students they teach.  New teachers may face even greater challenges. So, Professional Educators of Tennessee is offering a few tips to spruce up your education wardrobe.

Assess Your Wardrobe

Professionals need to assess their clothing attire when preparing for their career as an educator.  What was acceptable to wear in college or other jobs may not always be appropriate for an elementary, middle, or high school teacher. Dress to impress, your students, your peers and your administration.  However, you can dress nice and keep your choices economical. Clothing for educators should meet four criteria:

  • Clothing should be appropriate for the classroom. Remember teachers are role models and this must be demonstrated in your clothing choices.
  • Clothing should be affordable.  On a teacher’s budget, the more economical, the better for teachers.
  • Clothing should be washable. Teachers don’t have the time or budget to dry clean.
  • Clothing should be durable. Elementary/Special Education Teachers in particular interact physically with their students.

With these requirements in mind, we’ve assembled our best advice on how to assemble a teacher wardrobe, especially for new teachers starting from scratch. Read more below.

Shop Your Own Closet

Offbeat Home & Life reminds people when you are starting over with your wardrobe or just trying to save a buck here and there, learning to work with your existing wardrobe. That means that the key in creating a wardrobe for every educator is to examine what you already own.  Shopping your own closet will save you money and maximize your wardrobe. This is the critical first step. Develop your own style, just keep it professional.

Keep track of the clothes you own. Some people even write it down. Figure out what clothing items may be missing in order for you to create proper attire for the classroom. What appropriate pieces do you already own, suitable for a young professional in a classroom? Clothing almost never fits perfectly off the rack.  Try on all of your clothes to make sure they fit you properly. For example, there should be no see-through items, low cut dresses or gaping shirts. If clothes do not fit, set them aside in one section of your closet or consider donating them to Goodwill or a similar organization.

A few years ago Forbes had a wonderful article, which is still relevant on tips for shopping your own closet.

  • Before shopping any closet, it needs to be organized for the task. Try on everything and narrow down your choices to things that fit and are in good condition. Donate the rest.
  • Window shop.Next pay attention to what the fashion magazines are showing.. Look for things that are similar to what you already own.
  • Find a good tailor.A good tailor is an essential tool of the champion closet shopper. Some things may just need a nip, a tuck, a narrower leg, or a shorter hem.
  • Try to see old things new ways. You can test drive this a few times before you commit to the tailor.
  • Add a pop of color.
  • Wear old things in new ways.
  • Try new combinations.Mix up suits jackets and pants. Play with contrasts. There’s a reason black and white are perennially in style.
  • Make a shopping list for what you are missing.Make a wish list of things you need or want to replace, and the pieces you wish you had in your closet.
  • Pace yourself.Invest in the best that you can afford.  Less expensive pieces usually look best in black.

Build Your Basic Professional Wardrobe

Our friends at We Are Teachers point out that “dressing for life as a teacher can be difficult.”  They add, at “the elementary level, it’s important to walk the line between looking professional and not caring whether you get paint, glue or yes, even body fluids on your outfit.”  Then point out the obvious: “If your students are older, the challenge becomes to look stylish without attracting unwanted attention or comments from teenage fashionistas.”  All teachers spend a lot of time on their feet and need to be comfortable from the first bell to the last. So, shoes are also very important.  It is worth the money to spend more for a sturdy pair of shoes when you will be on your feet all day.

A basic wardrobe for professionals is included at the Lifehacker website.  While it seems a little much for a classroom teacher, it certainly is basic for a school administrator. A Pinterest blog “How to Dress Like a Teacher” is a great visual for female teachers.  Pinterest and numerous other blogs are a great source for teacher ideas in general, including proper attire. Many teachers include ideas on Pinterest on apparel they find online and some even upload their own daily outfits.  For men check out Guide To Become A Well-Dressed Teacher.  Teacher blogs are incredibly useful resources where real-life teachers post the outfits they wear to work. Trendy Tales of a Teacher and Teachers Have Lives Too are popular blogs with young female teachers.

So, whether you are building a wardrobe from the clothes already in your closet or needing to shop in a hurry these tips will help and inspire you.

Secondhand Clothes

Thanks to new websites and apps, you can hunt for secondhand fashion from your phone—or, if you prefer there are brick-and-mortar options, too.

A few of the online apps are Wallapop, Refashioner, Poshmark, Asos Marketplace, Tradesy and Vinted.  The sites all have shipping terms, refund info, security precautions, contingency planning for pieces that don’t show up and deadlines for when purchased items must be shipped by a seller—just in case you’re a little wary of the world of online thrifting. A popular secondhand shop that specializes in trendy clothing is Plato’s Closet.

Don’t forget the retail stores such as TJMaxx, Marshalls or Ross to purchase affordable clothing. Even your local Goodwill may have professional options.

You should check out the benefits offered by Professional Educators of Tennessee on a regular basis, as they change and we are constantly adding to our list.  Many stores offer discounts to teachers with an employee ID. The following are just some retailers that give Clothing/Accessories savings to teachers nationwide:

  • Blue Nile Jewelry
  • Carhartt
  • Claire’s
  • Coco Reef Swimwear
  • Crocs
  • Hartstrings Children’s Apparel
  • JCPenney
  • Kohl’s
  • Naturalizer Shoes
  • Target
  • The Walking Company

Clothes Swap

A clothing swap is a where people, in this case teachers, exchange their valued but no longer used clothing for clothing they will use. Clothing swaps are considered not only a good way to refill one’s wardrobe, but also are considered an act of environmentalism. Online clothes swapping has also become popular, with websites offering an environmentally friendly and frugal alternative to shopping or second-hand shops. Once you begin teaching, organize a seasonal clothing swap with your fellow teachers. Have everyone bring clothing and accessories that they no longer want to one teacher’s home. Group the items by type and size, then allow each teacher that donated items to “shop” from the donated goods. Any remaining clothing can be brought to the teacher’s lounge for those that were unable to attend the swap or donated to a local charity like Goodwill.

Find a Dry Cleaner and a Tailor

If you do purchase dry clean only clothing, by all means use a drycleaner.  This can not only save you money in the long but is one of your best clothing investments. Good quality clothes are expensive and need to last as long as possible. That will only happen if the clothes are cleaned correctly every time after they are worn. When you find that reliable cleaner, you have found your best clothing care partner.

Tailoring is another way to make your wardrobe more professional. One of the best ways to look more professional is to wear clothes that fit properly.  If Khakis or black pants are your go to item, make sure they fit properly. Ask around to find a good tailor. If you have a friend or relative who sews, even better.  While, good tailoring is worth paying more for, and bad tailoring is a waste of money entirely.

One last thing, what is acceptable to wear on snowy day in Michigan will be completely different than what the teacher from South Florida may wear. You do have to fit in logically and culturally, so take cues from the best dressed educators in your district. Become that teacher who everyone else wants to emulate.

Anything we missed?   What is considered as “Dressing professionally” for you? Feel free to offer ideas or suggestions or your favorite link for teacher style or fashion.


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