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Character Education

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Digital Learning

Teacher Fashions Through the Decades

As a college student, I worked in retail clothing sales and did some modeling in fashion shows. I was fashion conscious to the extreme, taking great care to plan every outfit for every occasion. All of my adorable wardrobe was color-coded and facing forward on hangers. Shoes matched, and jewelry was perfectly accessorized. Naturally, for my first teaching job, I was ready to rag. (Translation fresh from the 70s: Ready to dress appropriately.)

I showed up for my first day in fifth grade, dressed pretty much as the model above. Just change everything red to everything avocado green and add a suede belt. Substitute pearls for the gold necklace, and lose the glasses. Done. I sashayed through the door of room 214, ready to share wisdom with my attentive and eager students. As the minutes and hours of that first day wore on, it became clear that there would be no bending over a desk or sitting on the floor in that mini dress. No air-conditioning, and the pearls just made me sweat. The less than eager students, bummed to be back in class after summer, were challenging, to say the least. And I was not dressed in a way that would allow me to do all I could to become a great teacher.

It took some time (and money) at first to convert my dream teacher wardrobe to one that would work for me in a real life classroom, so at first I continued to dress in a similar way, minus only the pearls. With a virtually unpronounceable last name, the students took to calling me "Miss Baby Doll". They said that I looked like a Barbie doll, and I took it as a compliment. Sort of. My wardrobe kinda did look like Barbie's.

The above pic was taken at my friend's wedding the week I started teaching. Somewhat Barbie-like. Sooo many mini skirts. Go go boots. High heels. For years, I believed that I was tall. I was eye to eye with every 5'9" teacher that I worked with, so obviously I was imposing, tall, and powerful! Perception is everything. Imagine my shock when the failing discs in my spine the last few years of teaching sent me to wearing flat shoes. I felt like I was standing downhill from absolutely everyone. Really. Kept checking the floor to see where the slant began.

And yet, as I have Kondoed each item from my teaching wardrobe over recent years. (Way too recent - I keep EVERYTHING!), I really meant it as I thanked it for its service and brought up memories of classroom adventures while wearing each one. The decorated sweatshirts during the big hair years, the thematic teacher sweaters - my favorite was the one with appliquéd gift packages and ribbons. The additional badge on that one said, "Each day is gift - That's why we call it the present." Love. Thank you for your service. The purple dress that I wore so often that a talented student made a sign for my door with my name. On each letter danced a tiny version of me in my purple dress. Love you, Danny. And love you, purple dress. Thank you for your service.

Back to New Teacher Ville. I eventually found a great compromise that would allow me to get a little more use out of the minis and also allow me to remain employed. Just. Add. Pants. Bought a half dozen pairs created by my favorite ladies at the time, Polly and Esther (polyester). Black, navy, brown, purple, red, and green. Got dressed as usual for work, and then just slipped on a pair of pants before I headed out the door.

By the time I discovered this life changing magic, I was teaching second grade. My wardrobe innovation allowed me to squat, bend, and criss cross applesauce with the best of them! A local tv reporter decided that my classroom was the perfect backdrop for her stories about school or kids, and showed up without warning. My mother enjoyed no longer being embarrassed when she spotted me on the news at 6. Totally covered, still tall (hadn't given up the heels yet!), confident, and competent.

Back to that Gift sweater and its friends. Thematic sweaters and jumpers (Dresses with straps that we wore with a shirt, tee, or sweater underneath. - translation courtesy of the 90s.) Every teacher I knew had a few of those thematic clothing items, some embracing the trend more than others. I was all in. Like Ms. Frizzle, my outfit often signaled what we would be learning that day. If I didn't have exactly the right thing, I would be up until the wee hours, appliquéing, glitter-gluing, and bedazzling until I had the effect I was seeking. Some of  these fashion choices did get that discussion moving!

It wasn't long (The 80s, I think) before I discovered that a sweat shirt was a perfect canvas. I made so many outfits for my daughters and myself, adding paint, appliqués, skirts, ruffles, and ribbons to one basic sweatshirt after another. My daughters wore these to school with tights. I added pants or a skirt, and voila! Easy dressing, and relatively easy mornings getting everyone out of the house to start the day!

Aaahh.... Casual Fridays! Jeans Day! I can still feel the excitement when we, as a staff, could donate money to a worthy cause in exchange for being allowed to wear jeans to school on Fridays. It wasn't a given. Pay up or dress up. Only contributors to the cause were permitted to wear jeans to school. We checked on each other, and felt so good about the contributions we made.

I'm not sure when pay to play for jeans day fell away, but it did! Teacher clothes have become increasingly casual as the years have passed. With so much to think about, and so many balls to keep in the air these days, I get it. Just get dressed and show up. So much to do!

And finally, the teacher fashion trend that has happily followed me into retirement like a faithful and adoring puppy. Yoga pants are so versatile! A good pair of black yoga pants (not tights or leggings - pants) can take you from the yoga studio to class to meetings or to dinner. Just make sure that the top part of your outfit is appropriate for the occasion, and you are all set!

The last year that I taught, there was a yoga class that I liked to attend. It was close enough to get to after I finished my school day (two hours after the kids left), but not close enough to allow for changing time. I had a dozen pairs of black yoga pants, all exactly alike, and wore them every day. Every. Day. Not sure if anyone noticed, because I added shirts, sweaters, tunics, jackets, etc. I'm positive that the final look was professional as well as comfortable. And no zippers or buttons for those quick restroom visits? Teacher gold!

I'm wearing yoga pants with a tee shirt and sweater now as I write this post. Yoga pants: my favorite teacher clothing innovation of all. Yoga pants, thank you for your service!

I would love to hear from you about your favorite teacher fashion trend during your own career. Please add your response in the comments below!

I had so much fun discussing this very issue with my podcasting friends on We Teach So Hard. I Hope you'll join us there on iTunes, Google Play, or Anchor.

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1 comment

  1. Oh, I'd love to have seen all your homemade teacher sweatshirts :) What a fun trip down Memory Lane, I grinned throughout, reading your post!! And I love thinking of the kids calling you Miss Baby Doll!