Dressing appropriately for work as a teacher is a broad church. A lot of teachers have a work/life wardrobe; clothes that they only wear to work and ‘normal’ clothes for their life outside school.
Most schools will have a staff dress code ranging from that which is practical, opposite and inclusive to that which is outdated and confining - I mean, ‘business dress’ as a catch-all for teachers? How many businesses nowadays are there with people wearing shirts and ties?
How we dress is the first sign-post a child gets about who we are or are presenting ourselves to be. So, we can easily rush to the obvious (and sometimes legitimate) connections; the more formal your style of dress, the more serious the tone of your classroom and the more authoritative you may seem.
"Fashion is the armour to survive the reality of everyday life." — Bill Cunningham
The more neutral or muted your clothing is, the less that will impact the children’s perception of your personality. Going further still, business psychology books encourage you to dress like the boss in order to align yourself with that level or status within the staff and colour therapists will encourage various tones and hues to make you more effective in the educational setting.
However, at a more basic level, what we wear can affect our physicality in ways that spill into our teaching style and so this should also inform what we wear to work.
Clothes that are confining or that restrict movement (perhaps a tight fighting shirt collar or a pencil skirt) can unknowingly induce tension in the body and the voice which can subconsciously make us mentally tense, anxious or frustrated.
Equally, wearing clothes which are ill-fitting or that don’t make the wearer feel good can create a lack of confidence which again can feed into our interactions and presence in the classroom.
Most importantly are shoes – unless you are a very sedentary, the right shoes are essential to feeling physically supported and free. Tension held in the feet can manifest itself elsewhere in the body; it can transfer itself to shoulders, neck or head, again causing a general sense of discomfort, which can leave people ‘on-edge’ in the workplace when they have no situational reason to be so.
It might be worth reviewing your work wardrobe and asking: ‘Do these clothes help me do my job?’
If you’re wearing things to fulfil some perceived notion of what a teacher should look like, or align yourself with a dress code, but that leaves you aching or stiff, it might be worth adjusting your wardrobe choices so that your clothes serve you first.
About our Community Expert
Paul is an actor and English teacher from Northern Ireland. Alongside his acting career working in theatre, film and television across the UK, he also teaches in primary and secondary schools throughout London.
Paul provides performance coaching to both individual clients and businesses.