My love of teachers is well established on this blog. I have spent my life watching my mom endure the grind that comes with committing your life to this profession. Currently, she is a reading specialist at a charter school in Newark N.J., a city, you may be aware, that is in the middle of a horrible water crisis. At 67, she’s at work by 7 am, an hour I’m usually just rolling out of bed, and from August until June we barely connect because between Monday and Friday she basically keeps farmer’s hours.
Yes, teachers have summers off (although many take on teaching summer school or other side jobs to earn extra income) and are done with work by 3pm (if you believe that I have a bridge to sell you), which may make the profession appealing, but many educators out there today barely make a living wage for basically doing God’s work while often committing their own income to keep their classrooms afloat. I became friendly with a teacher I used to see frequently at a local Dunkin’ Donuts in my neighborhood. Every Saturday I would see here there devoting her day off to making projects for her classroom, grading papers, and purchasing products for her class. Tell me again what an easy breezy job teaching is?
Shopping Selections for Teachers
With a fresh school year upon us, I wanted to put together shopping selections for teachers with their specific needs in mind. Despite knowing many teachers, I took the question to my closed Facebook Group, where many members are in the education field, for their input on the topic to ensure that I was getting it right. I have peppered the advice throughout the selections. All items are budget-friendly and you may notice I didn’t include any jumpsuits. Teacher bladder, as my mom calls it, is definitely not conducive to wearing them.
You will find the largest selection here is pants, likely the backbone of a teacher’s wardrobe, for obvious reasons.
“Dressing for work is always a challenge. I adore fashion but I work in a NYC public school building where I’m running up and down flights of stairs or sometimes in a situation where I’m making art. My favorite look is great fitting jeans, a basic top and a topper ( blazer, cardigan, jacket), a necklace or scarf and good shoes. I like to wear dresses too but they cannot be showy at all – no cleavage, no bra straps, not too short. I find it easier to wear dresses in winter with opaque tights so I don’t have to worry about my legs showing or bending over.”
Having a variety of tops is critical for teachers. Of course, any tops won’t do. They need to be styles that can easily be layered and devoid of any fussy sleeves, with necklines high enough so a teacher can bend without exposing herself, and sleeveless styles need to be styles that can be layered underneath something. Fabric weight is also important. Teachers are active people, often working in rooms with poor temperature regulation.
“I always dressed in layers, as the heat/cooling in school can be fickle. When I taught junior high and high school, I generally wore dress pants, blouse or top with interesting detail, and a blazer or jacket of some kind, with appropriate accessories, and good shoes/boots. I usually avoided dresses/skirts as on any given day I could be on the floor trying to sort out cables behind a computer, or leading a session at a department meeting. Our dress code was business casual but I tended to dress more to the business side, as did my female principals. I wore dresses or suits if I was going to Central Office for a meeting or hosting consultants in my area. I avoided anything sheer or revealing –even sheer sleeves — as we had a large Muslim population in our school. Not that I would have worn anything revealing anyway, but I was more conscious of modesty in my last school!”
Sweaters and Cardigans
On one end of the spectrum, there are cardigans, likely just as critical as pants for teachers. On the other end of that spectrum are sweaters which aren’t as important. Teachers need layers to help with temperature regulation, making chunky, warm sweaters less important. The classroom is definitely not the place for your favorite Peruvian cable knit sweater.
“Mobility is a must. Pockets are a must on at least one article of clothing. I get into messy things periodically, so things that can be washed at home. No dry cleaning. Comfort shoes that look dressy. Naot. Cobb Hill, Kelly and Katie, Clark’s work for me. I have surprisingly good luck at old Navy for coats, jewelry, and dark jeans. Ann Taylor Loft for pants, or blouses. J. Crew or Target for dresses with pockets. Layers are good. My total clothing budget a year is $500. For everything.”
Dresses can change things up from the day-to-day pants looks that can be so common. Like other wardrobe pieces, they do require mindfulness. Being able to move and bend is important. Like tops, necklines need to be high enough. Wrap dresses can potentially be too revealing and you want to make sure dresses can stand alone or can be layered. Skirts with movement are better than slim sheaths and shifts that can be layered with opaque tights can work in cold weather.
“Styles and expectations have changed over the years. I taught elementary. I started out in dresses and heels, sometimes pants and skirts. By the end, I was a lot more casual. My job entailed crawling under tables to hook up computer, tops of tables, bookshelves, ladders to hook up TVs, decorative items, bulletin boards, on the floor with the littles, paint, glue, glitter, moving entire library bookcases, hauling around boxes and AV equipment, meeting parents, teachers, supervisors, salespeople, visitors.”
I don’t see skirts as being a huge draw for most teachers. I think if it’s a choice between skirts or dresses, I think most would choose dresses, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a few to consider. All are long enough for movement and modesty.
“We have a strict no denim policy, basically, smart office attire is necessary. I wear lots of pencil skirts and sheath dresses. Pants work well too. The toughest part is wearing office attire when I don’t work in an office. I’m at a senior school on a large campus so flat shoes and the ability to run if necessary are important. Our classrooms have no air conditioners so temperatures can reach over 40 degrees centigrade in summer and be stuffy and overheated in the winter. Summer dresses below knee length are good as long as the top is modest. We need to move, bend etc without flashing anything.”
Shoe styles is an area where teachers can have fun…as long as they are also comfortable. I selected shoes that are comfortable, without spindly heels and mainly flats or shoes with comfortable block heels or wedges.
“Nothing sleeveless! Dress code didn’t allow jeans. Middle and high-school girls loved cute shoes and always noticed when I had an interesting pair on. Wearing a badge on a lanyard meant that long necklaces got in the way.”
Scarves are an easy and affordable way to add some interest to a stylish teacher look. If you want to learn the quickest and easiest way to wrap a scarf, check out this video.
“My formula is ankle pants + shell + topper like a cardigan. Lots of black, gray, some navy. I’ve worn a lot of pointy-toed flats, but I’m branching out into some sleek sneakers this year (save my feet!). I usually do big earrings or a bracelet. Color often comes in jewelry or shoes. I’m not a scarf girl though I’ve tried, sadly. I also do my hair in different ways over the week, so that gives the illusion of switching it up more.”
When I was a kid, my mom taught second grade. Keeping her audience in mind, she had a lot of colorful statement necklaces, one I remember calling the Fruit Loop necklace. Jewelry can be a great way to add some flavor to a look while capturing the attention of your students, particularly when they are young. With all different price points, jewelry can change up basic looks at affordable prices.
With the new school year freshly underway, I hope these shopping selections give you some ideas. If you are a teacher who has more tips so share, leave them in the comments selection below.