If I walked into your classroom and looked around, would I know you were the professor? How hard would I have to look? How long would it take for me to identify you as the instructor? Don’t assume that your age gives you away or that anyone who walks into your classroom would know that you are the professor. Dressing professionally not only builds credibility but also confidence.
I started teaching when I was 22 years old. In several of those classes, I was one of the youngest people in the room. So dressing to set my self apart from students was important. Even if you are not the same age as students, ask yourself are you showing students how a professional should dress? If a student went to a job interview in what you wore to work, would they be hired?
Over the years, I’ve seen colleagues with a style that can be best described as swamp monster fabulous. They show up to class wearing running shorts, yoga pants, jeans with holes, and an old t-shirt; they looked like they came straight to class after completing lawn work. Not only does this not represent the institution well, but it also fails to be professional.
So what does it look like to be a professional?
We have so many options, but there can be a fine line between attractive and sexy. What’s the difference…think of Jennifer Lopez verses Adele. Also consider professional attire verses unprofessional, for this consider professional athletes when they do pregame press conferences in their suit verses court play in their uniform. You are faculty! So your goal needs to be attractive and professional.
By no means am I arguing you need to purchase a three piece suit, but you should be wearing clothes that appropriately fit your body type that are non-revealing. The last thing you want is to bend over to help a student, and they see all the way down your blouse.
Additionally, are your accessories distracting? Big jewelry, platform high heels, bright makeup or even a distracting hairdo can all take away from student learning. Your goal is to be as modest as possible, so don’t overdo your accessories. Not only is it distracting for your learners, but it can also be distracting for you! If your feet hurt from high heels or your earrings are too heavy, it can be difficult to focus on students and content.
Some men think clothing choices are only an issue for women; however, men also need to be conscious of their dress. Consider Tim McGraw in the 1990s verses Tim McGraw in the Blind Side, in one role he is a sexy male and the other a safe male role model.
You are a professional and male students are looking at you to learn what males wear in the workforce. So, if you wear sports shorts and sneakers, students may think this is appropriate attire for the professional workplace – it isn’t! You are a content expert teaching at an educational facility that changes lives. With that said, you need to ensure you are well groomed and wear clothes that compliment your body style.
A well dress male colleague informed me that he seeks advice from females sales clerks when picking out work clothes. He wanted to ensure he was fashionable and attractively dressed. This colleague is married with three kids, but he recognized the importance of dressing professionally. So, if you’re not sure ask for help!
Remember, this is a matter of credibility. Does your attire show students that you respect yourself? Furthermore, does your personal care habits demand respect? Other faculty and students respect people who clearly respect themselves. So, at first glance ensure that your attire and personal appearance demonstrates that respect.
By no means am I a fashionista! In fact, I am a self-proclaimed manikin shopper! So, if you struggle with dressing attractively and professionally go to a factory outlet for Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, Big and Tall, Nordstrom Rack, or department stores where the staff can help you select attire that most appropriately fits your teaching needs.