I recently switched jobs, from being a bank teller to working with kids. I’m having a hard time dressing myself since – let’s face it – it’s hard to wear my usual heels and blazers when I’m working with children. Most of my blouses are also chiffon which does not sit well when I am outside in the sun, not to mention the no-shorts rules! I love my new job but I still want to look not too casual and fashionable. I am a very small Asian girl standing at 4’11, with a 24-inch waist. Any advice would be great and thanks in advance!
Mae, 25/California, USA
From a teller to a teacher is quite a career switch but then again, our life decisions always lead us to unexpected places and unexpected rewards. In your case, working with young minds means you have a great influence on them and are instrumental into shaping their future selves.
Know The Rules & What’s In Your Closet
There has to be a dress code at your school, dearie, because you mentioned the no-shorts rule, but best to make sure first. Quite understandable as teachers still need to look professional and respectable, even if you’re chasing a bunch of hyperactive first graders on the playground. So for now, yes, save your shorts for the weekends, lounging at home, for anywhere except when you have to go to school.
Next, observe what the other teachers are wearing and don’t hesitate to ask especially about the dress code. Also check what is in your existing wardrobe that can be used for work. You may not need an entirely new set of clothes in multiples of five but just a few basics that will work with your current ones.
Here are my recommendations!
Tops: Fabric, Fit and Neckline
While chiffon feels weightless, it’s not exactly ideal on hot, humid days especially if you’re wearing an additional layer underneath because the material is so thin. As much as possible, stick to natural fabrics like cotton and linen (great for late spring and summer) because these are really skin- and temp-friendly.
Fit also counts because while you need to look good (both for professional and selfish reasons), you also have to be comfortable. Cotton and knit jersey fabrics have a hint of stretch and allow you to move but relaxed-fit blouses and tops can do so as well. If you’re shopping for tops, raise and flex your arms in all directions to test the garment’s “give” so you’ll know immediately if it feels uncomfortable or restrictive. For collared shirts, I like wearing those with tab sleeves. You can look nice and polished when you arrive in the morning and just roll ’em up and button them in place if you need work on messy stuff with kids.
Necklines also have to be considered because you don’t want a wardrobe malfunction to happen in class! Deep V-necks and scoopnecks are just something you have to avoid for your work outfits. It’s best to stick to boat necklines, rounded or jewel neckline types.
Cover-Ups: Blazers, Cardigans and Vests
Blazers certainly help maintain that professional image you need as a teacher but you certainly can’t wear them all day. If you haven’t thought of cardigans and vests, now’s the time. By vests, I’m not talking about the knit sleeveless versions you wear over button-downs. Wear them during fall and winter by all means but not for hotter seasons. The vests I have in mind are the ones that are similar to menswear vests – buttoned, tied or buckled at the waistline. A cute crocheted vest works with a simple top or blouse along with a lovely skirt to give it a little boho vibe for casual Fridays.
With cardigans, you don’t have to stick to plain black, white or gray all the time. Go for patterned ones and pair them with single-color outfits to break the monotony. In the same manner, a solid-colored cardigan, like fuchsia for example, will certainly add vibrancy to a simple black and white outfit.
Two-Legged Options: Pants and Jeans
If jeans are allowed, then this definitely gives your work wardrobe more leeway, Mae. Depending on your school’s dress code, you certainly don’t have to be limited to dark denim (although it’s certainly the most versatile shade). Happy teachers make happy kids. Like cardigans, colored pants, will certainly brighten your look and mood instantly. A classic blue chambray shirt looks suddenly newer when paired with a cheery butter yellow pair of jeans. Just ditch the distressed, super-skinny jegging types okay? If you do a lot of running, bending or leaning, the last thing you want are pants that gape, sag or droop to embarrassing levels.
For work pants, ankle-length versions will suit your petite build. Stick to slim-fit if your body is a match to that silhouette. These pants are always classy and very versatile, so it’s easy to go from work to a social gathering without looking too frumpy. Best of all, they work with both heels and flats. So feel free to wear ankle boots, wedge pumps, oxford flats, ballerina flats and penny loafers!
Prim and Pretty: Skirts and Dresses
For skirts and dresses, what else would I recommend but my beloved A-lines? However, you can also look into pencil-cut styles with a knee-length cut. Anything longer or shorter will make you look shorter or break the rules. A lace skirt adds plenty of visual and textural interest even if you pair it with a plain white tee or button-down shirt. Meanwhile, a flared hem on a skirt gives it a fresh and fun twist.
Aside from A-line dresses, sheath dresses are also a great option as are mock two-pieces. They save you a lot of time and agony in the morning and require only your choice of cover-up, easy accessories like a scarf or a belt, and shoes. A definite no-brainer especially when the bell’s about to ring for class!
Lots of luck, Teacher Mae!
P.S. If you’re sending a question, please don’t forget to include any helpful information about your body type or shape, your tastes or personality. You can include a selfie (link only please) or a photo of your clothes (which I will never publish without pre-approval). Thank you!