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The Teaching Profession: Does Attire Matter?

Janelle Cox

As children, most of us were taught that you should not judge a book by its cover. In other words, we should not judge someone solely based on what they look like from the outside. However, most people judge by their first impression, and sometimes it’s hard to overlook how someone is dressed when it’s staring you right in the face. For example, a teacher with her cleavage or midriff showing can be quite a distraction. While most school districts publish a teaching profession dress code, this dress code can be quite vague. A school policy may say “No blue jeans unless they are dressy,” which some educators may take as they can wear blue jeans to teach. This “Teacher attire” argument has been around the teaching profession for some time now. Some teachers (especially in elementary schools) argue that they think they should be able to dress comfortably because they are working with students on and off of the floor all day. Others argue that dressing comfortably shows a lack of respect to the students and teachers in the teaching profession are supposed to be role models.

What Research Says About Attire in the Teaching Profession

It seems as though there have been many arguments in the educational world about this topic, but very few studies prove that it really matters. However, The School Superintendents Association dived into this topic and found after interviewing students in Buffalo, N.Y., that they viewed teachers who wore “Blue jeans” do look friendlier, but do not have much credibility. As for the way their teachers typically dressed, they were accepting of it. They also found that students are aware of the impact that clothes have on people. The students felt that their own teachers judged them based upon how they were dressed.

Another study from the Southern Illinois University found that about 55 percent of the first impressions of a teacher’s professionalism was based upon their appearance. That means that the way a teacher dresses does indeed have an impact on what people think of them and if they are deemed as professional or not.

Harry Wong, from the popular educational book “The first Days of School,” says that what a teacher wears sends a message to their students. The reality is that people look at you and make perceptions. He tells teachers to ask themselves to think about how their students will perceive them based on what they are wearing.

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Casual Attire Versus Professional Attire

Most teachers have a basic understanding of what school-friendly attire looks like. Dressing too casually (blue jeans) can send a message to students and faculty that might undermine your authority, while dressing too professionally may send the message that you are unapproachable or too rigid. The goal is to find the right balance. Maintain a professional presence, even if you are not in a suit or tie, or a skirt or blouse. Tailored and pressed pants for both men and women, along with a more casual shirt, can be appropriate. Observe your peers and see what they are wearing. Try and avoid blue jeans at all costs. While many schools may allow their teachers to have a “Casual Friday” and wear jeans, try to avoid them otherwise.

Over the years, the teacher attire topic has grown due to the ever-changing direction that business-casual has taken. This can lead teachers to become quite confused in what they are expected to wear to in the classroom. The key is to keep an eye out on what your colleagues are wearing and to adhere to the dress policies at your school. When in doubt, think about how your students will perceive you. If you look into the mirror and look like you are going for a jog or playing with your children outside, then you may want to rethink your school attire.

Does teacher’s attire matter? Do you think the teaching profession should have a dress code? Please feel free to weigh in and give us your thoughts on this controversial topic. We would love to hear what you have to say about it.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds master's of science in education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Skyword. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.