Dressing to impress

What should teachers wear in the classroom? Is it acceptable to sport jeans, crop-tops or visible bras? Steve McCormack looks at the wardrobe you need for your first term in school

There are one or two more important considerations for new teachers than putting themselves forward for the full Trinny and Susannah treatment, but a little thought and preparation in the wardrobe department will certainly not be wasted time. Once you start out in your new job, the last thing you'll need is to have any mental and emotional energy taken up by clothing-related niggles. So it's well worth doing a bit of planning and making a few judicious purchases so that, once term starts, you can concentrate on the really important part of the job.

There are one or two more important considerations for new teachers than putting themselves forward for the full Trinny and Susannah treatment, but a little thought and preparation in the wardrobe department will certainly not be wasted time. Once you start out in your new job, the last thing you'll need is to have any mental and emotional energy taken up by clothing-related niggles. So it's well worth doing a bit of planning and making a few judicious purchases so that, once term starts, you can concentrate on the really important part of the job.

First, you need to find out if there's a formal, or informal, dress code for teachers at your new school. In some places, it'll be glaringly obvious that suits are the order of the day. The atmosphere, for example, inside the staff room at Walsall Academy, now in its second year of existence, has more in common with a smart city law firm or blue chip multinational than what you might expect as a workplace for teachers. But this isn't the result of any formal or written policy.

"When I speak to new staff, even before they're interviewed," says the head teacher, Jean Hickman, "I ask them to open their eyes and look for the systems and expectations in the school.

"That's when they probably realise they're expected to dress for the office."

Written dress codes are rare these days, but, looking round many staff rooms, it is clear that something is producing conformity. So it's always worth asking a future colleague if there are any underlying conventions.

Richard Taylor, a Science NQT at Fullbrook School, near Woking in Surrey, remembers the advice he got at training college, which amounted to: go and look at the teachers at your new school and copy them. When he saw all the men wearing suits, he was reassured.

"I feel comfortable in a suit and feel it gives me a certain moral authority in the school,' he explains. But Taylor, 55, a former airline pilot, with a chemistry degree, would not advise future NQTs to break the bank in assembling their first term wardrobe.

"I buy £70 suits from Asda, so it doesn't matter if they get dirty or have acid spilt on them in the science labs."

Another advantage of looking smart - an ever present factor in secondary schools - is that it helps teachers to be taken seriously when they're telling kids to tuck their shirts in or do their ties up.

That certainly contributes to the thinking of another Fullbrook NQT, Sarah Morgan, who went into language teaching after a few years working for a London PR firm. "I probably dress more smartly now than when I was in my previous job," explains Morgan, 27. She took the decision, when she started at Fullbrook, to wear a suit every day, so that the pupils would, in effect, see it as her uniform.

She always has her suit jacket on when classes enter her room, but will often take it off to write on the board when the lesson starts. Her school wardrobe consists of four or five suits (skirts or trousers), plus "loads of different tops." They're all from the cheaper end of shop rails, and machine washable.

She's also acutely aware of how the "modesty factor" applies, particularly to women teachers.

"I always do a blouse check in the morning, and never wear anything remotely see-through, or where there's any risk of a button coming undone."

But, in the shoe department, where she favours flat soles in modern styles, Morgan reckons there are advantages of attracting a student's eye. "It can break the ice if someone says, "Nice shoes, Miss" at the start of a lesson."

In many secondaries, a range of styles and degrees of smartness will be on display in the staff room, but, in primary schools, the norms generally allow for a slightly more casual approach. This reflects the fact that primary teachers can find themselves doing painting, PE, a bit of drama, as well as maths and English all within the same day - not to mention giving a hug to tearful child who may have just fallen over in the playground.

In some primaries I know, teachers accept this latitude with open arms and wear jeans. But, in most places, denim is still regarded as a relaxation too far.

Sue Graville, Head teacher at Owler Brook Nursery and Infants School, in Sheffield, does not impose the skirts-at-all-times rule that applied when she trained as a teacher, but does, nevertheless, expect her staff to be smart.

"If a parent is met by someone in jeans and a T-shirt, or PE kit when they're not teaching PE, that gives the wrong impression,' she argues.

She doesn't insist on suits, but says teachers should dress to set a professional example - 'No short crop-tops, visible bras or stomachs showing!'

However, even keeping within guidelines and head teachers' likes and dislikes, there's plenty of scope for individuality. There are few jobs where you are on display as much as teaching, so your dress will quickly become part of your identity. And it's an identity that will be scrutinised, and commented upon, by hundreds of junior fashion commentators every day. So there is a compromise to be made.

The essential aim for every new teacher is comfort, literally and metaphorically. You must be physically comfortable with what you're wearing, which means loose enough for waving arms around, writing on the board or clambering on a chair to try to get the blinds down, but not too loose, when you're bending over children's desks right in front of their eyes.

But you need to be psychologically comfortable as well. The last thing a new teacher needs is to come across as feeling awkward or forced in their clothes. For some teachers this will mean neutral colours and conservative styles, while others go for splashes of bright colours. Zany ties are often used by men, and commented on by kids, with the result that a little bit of humanity enters the classroom.

In the first couple of weeks, though, while you're establishing a style that works, you may want to err on the more formal side, rather than to dress down and attract critical glances.

That's certainly the advice given by Bill Benge, the head teacher of Midhurst Grammar School in West Sussex.

"You'll never lose out by over-dressing," he says. "It says that you care about the job and the school."

BASIC RULES

Choose

Comfortable shoes

Machine washable styles

Clothes that allow movement

Versatile colours

Avoid

Visible underwear

Odd socks

Accusations of scruffiness

Looking too flashy

Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
News
newsChester Zoo have revealed their newest members
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Early Years and Foundation Stage Primary Teachers in Blackpool

£80 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Early Years and Foundation Stag...

Early Years Foundation Stage Primary Teacher in Lytham St.Annes

£80 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Early Years and Foundation Stag...

KS1 Primary Teacher Jobs in Blackpool

£80 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Preston: KS1 Primary Teacher Jobs in Bla...

Supply Primary Teacher Jobs in Blackpool

£80 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Supply Primary Teacher Jobs in ...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape