This past week concluded my second year as a middle school teacher. Thinking back on the the naive 22 year old I was when I first entered my classroom, much has changed. The way I walked, talked, and dressed is quite a bit different from how I am now. I struggled to find my fit with the teacher
When I first started teaching, I set my mind to dressing like a cross-breed of Ms.Frizzle and Bill Cosby. The end result, as seen in the first semester of my teaching, was nausea-inducing. I had gone out and thrifted vintage skirts and dresses with pockets and wacky prints on them. I was trying too hard to fit the archetype of a teacher that I had created in my mind. It wasn’t until after New Years of my first year of teaching that I decided to sit down and craft my signature style. This is what I came up with it:
My new style consisted of things I already owned and already wore. I wasn’t trying to be someone else; instead I was trying to bring the real me to work every day. My students loved it! They didn’t always understand my matching or the way I put my outfits together but they respected my style and my boldness. They would ask me how and why I had chosen to wear certain items together and I would patiently answer that the silver glitter in my loafers complemented the gray stripe in lapel of my blazer. I’m glad I finally decided to represent my own sense of style. By doing so, my students could see the difference between stylish and trendy. There were times that my outfits missed the mark, but at least I was doing me and not trying to be someone else. And besides, the Ms. Frizzle persona took too long to create every morning. My sense of style was more effortless and natural.
Tip #1. Cardigans are your best friends
Classrooms are cold. At least mine was. Even in my Houston classroom in the middle of March, the A/C in the building would be cranked up so high that I could always been seen with a cardigan on. Cardigans have the magical ability to make increase the sophistication level of almost any outfit. My closet is full of plain cardigan, printed cardigans, light cardigans, heavy cardigans, and so on. I even keep a beige neutral cardigan in my classroom, just in case. A cardigan has a professional air to make your outfit work appropriate.
Tip #2. Layering can maximize your wardrobe
Layering outfits make it seem as though you have a lot of clothes. Layering is a great excuse to wear the same clothes more than once, but in a different way. For example, a printed button down shirt is an ideal layering-agent. Check out the outfit below:
My version of layering:
Tip #3. Keep a pair of flats around
After being on your feet for several hours, you’re going to wish you had slipped those cute loafers instead of your Jimmy Choos earlier than morning. Check out my post on alternatives to high heels. Click here.
Tip #4. Invest in a sturdy teacher bag
A a teacher, any old bag won’t do. A teacher bag is expected to hold papers, planners, grade books, numerous colored pens, and other miscellaneous items. When the straps on my large tote back broke from the weight of my bag, I headed to Target for some well-priced sturdy bag options. Another great choice is a diaper bag. It sounds crazy, but diaper bags are built to hold a lot of stuff. They have many pockets and compartments– the perfect compliment to a teacher lifestyle.
Tip #5. Do the “reach and squat” test
I taught middle school boys, so I had to be especially conscious of my attire. When you check yourself out in the mirror in the morning, be mindful of the range of motions you will be performing throughout the day— reaching, leaning over, and squatting. Students won’t always necessarily tell you if you are exposed. In my experience, they like to whisper and point it out to other students before they finally tell you. You have to be self-aware at all times. One time, I went through an entire class period with my zipper down and no one said a word to me about it. Ironically, the kids were very attentive and into the lesson, or so I’d thought. Lesson: cover up.
Even though I am now transitioning out of my role as a teacher into my role as a graduate students, I will probably dress somewhat like a teacher. I’m most excited to wear shorts and jeans freely again. I’m looking forward to being dress code-less, but at the same time I must admit that the dress code taught me how to dress. Dress codes are not stiflers of style, but instead a challenge to think outside the box while staying in line.
If you’re a professional who has a work dress code, how do you stay within dress code without compromising your style?