Dress for SucSex

A common question within the field of sexuality education has been; what do I wear?!  One of the challenges of professional attire is the binary approach to gender norms and expectations. Often times the suggestions on professional attire are divided between male and female, which limit personal expression and prolong gender biases.  Another challenge is that advice often limits personal expression and can be found to be oppressive to individuality. Through my research I have narrowed down the exploration of professional attire to three categories as a way to evaluate one’s own style.

I.E. – Institutional Expectations  

Attire expectations alter across institutions based on districts, counties, communities, religious affiliation, and whether the institution is primary, secondary, or post-secondary. Then there are the non-profit organizations, health centers, and educational associations that are not directly linked to schools. Impress by researching the expectation of the institution, organization, or company by inquiring about the dress norms. Dress codes or policies can be found online, by calling the district or communication office, or by speaking to someone who works at the institution (Sternburg, 2003).

Contact colleagues who are familiar with that work environment or mentors who have had experience in the field of human sexuality education to gain insight on how to dress. Explore if there is a dress code set by the school, foundation, or institution. Understanding the culture and social norms is informative when evaluating what to wear and how to present in a professional way.

Know YA – Know Your AudienceFear-of-Public-Speaking-AOM-400

Who are you teaching? Consider developmental stage, educational background, social economic status (SES), and cultural implications of your audience. How do these factors influence the way you will dress? How does your physical presentation alter based on these specific factors? Why? Teaching children in primary schools may require one to reconsider what should be worn versus if teaching at a secondary or higher education institution. According to a study conducted in 2010, business and non-business undergraduate students were surveyed about how their perceptions of their instructor’s attire influenced their educational experience. The results indicated the following:

Both business and non-business students had a higher opinion of their educational experience including the reputation of the institution, the value of their education, and the quality of their education when the model instructor was dressed in professional attire versus casual or business casual attire (Carr, Davies, & Lavin, 2010).

Based on the audience, participants may evaluate an educator’s style in reference to their own SES, religious beliefs, or sexuality. In the same way we research the background of our audience for creating relevant lessons, recognizing the implications of our attire is essential to the learning environment.  How an educator dresses does matter to the audience!

MEssage – What is the Message Your Attire is Sending?

A question across professional fields is whether the company, institution, organization, or business has the right to monitor how employees dress. This has been a popular debate within the field of education specifically, as teachers have begun to dress similar to their students rather than what is commonly viewed as “professional.” Whether employees should display tattoos or piercing is another point of contention. In some settings, tattoos or piercings are part of the personal expression of the administration at the institution which would not cause a distraction, but that is contingent upon the institution and the audience.

Personal style has been described as a way for an individual to express identity, as a way to communicate personality. What message do you want to send when you are teaching? What does your attire communicate about gender, sexuality, and body image? What is your motivation for the way you choose to dress when teaching?

Dressing for success should maintain respect, establish credibility, and establish one’s self as an authority figure. As an educator, the audience will be focused on what you are saying, your non-verbal communication, and how you present who you are to them. The goal of an educator should not be to distract from the course content by what is worn, but to engage the audience in the lesson. This is essential for sexuality educators, as the content of the lesson may be uncomfortable or personal for students. Sexualizing the educational environment by wearing suggestive or distracting clothing diminishes the learning experience and places the focus on the instructor. Students should not be given the opportunity to divert their attention to figuring out the sexuality identity, orientation, or lifestyle of the instructor.

Education is not platform for self expression, but an opportunity to foster learning about sexuality. While sexuality educators want to stay authentic, the content needs to be the focus, not how one is dressed. Sexuality education requires safe space for students to ask questions and feel comfortable engaging in the content and with the instructor.

References

Carr, D. L., Davies, T. L., & Lavin, A. M. (2010). The impact of instructor attire on college student satisfaction. College Student Journal, 44(1), 101-111.

Sternberg, R. E. (2003). Attending to teacher attire. School Administrator, 60(2), 38-42, 44, 46.

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12 responses to “Dress for SucSex

  1. This is a pretty decent representation of how I dress to teach. Except not I a have mohawk of varying colors. I have also adopted combat boots as my go-to footwear, part because of the weather, part because of my back problems.

    I will also note that this a very tame, professional look for me. It goes even crazier with the 50s style shirtwaist dresses from there, if you can imagine.

    How do I manage looking like a frilly peacock in educational situations? Well, first, it helps that I work in staff development in a field where one regularly is asked why they are “dressing up” if they show up to work in jeans and a sweater.

    Second, I actually find t helpful when talking about gender presentation to use myself as an example. By talking about my ridiculous hair and frilly dress, I can lead into a discussion about how the way we choose to present ourselves makes a huge impact on how we are perceived. And in the firld of disability care, that is an important message to remember.

    When I had a straight job? That is the picture you see above. Definitely a few notches back from the Technicolor Dream Erin I have become.

  2. This is a pretty decent representation of how I dress to teach. Except not I a have mohawk of varying colors. I have also adopted combat boots as my go-to footwear, part because of the weather, part because of my back problems.

    I will also note that this a very tame, professional look for me. It goes even crazier with the 50s style shirtwaist dresses from there, if you can imagine.

    How do I manage looking like a frilly peacock in educational situations? Well, first, it helps that I work in staff development in a field where one regularly is asked why they are “dressing up” if they show up to work in jeans and a sweater.

    Second, I actually find t helpful when talking about gender presentation to use myself as an example. By talking about my ridiculous hair and frilly dress, I can lead into a discussion about how the way we choose to present ourselves makes a huge impact on how we are perceived. And in the firld of disability care, that is an important message to remember.

    When I had a straight job? That is the picture you see above. Definitely a few notches back from the Technicolor Dream Erin I have become.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this post and feel that this is an important aspect of being an effective educator. There are many times when educators disregard the importance of their physical appearance when facilitating sexuality educational presentations. I do agree that you have to know your target audience and that your dress should be audience specific.
    When I walk into a middle school to present I always feel that I want to remain current in both my dress and knowledge of current events/trends. If I feel even the slightest out of date I feel that the students will not take me seriously. My dress always includes covering up any cleavage that may be showing and making sure that my skirts are an appropriate length. Because I am representing an organization that has a contract with the school I need to ensure that my professionalism remains intact.
    One of my co-workers was accused of wearing a skirt that was too short when facilitating a workshop towards high school students on contraception by the male teacher. She had to have a meeting before the superintendent, principal, teacher, and her own supervisor to discuss the perceived flirtation accusation. My coworker was devastated and left her position as a sexuality educator within the month.
    If my target audience consists of either an elderly, adult or young adult population than I feel I may be less focused on my attire and more on the information that I am going to be presenting. Really knowing your target audience and your organization’s policy regarding dress code will make you an effective facilitator.

  4. WOW! I have not come across anything about attire in our field that is as comprehensive, entertaining, and poignant as this post! THANK YOU! I have several thoughts: 1) We need to talk more about how to dress “appropriately” when teaching about sexuality. I found the piece about dressing in non-profit versus for the classroom particularly helpful, especially since the employee manual at my non-profit only states for the dress code, “Do not go to extremes.” That is very subjective and not helpful, and I was deeply relieved to read that I am not the only one struggling with this topic.

    2) I’ve also noticed big differences between East and West coasts. People wear jeans to weddings in California, but that is frowned upon here on the East coast. I’m sure this trickles down into the work environment, and I also think this is worth exploring more in depth about how this affects sexuality educators and where we may be presenting/teaching, etc.

    3) I slightly disagree with the last statement about education not being a platform for self expression. It’s impossible to dress objectively and not reveal parts of culture, even if we’re only revealing how our culture has shaped what we believe to be professional attire. I appreciate a professor with a little bit of flare, maybe not 32 pieces of flare, but something to show their humanness and make them more relatable. How do we negotiate this as educators?

    Awesome read and lots of food for thought!

  5. I have found this post very interesting and a great conversation piece. As some people have mentioned in the above responses, most organizations or agencies do not give a good description of a proper dress code. The company will mentioned to dress professional or keep certain things to a minimum, but no real detailed description. Without giving specific instructions on attire people will interpreter professional attire very differently. The problem with allowing people to interpret what is proper attire will vary drastically depending on many extraneous variables such as demographics and age.I do agree, that educators should know their audience and should be relate-able.Another key point you mentioned in your blog is dressing properly for a specific age group. As an educator, our attire and appearance speaks volumes because our first impression is our attire and appearance.

    I am having mixed feelings that this is a needed conversation because some things should be a given. I understand the aspect that if you are not taught something you will not know. For me, if you are not sure about how to dress then you should be proactive and asked if you are not sure.Speaking with fellow co-works or asking school teacher about there attire is also another reference to help people gain an understanding about proper attire.

    Growing up in the 1990’s my teachers were older and they always dressed professional. It’s wasn’t until my high career that I realized a shift in teachers attires. Thinking back some teachers attire was distracting and I can not honestly say that I paid much attention to them because I did not take them seriously. I an AWE HAH moment not it further confirms what you wear is just as important as the information we are teaching.

    As you have stated in your blog, an educator should dress as an authoritative figure and what is worn should demand respect and exhibit professionalism. If you are dressed properly, then the audience can focus on the content of the lecture or lesson and not focus on the educators attire.

  6. Yeah! Great post! The link to the art of manliness is very helpful for dress ideas. Thanks for that.

    I agree as well–dressing for the audience is an important thing. However, I would disagree with klclark22 that some things should be a given. The messages people send are very discordant, especially with dress. It is not uncommon to ask people about your attire and they lie to you to try not to offend you. While asking around is a good idea, it is totally not a reliable way to go about it. Tat is why this post is really helpful.

    I liked how this article (or perhaps my interpretation of it) leaves the “dressing for the audience” part open to those flares and jeans that Jaymie talked about. If I am presenting to a group of factory workers, i can almost guarantee that they would be more distracted/less relatable if I wore a suit than if I were to present in jeans and a polo. Same dynamic for presenting a keynote at a conference–taking me seriously in jeans and a polo? Well…depends on the conference.

    Great post! I will now go learn how to dress.

  7. This is a super great and comprehensive post on how to dress in the education. Especially now, as I’m in my first teaching assignment, I struggle with what to wear every weekend. Because I teach human sexuality, I try to be very conscious with how I dress, however, the class is a health class where all the sports are taught, so there’s a lot of sweat pants and gym shoes. Not to mention, I teach at a community college, so the age range of my students is very wide, so I have some students that are close to my age and those that are older than me. So at the same time I want to relate to them while making sure they respect me at the same time. I know the first thing they look at is my clothes.
    You should see me every time I get ready for class trying to figure out what I’m going to wear for the day. I love how you gave tips on how to dress for certain venues and certain organizations. I also loved the bit about knowing your audience. I’m going to bookmark this and refer to this every time I’m freaking out about what I should wear to teach or for a speaking engagment. Thank you for this.

  8. I think this was a very interesting read as well as a thoughtful approach to dress as it relates to academia and sexuality education. As sexuality educators, I feel we have more barriers than others do in gaining respect from colleagues outside of the field. When our dress is an expression of our sexuality, it may detract from what it is we are trying to convey with our words. That being said, no one should be stifled. People should be allowed and even encouraged to dress how they like and to be whomever they choose. But, if we are dressed in clothes that are messy or unprofessional when we are giving a lecture, it doesn’t look good. I want our field to be respected for the work we do rather than for the way we dress.

  9. So much of who we are enters the learning environment with us. It is equally important to be reminded that how we show up in the learning space contributes to how the student or trainee engages the content. We do not want students who are more focused on us a professionals than the subject we are trying to convey. As sex educators we may already be perceived in a not-so-delightful way because of the subjects we talk about. Thanks for the reminder that for us to be taken seriously that we need to be serious about our jobs.

  10. Thank you for this post, it was very helpful!
    I feel like attire is so rarely addressed, especially in sexuality education, and it is really important to bring it up!
    I also liked that you discussed finding out a place of works’ dress code/contacting colleagues to discuss it. If am starting at a new place of work, I am often worried about being ‘too casual’ or ‘too dressy’. I was used to having dress codes in school growing up, but I never really thought about checking a company or department’s policy on attire.
    I also think it’s important to note to ‘not dress to distract.’ I have had a few teachers in the past wearing some real flashy garments. And I mean flashy as in shiny; really shiny clothes that were so distracting. I couldn’t concentrate on what the teacher was lecturing about because I kept imagining her outfit as a disco ball!
    My attire is something I will make sure I keep aware of in the future, especially when it comes to the setting of where I’m working.

  11. Pingback: To the Educator of the Almost-Adult and Above | Teaching Sex Ed·

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