Friday, April 03, 2009

How We Dress: Classy or Classist?

Today is Friday, so I have the opportunity to wear jeans and a T-shirt if I'm wearing school colors or a "school shirt." Monday through Thursday, teachers are expected to dress "professionally." And I've often wondered...

Why are jeans considered inappropriate for business? I'm talking about pants, not shorts or cutoffs. No rips, no tears, no stains. What is it about this particular weight and weave of cotton that marks it as 'inappropriate'?

With my salary & where I live, I'm not suffering. But at the same time, I don't like to waste my money. Why do so many districts demand that teachers wear clothes that are uncomfortable, impractical, and expensive?

I typically wear a pair of Addidas Gazelles or brown Dr. Marten oxfords. They're comfortable and in good repair. I've never had anything said about my attire. But technically speaking, I'm fairly sure that my shoes go against the teacher dress code every day.

I've also recently purchased a pair of dark blue jeans. Primarily this was because (alas) I've gained some weight and my "skinny jeans" didn't fit anymore, so I only had a single pair that fit. But, well... I wore them last Thursday, paired with a nice sweater. Just to see what would happen.

I felt like such a rebel!

And of course nobody said a darn thing. I don't even think anybody noticed.

So what's the deal? Obviously, we should be clean. And neat. And modest. And what we wear should reflect that. But I really don't think jeans or sneakers have anything to do with that. You can have skirts, blouses, pants, or 'dressy' shoes that are completely inappropriate. And you can have jeans and sneakers that are quite sensible.

Are we mature adults or not? I think schools should be able to say "what you wear should promote a positive image of this school and education in general" and leave it at that.

Image thanks to


Mrs. Chili said...

The problem with "what you wear should promote a positive image of this school and education in general" is that a lot of people - many to most, I would guess - have NO idea what that really means.

I DON'T wear jeans to teach. I go to work in trousers or skirts and nice shirts or sweaters. While my clothes are neither impractical nor uncomfortable (nor are they particularly expensive), I do think that they promote the image I'm trying to convey of my being a professional who takes her role as a model to her students of professional behavior seriously.

Rightly or not, we have expectations for appearance in certain venues. I want my students to see me taking care over my appearance to come to my work, and I want them to consider how THEY look when they go to important events like job interviews or to meet clients. It may not be right that we judge people by how they look, but it is almost universally true that we do - at least, for first impressions. I think that is important enough to dress up for, myself.

R2P2 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
R2P2 said...

sorry, had to edit.

My first reaction is: find some "dress" clothes that are comfortable!!

While I would love to wear jeans all the time, I'm not really uncomfortable in the more professional attire I have. OK, so my trousers are a little too tight in the waist, but that's more of an "operator error" than the fault of the pants. They did fit less-than-snugly at one time. ;) And if What Not To Wear has taught me anything, it's that you CAN be comfortable in dressy clothes!

I see your point, but I think I respectfully side with the non-jeans "professional" wardrobe. I got to wear jeans for the FIRST TIME EVAR today (we can't even wear them on Friday :( ) and I have to admit, I didn't feel right. I felt too casual and was too afraid I'd be mistaken for a student. I like that the more professional dress code earmarks me as a teacher. There does need to be a line between me and my students, and the way I dress helps clarify that.

However, I would like if we could wear tennis shoes. A good teacher is on his/her feet most of the time, and as such, we should wear supportive shoes

Anonymous said...

I'm of a split mind about teacher dress codes. First, I agree that you can dress in certain types of jeans and still look "dressed up." New jeans that are clean and pressed can look great with an oxford shirt and a sports coat.

You can also look like a slob in khaki dockers and a polo shirt that are wrinkled, ill-fitting or stained.

Too many times teacher dress codes are blanket policies that are there as a crutch for lazy administrators. They are also a sign of a lack of trust of the teachers to act like professionals.

This trend is unfortunately becoming too common. Administrators in too many schools are not working with their faculty, but micromanaging their every moment.

In a professional environment, the administration and the staff would agree that we should all wear appropriate, professional attire to work. Those who can not should be spoken to individually and privately. No "dress code" needed.

Clix said...

There is definitely value in looking not just presentable, but nice - especially in your speech classes, Chili, where the students learn what to do when EVERYONE IS STARING AT YOU. And I agree that jeans and sneakers are considered "not professional attire." My question is still - WHY?

I think it's important to be aware of what image you're sending by what you choose to wear. It's helpful to wear clothes that complement your teaching philosophy and style. By this point, almost my entire "teacher" wardrobe comes from J. Jill; I've built it up over several years. Their pieces are simple, yet nuanced, and elegant and comfortable. It's about as close to elf-garb as you can get, but it doesn't exactly send the message I want.

Think about what I chose for the title of my blog.

I want clothes that say "I'm not looking for any trouble" and yet imply "...but if you're THINKING about any, please realize that I can take out a terrorist cell. Or a squad of orcs. I'm just laying low."

I want clothes that say, "This is not going to be easy. We're going to face some challenges that seem impossible. But if you follow my lead, I'll get you through them, and you'll be stronger for it. Now let's get to work!"

Think a clean Strider, Jack Bauer, or John McClane. Or just about any Clint Eastwood character.

Tangent: It is rather fascinating, and a bit sad, that not a single female character came to mind.

HappyChyck said...

I have come to appreciate my casual dress teaching wardrobe. It's comfy! I wear slacks and a blouse or sweater, and most pieces I have are in solid colors, so I can wear them year after year. And I have. I have spent a lot of money on my trousers because they are hardest for me to find, but they last! The SHOES are the worst. I'm forever on the quest to find shoes that are comfortable yet look nice with my black trousers. I know some older teachers who wear khaki chinos and oxfords with some nice white or black tennis shoes. They look comfortable and professional. I look to them when I worry about needing some toe-breaking dress shoes.

It's taken me years, but I've learned to select flattering, classic clothing. They look so much better on me than any jeans I can find. But if I could find a pair of dark denim jeans to wear with a crisp white button up--I'd be there!

Unknown said...

It's basically because jeans are the symbol of the blue-collar worker. When you wear a tie/collared shirt on the other hand, you are signalling your white-collar status. Thus why they call it white-collar. It's just about projecting an image of status and authority, nothing else. Everyone judges on your appearance, and no one will listen to someone who looks poor.

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