The Teacher Dress Code

Several of you have written to ask for a more in-depth look at how to dress when you're a teacher. So I went to the experts.

I interviewed three veteran teachers for this purpose, and here is what they told me.

Sarah, 10-year Kindergarten teacher: "My concerns are practical: things need to be washable and comfortable. I can have a little fun with jewelry or, yes, the infamous holiday sweater. But my highest priority is wash-and-wear — and comfortable shoes. (Yes, Aerosoloes — and gel insoles — are your friend.)" She adds that, "because I'm with kids all day, I like an adult palette — not least because neutrals are easy to mix and match. Here's her suggested look:

The Teacher Dress Code

Ariel, who's taught high-school Spanish for 5 years, has a whole 'nother set of concerns. "In my outside life, I love to have fun with fashion. But teaching at a high school level, safer is always better: I am way more conservative than I ever thought I'd be. You don't want anything to potentially undermine your standing — obviously anything overly sexy is a no-no, but I wouldn't want to be known for having awesome clothes either, frankly. At school, I want my clothes to be a blank slate. Also, I'm budget-conscious, so I try to get good basics." Which doesn't mean you can't look cool (and she does.) "My uniform is basically a dress and a jacket," she adds. Here's her suggestion:

The Teacher Dress Code

I was talking to a former teacher of mine, who put it this way: "You can let loose a little bit after you've established authority, but the truth is, teaching is probably the job where you need to be most conservative — forget lawyers and doctors! There is no harsher critic than a teenager, and you have to be aware of that. It's such a hard job anyway — why would you do anything to make it harder?"

Here are the basic things all three agreed on:

  • Avoid anything tight, low cut, or generally sexy — obvious, but you can't say it enough.
  • Wear comfortable shoes: you're on your feet all day.
  • When in doubt, go conservative. If you're not sure, opt for sleeves, stockings or other things you'd normally consider a little much.
  • As one says, "kids are going to comment either way, so don't take it too much to heart."
  • Teachers: what's your go-to? Do you play it safe? Express yourselves? Have a uniform? Let us know!

    For all of our handy Dress Code guides, go here.