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 Audience
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.
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.