Nikki’s Inbox: A Preppy Dress Code for Teacher

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I’m an English teacher living in Taean which is a small town off the northwest coast of South Korea. For the past year, I have taught usually wearing casual clothes.

I want to change to a more professional/clean look. Normally, I wear jeans or black slim pants with a collared shirt. Sometimes a simple graphic T-shirt. If it gets chilly, I wear a hoodie or windbreaker.

I’ve been wearing the long-sleeve wrap collar T-shirt from Jiboville. Do you think this style suits what I’m aiming for? I’m slim and 5’10 in height.

Thanks so much.

Andrew, 22/South Korea

Thank you for dropping by, Andrew! So you’ve decided to up your teaching outfit game. For that, I will definitely give you a B+.

From Jeans to Trousers
Shifting from jeans to trousers requires some adjustment. For one, you can’t wear ripped trousers – it just doesn’t look good in a professional setting. Second, jeans fit differently from trousers. While you may be used to wearing slim-fit or skinny jeans, wearing skinny trousers aren’t wholly not advisable as part of your professional get-up. You can wear slim-fit trousers but please make sure they’re the right fit and not tight (there’s a big difference).

Flat-front and straight-leg are the most flattering for your build so do get them in colors such as dark and gunmetal gray, navy blue or midnight blue, and dark brown to expand your bottom options. And don’t throw out your jeans. For school activities that allow casual outfits, black denim is fine as well as dark-rinse versions just as long as they’re not distressed/ripped/torn.

Flat-Front PantsPinstriped PantsSet: Blazer + Vest + Pants

From T-Shirts to Button-Downs
Button-down shirts are a great investment, Andrew, and they will hold you in good stead for a long time (as long as you buy quality ones). They look great when paired with jeans or with your flat-front trousers. Plus, they look amazing under a blazer or jacket, making you look spiffy at all times, such as when you go from the classroom to hitting the noraebang with your colleagues for after-hours fun.

I would suggest sticking to basic, light colors such as blue, light gray and white, and with small patterns. No outsize prints or outlandish patterns please. Small accents are fine such as leather or metallic trim at the pockets or collar tips, or perhaps a bit of subtle embroidery.

Pinstriped Shirt with Collar ChainWindowpane Check ShirtLong-Sleeved Oxford Shirt

From Hoodies to Smart Outerwear
Save your hoodies and windbreakers for the weekend and maybe yachting – get yourself some jackets and coats befitting your build, style and professional stature! I’m talking about essential inner and outer layers such as knit vests, cardigans, blazers, pea coats and trench coats. Knit vests and cardigans add textural interest to your outfit instantly with the simple act of layering. Cable-knit, bouclé, Nordic and Fair Isle prints and patterns are just some styles and designs that really make a simple shirt-and-trouser outfit pop. Shawl cardigans draw the eye to your upper torso because of their narrow lapels. Your Jiboville tee will look great with an open-front cardigan so it’s time to get one of those, too!

Argyle VestSleeveless Buttoned VestWaffle-Knit Sweater
Nordic Print SweaterShawl Collar CardiganCable-Knit Cardigan

Going further outward, pea coats, single- and double-breasted coats and trench jackets are outstanding examples of architectural excellence in menswear. They’re all angular which means your 5’10 frame will look suitably and effortlessly streamlined, just like Kim Soo Hyun’s professor character Do Min Joon in “You Who Came From the Stars.”

Pinstriped Double-Breasted Blazer
Check Blazer
Wool Blend Blazer
Double-Breasted Coat

From Sneakers to Boots and Loafers
As a replacement for your fashion sneakers and basketball shoes, why not try chukka boots? Chukkas are casual but have that urbane flair that looks great with business casual and smart casual outfits. Your other footwear options are lace-ups with a crepe or rubber outsole and a bit of broguing. From there, you can segue to handsome oxfords or derbies, with or without broguing. Classic leather penny loafers are also great, and exude a preppy style that will go well with your teacher role.

Oxford ShoesBuckled LoafersFaux Suede Chukka BootsTasseled Loafers

Finishing Touches
Punctuate your new style with some tasteful men’s accessories like a handsome watch with a leather or metallic strap, plain or patterned ties and classy cuff links. You can find an outlet for your fun and quirky side by wearing funky socks, contrasting bow ties, or perhaps a comic-inspired pocket square. This will add an offbeat note and prevent your outfit from looking too serious or straightforward.

Genuine Leather Strap WatchInitial Cuff LinksPatterned Silk TieShakespeare Socks

Most of all, always project confidence! Let me know how it works out so I can award your A!


P.S. If you’re sending a question, please don’t forget to include any helpful information about your body, your tastes or personality. You can include a photo (link only please) of yourself or your clothes (which we won’t publish without your written approval). I can’t answer anything that only includes height, weight or skin tone. Thank you!

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