Classroom Vogue

There is a popular saying that goes, “the clothes make the man.” But do they really?

As teachers, we are intentional about all the things we do in the classroom from the lessons we teach down to how we set up the chairs in the room on a given day. With so much attention to how we manage our classrooms, is it also equally important to be intentional about the clothing we wear? Some say it is; especially if you are a woman.

According to Atkinson (2008), as a woman I have the potential to fall into three descript categories of female educators the “apple jumper,” the “teacher babe,” or the “bland uniformer.” The “apple jumper” refers to a female educator who dresses in kitschy clothing such as autumn apples and winter snowflakes, the “teacher babe” is a female educator who wears skirts, boots, and dresses, and the “bland uniformer” is a female educator who wears plain modest fitting clothing that is deemed both boring yet also most acceptable (Atkinson, 2008). While drastically different, each category conveys the same overarching message that educators lack control over how their students view them as educators, and if you are a woman the judgement will be some variation of scrutiny.

The way a teacher dresses is often seen as a representation of their ability to teach, a much bigger message than many teachers intend to send to their students through their clothing (Freeberg & Workman, 2010). Put too much effort into your dress then you must not be a dedicated educator, and put too little effort into your clothes and you must be an equally inadequate teacher! This catch 22 lends many to walk the line of modest and conservative clothing so as to create little distraction from the actual lessons they teach. However, whether a teacher intends to or not, their students may be making a number of assumptions about them based purely on their clothing choice. Morris et. al (1996) remarks on up to 10 decisions people make based on a teacher’s clothing including factors from economic background all the way to moral character. That means that people are judging not only how much money we have, but making decisions about whether they believe us to be a moral person simply from the clothing we put on that morning!

Not only do our students make assumptions about our qualifications in the classroom, but the media also uses our dress to make conclusions about our ability to be role models for our students (Freeberg & Workman, 2010). Reasonable so, we should be seen as role models for the students we teach. It is the mark of a dedicated teacher to actively engage in motivating one’s students to succeed and encouraging them to be respectable members of society; however should that message hinge on one’s fashion choices in the classroom?

My personal stance on the subject is that clothing is indeed important to think about because we will be judged by the way we present ourselves in the classroom whether we think we should be or not. I believe we should be intentional about the clothing we wear to ensure we are portraying a professional while remaining true to our own personal style. However, the clothing we wear is not all that matters, and it should not be seen as the sole determinant for our abilities as a professional, as a person, or as a role model. The way that we interact with students, and the way that we come into a classroom with a passion for the subject is substantially more valuable than the clothing we wear while doing so.

So as educators, I believe we should keep in mind the effect our clothing has on those that we teach, but we should not let it limit us as educators.



Atkinson, B. (2008). Apple Jumper, Teacher Babe, and Bland Uniformer Teachers: Fashioning Feminine Teacher Bodies. Educational Studies, 44(2), 98-121. doi:10.1080/00131940802368372

Freeburg, B. W., & Workman, J. E. (2010). Media Frames Regarding Teacher Dress: Implications for Career and Technical Education Teacher Preparation. Career & Technical Education Research, 35(1), 29-45. doi:10.5328/cter35.103

Morris, T., Gorham, J., Cohen, S., Huffman, D. (1996). Fashion in the classroom: Effects of attire on student perceptions of instructors in college classes. Communication Education, 46, 135-148.

6 responses to “Classroom Vogue

  1. Wow! I personally never put too much thought into my clothing preference but now that I know students make up to 10 assumptions based on clothing, I might think twice when buying or choosing clothes. I wonder what of the 3 provides the best “assumptions”. Then again, I think this will change based on the demographics of the students. For an example, if one am teaching teenagers, would wearing popular trends be just as acceptable if one had another lesson that day with older adults? This article makes me wonder about my assumptions that I make based off of clothes. Introspective! Great article!

  2. Hmmm, this is an interesting article. I think your conclusion (that we should “keep in mind” how our clothing affects student perceptions) is a really accurate way of summing up this information. Clothing choice is definitely something to be cognizant of as we educators prepare for the day. But something about this article feels uncomfortable to me as a future sexuality professor. I think that I am struggling with the forced gender roles that this implies. What I mean is that this research seems to further reinforce that female educators cannot/should not be taken seriously, and that our moral/educational qualifications can be assessed by how short our skirts are or how bright our color schemes are. What about teachers who choose pantsuits one day and boots/skirts the next? What about teachers who identify outside of the gender binary and feel as though their gender identity and gender expression are flexible? I just wonder if this research reinforces the materialistic impositions that female educators must struggle through to be taken serious.

  3. I think this is an excellent article. It is very true some teachers pick their clothing with as much care as they put into their lesson plans. As a female health and physical education teacher I am constantly wondering if my clothes are going to be a distraction. “Is this shirt going to ride up as I am demonstrating a skill?” “Do I have VPLs?” “Does this shirt show too much chest?” These are all thoughts I have when I get dressed in the morning. It is frustrating but true that the competency of teachers is judged by what they are wearing, not only by their students, but by the parents of their students, their coworkers, and their administrators as well.

    I agree with Armani also, with so much riding on how teachers dress, what happens when people identify outside the gender binary? How are they supposed to navigate these waters, and is it fair to deny anyone their self expression?

    Clothing choice can be a powerful tool when you are teaching. It can put a lot of pressure on teachers that they can maintain professionalism or discredit themselves based on what shirt they chose to wear that day.

  4. I personally spend a lot of time fighting with “professional” dress. My normal wardrobe is really a reflection of who I am as person so I often find it hard to compromise to something “boring” when I feel it is expected of me. I am definitely the “apple jumper”. It is nice to read something that is not telling me clothing choices are too much but rather just to be considerate the assumptions that might be made about me because of them.

  5. While this is not not something I have put much thought into, it is definitely an area future educators need to think about. Perceptions, whether we like it or not, have such an impact in our society. Especially for future sexuality educators, perception will be even more important because of the stigmatized work.

  6. I subscribe to the theory you dress for the job you want not the job you have. I have tried dressing the way I like and found I wasn’t getting the results I was looking for so I turned to my original thought and got the promotion I was looking for!

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