Four Ways Dressing Well Adds Value to the Classroom

I like clothes.  A lot.

It might be because my wife dresses remarkably well.  It might be because I love film and theater and comic books and have been surrounded by costumes forever.  It might be because I was the fat kid in middle and high school who didn’t fit well in Bugle Boys, wore his Vaurnet t-shirts a size too big, and who now, as a relatively in-shape 37-year-old, can now wear clothes that actually fit right.

While reading Vanity Fair’s recent profile of fashion designer and Project Runway fixture, Michael Kors, I was struck by his design philosophy and his process of determining his brand identity.

“I saw this group of women who were out and about, looked great in clothes, loved luxury, loved glamour, wanted to have a good time, but were smart. It was the perfect moment. I said, You know what? The last thing this girl wants is sadness.”

And the last thing I want in our classroom, in our schools, is sadness.  And I can’t help but feel how teachers dress has a greater impact on our students than we may realize.

Here are four ways dressing well can bring valued added to the classroom.

  • Dressing well helps classroom management.  One can assert authority in the room without ever raising a voice, citing a bunch of rules, or clipping on a staff i.d. badge.  One need not stand in front of the room or even have a teacher’s desk.  When one looks like the only business casual/business dress professional in the room, that’s the person to whom the rest of us defer.
  • Dressing well improves professionalism.  So often teachers complain they are not treated with the same professional respect  as doctors, lawyers, CEOs, and the like.  Well, a lot of teachers opt not to dress as members of the professional class.  Shirts and ties, well-cut tops and sweaters, fitted trousers and knee length skirts can do a lot to enhance the public face or our schools.
  • Dressing well models success.  My current superintendent drops the “dress for success” cliche when talking about professional dress.  The thing about cliches?  They endure because they ring true. When students see teachers dressed well, it enforces the notion that personal appearance matters.  It matters in the world of work.  It matters in the world of college.  It matters in day-to-day life.  Argue all the platitudes about “appearances shouldn’t matter” and “it’s what is inside that counts,” you want and we know the reality is still there: looks matter and we have more control over the public presentation of ourselves than we sometimes care to admit.
  • Dressing well feels good.  Seriously.  Who doesn’t like looking in a mirror and saying, “Man, I look GOOD today?”  100+ episodes of What Not to Wear have taught us nothing if not the impact of dressing well on confidence, esteem, and happiness.  And when we feel good about ourselves, our students reap the rewards of that positive energy.

To be clear, I’m not talking about banning jeans or sweatshirts. In fact, I think faculty dress codes are silly.  One sentence should suffice, “Faculty is expected to dress in a professional manner consistent with one’s impact area.”  Need some additional language because worries of overzealous administrator fashionistas have you trembling in your super-rad TOMS? “Cases where a faculty or staff member’s dress has an adverse impact on our learning environment will be addressed by administrative leadership on a case by case basis.  As always, teacher union members are entitled to representation at any meeting with administration.”  (Solidarity, MEA/NEA peeps.)

And I’m not suggesting we are in three piece suits, sweater sets and pumps.   I’m a big fan of dressing up a pair of jeans any ol’ day of the week and casual Friday gives me a chance to wear my hipster-wanna-be western-plaid snap-down shirts.  I like that when occasion warrants,  I can blend in with the students.  (I have to wear a hat though.  Otherwise, the jig is up.)  We all have our days when the car won’t start, there’s two feet of snow and slush in the driveway, and the dryer quit before the cycle was done.  Being present matters most.

And finally I’m not suggesting we all shop Banana Republic and Ann Taylor Loft.  Okay. Maybe I am.  But not because we should all be spending tons of money we don’t have on a new wardrobe.  I live and teach in rural Maine, as does my wife.  We rent the second floor of our house so we can afford childcare and still do things like buy groceries and have the internet.  We never pay full retail for anything.  We work the membership points and retailer credit card angles, shop the sales and clearance racks, scour the thrift stores and Goodwill, the liquidators and the TJ Maxx’s.  We try to buy things that last more than a couple of years and my wife is always the first to ask, “Do you really need that?” and “Don’t you have a shirt that looks pretty much just like that?”

I am saying that dressing like a modern, 21st-century professional isn’t just good for the yearbook photo.  It is good for our students, our selves, and our profession.

About Dan Ryder

Dan Ryder & Jeff Bailey, co-founders of Wicked Decent Learning, a blog, podcast, Twitter feed and who-knows-what-all-else devoted to teaching and learning in Vacationland and beyond. Teachers, dads, actors, writers, geeks, buds.

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