Career Wardrobes: The Teacher | Men Style Guide

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    Step-by-step menswear tips for building your professional wardrobe.

    Universal rules of fashion aren’t — choose the ones that fit your role in life. This series of articles looks at clothing choices for men in specific, individual careers, from undergraduate college student to high-powered financier and everything in between. Find the style and the menswear that suits you and your path in life!

    man choosing professional wardrobe for a teacher

    Some professions are practically defined by their wardrobe — the business executive’s custom tailoring; the car salesman’s polyester jacket. Others are characterized by unique eclecticism, with rock bands and modern artists wearing anything they think no one else will.

    Teachers fall somewhere in the middle, balancing the need to maintain authority with the need to appear accessible, and attempting to dress to impress peers and superiors in the administration as well.

    Rather than relying on a specific style of suit, the leaders of academia do best when their wardrobe focuses on variety and confidence — a wide range of clothing that can be worn with unthinking comfort.

    The Teacher’s Style: Original Casual Wear

    teacher in dress shirt and tie

    Fundamentally, most schools’ expectations or codes for male teachers falls under the broad “dress casual” heading. Jackets and ties are acceptable but usually not required (except at some conservative institutions); blue jeans and T-shirts are generally not allowed except on the occasional “Casual Friday.”

    Khakis and a dress shirt are a popular but uninspired option that falls safely in the middle; for the teacher looking to impress both staff and students, a little more originality is called for.

    Men’s Dress Clothing, Dressed Down

    men's jacket

    A rule of thumb worth remembering: good dress clothing can always be dressed down, while casual clothing is impossible to dress up past a certain point.

    Since teachers tend to work on reasonably tight wardrobe budgets, a small selection of multi-purpose articles is preferable to a closet of single-use suits.

    A single sport coat (or the coat of a suit worn separately, if you happen to own one) can be a different garment several days in a row when paired with a plain dress shirt one day, a turtleneck the nest, and a knit vest or contrasting waistcoat the third.

    The vest can then be paired with the turtleneck while the jacket stays at home for another look, and so on — mixing and matching is the key to the teacher’s wardrobe.

    Besides being economical, the variety of looks it generates is vital in making a good impression on students — relying on the same style of clothing every day makes you look too “establishment” and boring.

    Keep the individual pieces that make up your outfit changing, not just from one sport coat to the next but from a sport coat to something else entirely.

    Menswear with Casual Authority

    teacher in classroom dressed casually nice

    At the same time that you want to project creative variety in your wardrobe, you don’t want to risk losing a sense of authority over your students. That doesn’t have to come from stiff collars and thickly knotted ties; a sense of comfort with your clothing will go further than any conservatism in dress to impress most viewers (young or old).

    Choose clothing that fits you well, in colors and styles that you personally like, so long as they fall within the institution’s codes — just because your old teachers all wore button-down shirts with printed ties doesn’t mean you have to.

    Your students and your fellow teachers will notice if you’re confident and at ease in a casual corduroy sports coat and turtleneck, and they’ll know if you’re feeling stifled and choking in a tight-collared shirt and tie, too.

    Of course, a well-fitted dress shirt with a properly tied tie shouldn’t feel constricted, and it’s a good idea to wear something along these lines at least once a week, even if it isn’t required — it all goes back to proving yourself comfortable in multiple situations.

    RMRS Wardrobe Maintenance ebook

    Business Attire For Teachers

    business attire for teachers

    Generally speaking, you’re unlikely to require a suit very often in a teaching career.

    A suit for interviews is nice to have, and you may wind up requiring more business wear if you become heavily involved in union politics, but most teachers can show up at the meetings, boards, and other “business” events associated with their career in tasteful slacks and a subdued, solid-color jacket.

    A suit for interviews is nice to have, and you may wind up requiring more business wear if you become heavily involved in union politics, but most teachers can show up at the meetings, boards, and other “business” events associated with their career in tasteful slacks and a subdued, solid-color jacket.

    If you do have to dress up in a full suit, choose something that isn’t an aggressive business style — a softer color like brown, green, or gray, done in a material like corduroy or gaberdine, will help make it clear that, while you’ve come to do business, you’re still identifying as an educator first and foremost.

    Traditional academic flourishes like leather elbow pads and bow ties may be overkill, or they may be exactly what you need to be yourself — it all depends on taste.

    Since you’re not a business-focused administrator, go with what makes you feel comfortable and confident before worrying about what is and isn’t in the mode at the boardroom table.

    Sample Wardrobe: The Teacher’s Closet

    Budget is often the most limiting factor in building a teacher’s wardrobe, with rule constraints coming next, but nearly any man in education can benefit from having a few basics to hand:

    Wardrobe Essentials – What Every Teacher Needs

    1 suit (ideally in a soft, comfortable weave)
    1+ pairs dress shoes, black Oxford shoes for the first pair
    2+ pairs casual leather shoes
    belts to match each pair of shoes
    5-10 dress shirts (more shirts means more mix-and-match options)
    3-5 ties
    1+ sport coats
    5+ pairs differently-colored dress trousers (including both light and dark options)
    2+ pairs jeans, preferably deep indigo or black
    3-5 dress sweaters or vests
    2-3 solid-color polo shirts or short-sleeve dress shirts (more if you live in a hot climate)
    10 undershirts, either sleeveless or V-neck
    10 pairs comfortable undershorts (briefs or boxer-briefs may be needed with close-fitted trousers)
    10 pairs dress socks (matched to the color of your trousers – try to have at least two pairs per pair of pants)
    1 simple, leather- or metal-band dress watch

    Wardrobe Options – Stylish Touches for Teachers

    5+ pocket squares
    1+ pair leather gloves (black and then brown are the obvious first and second choices)
    1 quality overcoat, wool or leather
    1+ hat
    dress sandals, moccasins, or other relaxed footwear
    3+ decorative belt buckles (nothing too huge, though)
    cuff links, collar pins, tie clips, etc.

    RMRS Wardrobe Maintenance ebook



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