George Lucas Educational Foundation

How Should Teachers Dress?

How Should Teachers Dress?

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[I'm writing this primarily from a male perspective. If a female teacher would like to chime in with their opinion, that would be great!]

This seems like a simple question, but it really is not. There is a LOT to consider between formal district dress code policies, personal taste & preference, teaching assignment, community norms, individual income levels and even climate concerns. 

As a new teacher, you obviously are going to get your cues from the existing teaching staff, and will probably aim a tad higher, at least initially, while you get established. For most men this will mean a long-sleeve dress shirt and tie, maybe even a sport coat too. A suit is not out of the question. 

But it really depends; a teacher at a hip private school in the city might make different, and completely appropriate, choices than a teacher at a leafy suburb or rural school.

Personally, having come into education from the business world where "suit and tie" was an everyday thing, I have to say it's been fantastic to be able to come to work in khakis and a polo for the last 12 years. I teach elementary technology, and, my classroom is very active. I'm constantly moving around the room, shuttling equipment on and off desks, orchestrating killer STEM projects with lots of often messy or bulky materials, etc. Most important for me personally, I am extremely sensitive to heat; even wearing a short sleeve polo shirt, when the weather is warm and the temperature in my room spikes, the heat gets to me and I perspire visibly. I've heard "are you sweating?" from incredulous kids more than a few times. So, I'm thrilled my choice of attire fits within our dress code.

That said, I know male classroom teachers who wear shirts and ties every day; others dress more or less as I do. Our male gym/physical education teachers have their own style, which seems logical given their assignment. Overall, everyone dresses "professionally," which is to say, their clothes are neat, clean and fit well; they suit their teaching assignment and the season; overall, they convey a "corporate" appearance at all times, which I think is the point of proper clothing choices in an "office" type or indoor work setting to begin with.

Our school has "Dress Down" Fridays, which for me, simply means I get to wear jeans. (I'd often rather not, so I don't, as they are heavier and therefore warmer than khakis.) It also means I get to wear sneakers, which *IS* great, because since I literally am on my feet for all but 20 minutes a day, comfortable footwear is a must. (N.B.: I highly recommend the dress shoes from Rockport and L.L. Bean as they look great and are VERY comfortable.) 

So, how should teachers dress? I say, as their job assignment dictates, and as neatly and comfortably as possible while still projecting a professional, "corporate" image. What do you think?


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Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.

We have to stick to the district dress code unless we are seeing "clients" during the school day- students and parents. Depends on the corporation. Many corporate employees only see the screen of a computer all day, which it really doesn't matter if they're wearing jeans or PJS.

Luis Senteno's picture

I agree...what I don't see as appropriate are those who wear shorts, sandals and look like there at the beach (men). Having worked at all 3 levels I think it is more appropriate for teachers to dress a bit more casual at the elementary level given the need to be more interactive and moving around. At the middle/junior/high school level a more professional dress, from my viewpoint, is more appropriate. But given the different types of days (1/2, college, school spirit, career, etc.) most days for me are different and I only wear a dress/tie twice a week.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Design/Broadcast Media teacher

I agree, Luis! I have been surprised to see brand new teachers (still on probationary status) showing up nearly every day in ripped jeans and flip-flops. Not only do they communicate a casual, less-than-professional attitude to their students, but they don't seem at all concerned about how they appear to the administration, who is evaluating them in these early years of their careers. I would think looking professional (yet appropriate for the subject/grade level) would be part of their efforts to keep their position at the school.

Farah Najam's picture
Farah Najam
Teacher Trainer and write on education

It's true that being taken seriously as a teacher necessitates that one look professionally ready for the classroom, but what exactly does "professional attire" for educators look like? In a world where "business casual" can refer to a wide variety of attire, how should a teacher--who, it should be noted, often assumes other school responsibilities such as lunch duty, afterschool duty, and a bevvy of other impromptu roles that require mobility and comfort--be "professionally" dressed?
Almost every teacher has a basic understanding of what constitutes school-friendly attire. Dressing too casually sends off a blase vibe to students and fellow faculty that might undermine their ability to teach from a position of respect and authority. But dressing too rigidly could have the opposite effect, creating a sense of separation between the teacher and students.

Rijiin's picture
Rijiin
Teacher Education

I agree. We should be mindful of our image which must be professional, well fitting clothes and shoes. Not clothing that we are pulling and tugging at; No straps ladies...bras, tanks......you have it!

alainatheteacher's picture

At my school, we promote business casual for teachers. However, business casual means something different for everyone and that shows in our personal style. Whether than is a good thing or a bad thing is still up for debate!

Luis Senteno's picture

True business casual can be interpreted differently by many especially when the majority of teachers have only been in education and not been in the corporate/private/military/government sectors. It should fall on the university programs to also teach it. This is done for several of the aforementioned groups and should be done also for teachers. And while principals may not be able to dictate a dress code, some may, they can strongly suggest what is the expectation. There should be a line between teachers and students. We wear many hats but one of them shouldn't be a cap worn backwards. I'm not suggesting that was the intent stated but I've seen teachers trying to be like a student (dress, speak) believing that will make them more effective which it doesn't.

Denise Wolfgram's picture

What are thoughts on female teachers wearing tunics and leggings? Mind you the tunics need to cover the front and back side completely and not be skin tight.

Alex Shevrin's picture
Alex Shevrin
Community college teacher, former school leader, Edutopia community facilitator

Denise, that's one of my go-to outfits. I think that you'd have to assess based on the school district and building and how formal/informal the atmosphere is, as well as what the expected dress code for students might be, and how active you are throughout the day. Just my 2 cents!

Lauren Luce's picture

I believe that teachers should dress in a comfortable professional manner. For example, if that includes a tunic and leggings, I believe that is okay because it is a modern, clean, comfortable look that is not inappropriate.

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