I am a college senior entering a teaching program next year, and I am starting to consider what to wear as a professional. I have long legs, so dresses or skirts can’t be too short, but many of the clothes that are appropriate lengthwise are too frumpy for a young person. Any suggestions for brands to look at for cute and appropriate clothes for an aspiring elementary schoolteacher? — Mary-Rose, Pasadena, Calif.
Way back at the start of the pandemic, Reese Witherspoon’s fashion label, Draper James, had the well-intentioned idea to do a free-dress giveaway in honor of the nation’s teachers, who were suddenly being appreciated in a whole new way. Unfortunately, the response was so enormous that the site crashed almost immediately, the company didn’t have nearly enough supply to meet the demand, and a lot of teachers, instead of being happy, felt really betrayed.
But it does give us an idea of what the teachers liked to wear. The dresses tended to the cheerfully printed fit-and-flare and looked as if they came from the closet of Emma Pillsbury-Schuester, the guidance counselor on “Glee.”
That said, however, pop culture is not a particularly good place to look for role models for how a teacher should dress. The classic teacher on film seems to be either a man in tweed or a cardigan (see Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society” and Richard Dreyfuss in “Mr. Holland’s Opus”) or a woman being frumpy (Tina Fey in “Mean Girls”) or wildly inappropriate (Cameron Diaz in “Bad Teacher”). Maggie Smith as Miss Jean Brodie was very chic, but that was a different era.
So after canvassing teacher friends and colleagues, I have one word for you: pants.
If you are going to be working with children from kindergarten through the fourth grade, you are going to be bending, sitting, skipping, standing and otherwise moving around so much that you probably don’t want to deal with a skirt. The same is true for dealing with the potential mayhem that very active 5- to 9-year-olds can wreak while, say, measuring wheat germ for science. With pants, you won’t have to deal with the hemline question either.
You are also going to want something that conveys at least a whiff of authority. The message should be that you are pulled together and in control of your wardrobe, just as you will be in control of your classroom. (Any clothes that are tricky or require fidgeting to adjust a strap or closure should be put aside.) And obviously, since you are just starting out, you are working within a limited budget.
So think about taking some pants you might already have (even good jeans work, though not the ripped or patched kind) and topping them with a simple blazer, like this one from Mango. I’d also look at jumpsuits, which are like a cooler suit. Check out Banana Republic’s black dolman-sleeve style and Madewell’s smock-waist version.
And finally, if you really want a dress, a sweater dress can be both chic and practical without looking staid; ditto a shirtdress. They’ll add up.
Your Style Questions, Answered
Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.