As the new school season approaches, teachers, especially new ones may wonder what to wear to work. I’ve noticed a lot depends on the context. Yet overall, I tend to believe in looking professional. We’re not paid highly in most places so you don’t want to rack up dry cleaning bills so I’d go with pants, skirts and dresses (the last two for women) that are washable cottons or synthetics. I’m also conscious of the weather. Air conditioning isn’t a given everywhere and you don’t want to melt in August. The first week play it safe by going with short sleeves and skirts or dresses that go to the knee. Once you’ve seen how the other teachers dress and note any negative comments made about other teachers, you’ll figure out the norm.
You want the administrators to have a good impression of you so don’t be too rebellious.
If you’re teaching overseas note what the local teachers wear and be as or a little more formal than they are. While in North America some professors wear jeans, in Korea suits and outfits you’d see bankers wear was the norm. In China they’re less formal. Some men wear a nice shirt and pants, while women can wear dresses and skirts. A few would wear athletic clothes, but I would avoid that. We did have some foreign teachers who dressed like they were going to do chores, i.e. they wore an oversized t-shirt and shorts. None of them got a whole lot of respect.
Jeans are popular and can be dressed up. It all depends on what you wear with them. Still I’ve avoided jeans. Gossip is part of teaching and when someone’s writing an evaluation or criticizing they’ll say, “the teacher wears jeans all the time,” not “the teacher wears dark blue jeans with tops from Ann Taylor all the time.” I also figure if I want the profession to earn the sort of salaries business people and lawyers make, why not dress accordingly?
In Muslim countries women’ll probably be told what’s acceptable. Always ask first. In Indonesia most settings are pretty open, but cover your shoulders and knees. At my last setting we sometimes were asked to wear veils. It didn’t seem to be worth the fight for a three week stint, but we were told that the faculty was debating whether or not non-Muslim visitors from overseas should have to cover their hair. Thus a respectful conversation would be fine. What are the guidelines in the Middle East? Comment below if you know.
Below is a fashion take from an American Middle School teacher, who does go more casual some days than I would.