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.