Dressing for Success Part 2 – May 19, 2016

business woman

Yesterday I wrote a long post explaining why dressing appropriately as educators helps establish our credibility. I enjoyed weighing in on this topic, so I am continuing with guidelines for clothing today in the hopes that they will help someone: a high schooler, a student considering a career in teaching, or a younger teacher who may never had someone explain these unwritten rules. (I’m starting from the beginning for those unfamiliar with these clothing standards, I do not mean to be presumptuous about my colleague’s knowledge on this topic.)

The first post began to lay the foundation for professional dress by establishing acceptable standards for shoes. I don’t know why I started with shoes; it seems like reverse order, but I suppose if your shoes destroy your professional appearance immediately, everything is over. Even if your entire outfit, accessories, hair and make up are all conservative and appropriate, one pair of spike heels can ruin it all.

So, today, I would like to address clothing. As I mentioned yesterday, as a woman, this is the only experience I can speak from. I do not have the expertise to address men’s fashion, or what styles might suit someone in a non-traditional gender role. There are sites out there that address these topics, so I would encourage these populations to check out a site with an experienced writer on such topics.

Not the Club

Women’s fashion comes in such a wide variety of options, it can be difficult to figure out what works best for a classroom or office environment. One guideline to go by might be, “If you would wear it to the club, it’s probably not appropriate for work.” As female teachers, we need to be clear about our reasons for being at work. A teacher who sends mixed signals to her students, particularly older male students, does so at her peril.

Err on the Side of Caution

A word to the wise about possible misinterpretation of a female teacher’s intentions: err on the side of caution. We care about our students and want to show them our concern. However, we need to be careful about how our actions appear as much as we need to be conscious of our clothing.

In addition to dressing conservatively, we must also protect ourselves by keeping professional boundaries with our students. Keeping the classroom doors open when we speak with students is a wise habit, as is having someone else present in our classrooms when we have private talks with students.

Something as innocent as patting a child on the shoulder or adding him on social media can be misconstrued as an invitation to have a more personal relationship, and such actions can jeopardize your career. (Of course I am not just talking about women; men must also be extra-cautious. One colleague confided that when he sees a girl dressed inappropriately in his class, he counts his ceiling tiles to ensure nobody accuses him of looking at her. Male colleagues share that they never discuss dress code infractions with female students; they contact female teachers to address the issue.)

Making it even more difficult for female teachers, however, is that popular culture seems to glamorize the infatuation with attractive teachers. Since songs and movies abound where male students engage in relationships with female teachers, we do need to establish our professionalism. Remember that some teachers have crossed these boundaries with students as well, so we must be vigilant in protecting our professional reputations.

I mentioned yesterday that I do not subscribe to the notion that women’s clothing is responsible if she is victimized. Women who are sexually harassed, raped, or attacked by anyone do not ever deserve to be blamed for the violence or told they “were asking for it” because of their choice of clothing. I am only speaking about choosing clothing for work to promote your professionalism as an educator and protecting yourself so that students do not interpret your clothing or actions as an invitation to get more personal. If you want to wear revealing clothing, that is your business. At work, however, we can become targets for misunderstandings, complaints, or accusations if we choose not to abide by these unwritten rules.

The Don’ts

One can feel attractive and confident in modest clothing while sending the message that one is serious about work. There is a fine line between looking nice and looking foxy, so I will attempt to delineate it, according to my own perspective and experience:

  • No cleavage
  • No low-rise jeans
  • No see-through clothing
  • No bare arms (with some exceptions)
  • No visible undergarments
  • No midriffs
  • No skirts or shorts above the knee
  • No ripped clothing
  • No tight clothing
  • No clothing that must be adjusted to cover up
  • No stretch pants unless they are covered by a long tunic or dress

An appropriate outfit for work generally consists of a shirt or blouse that fully covers the chest. If there is any doubt, or if the blouse is revealing at certain angles, you may want to have another shirt underneath like a camisole or tank top or a “dickey,” a piece of fabric that covers the cleavage that my grandmother introduced to me. black dickey

white dickey       turtleneck dickeys





Another option might be any variety of “modesty” products, such as the Cami Secret or Cami-band below. The Cami Secret clips underneath your blouse and the Cami-band can be used to cover cleavage or the top of low-rise pants or skirts.cami secret


About the “bare arms” in the list above, I went to a private boarding school with a strict dress code. Jackets, blazers, or sweaters were always required over a shirt during school hours. The teachers also wore these clothes, but when they were too hot and removed them, that was implied permission for us to remove ours. (However, we were also required to stand when an adult entered the room, so maybe that is too conservative of an example.)

I learned how to dress conservatively by attending this school. Girls had to wear button-down blouses with a collar or a turtleneck. I don’t think we were even allowed to wear scoop-neck shirts unless we had a collared shirt underneath. Now I wear scoop-neck shirts, but make sure to wear a sweater or jacket when I’m off to work.

I think jackets and sweaters make an outfit look more professional. You don’t need to wear them all the time, but wearing them would be dictated by the situation. For example, if you were showing up at a job interview, you would probably want to keep your sweater or jacket on.

Other options include pullover sweaters with a sewn-in collar – not good in the summer, of course, but an easy choice for cold weather. I have a few “two-fer” shirts – these are shirts with a jacket attached. Easy to wear!

Tomorrow: Bottoms!


Additional information about coaching today:

I met with a teacher for planning during first period and had classes come in for Chromebook training every period (except 2nd and 3rd when I teach my own classes).

I worked on the presentation handouts for Friday (these will double for the handouts for my Summer Jam session once I add to them and edit them): Online Grading Handout

And I am exhausted now, so I am leaving. Have a great evening! 🙂


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