Teacher Style: How to Grow Your Professional Closet + Define Your Style

Since Back-to-School is just around the corner, I thought I'd go with something bit different on the blog this week. 

Teaching is tough. It's even tougher if you can't figure out what to wear every day or go to school not feeling great about how you look. It effects our mood which effect our teaching. You deserve to feel fabulous no matter what your body type. When you feel great, you will be confident and creative. Your students and their parents need you to project confidence and professionalism, even in how you dress.

I am not a model, nor do I have a model's body. It doesn't matter. I still deserve to feel good about how I look every day. You do too. In the picture, I show the same top two ways. Simply changing skirt/pants changes everything and gives me mileage out of one item. I could add different jewelry and shoes to really mix it up.

My first career was in the fashion industry. I know it's a long leap from that to teaching. It's a LONG story. Maybe I'll tell it to you sometime, but not today.  Helping people find their style and feel confident in their look is still one of my hobbies. So, here's my system.

Defining your style. 

Remember, your style will [and should] change over time and through different seasons in your life. If it's stayed the same with no variation over many years, you're probably stuck and in need of an update [and a plan]. If you're a new teacher and just starting your career, now's the time to develop a plan so you can build over time.

Here's where to start.

  • Pinterest - Create board for style or fashion. You can make it secret, if you like. As you search, save things you like to this board.
  • Google - Create a blank document and save it as Teacher Style or Fashion, something you'll remember. As you search, screen shot and save things you like to this document. You're making a collage.
  • Make a list of things you need your clothing to be or do. Examples: flats, heels or both? Do you only wear cotton or natural fibers?  I want to feel elegant, but I need casual to move in. I love wearing blue, it makes me feel pretty. Orange makes me happy. I like neutrals. Denim. Capris. Boot cut pants. Tailored slacks. Skirts, pants dresses or all of the above?
  • What speaks to you? Set a timer for 20 minutes and search (Pinterest or Google) various styles. Classic, modern, diva, elegant, casual, teacher... think of words that describe you. For example, you might search - elegant teacher style or casual professional clothing for teachers. Save whatever you find yourself drawn to.
  • Is there an era that you like - 1940's, 1970's? Search fashions for that. think: What is it that you like about that era's fashions? Look for those features in clothing.
  • Here's the thing... Don't save things because they're practical. Save them because you love them, no matter how "not for my life" they are. We'll worry about practical later on when we talk about actual purchases.

Take all of the things you have found and look for patterns. Are you drawn to certain colors or a particular style? Maybe you saved lot of very tailored looks.  Black and white with a little color thrown in might be dominate. What trends or themes do you find? Can't figure it out? Ask a friend to look at your collection for trends.

Now define your style. Get one sheet of paper or a blank document on your computer to make a list. 

  • Write down colors you prefer, including neutrals. 
  • Add preferred styles - fitted, tailored, flowing, bohemian, sporty, elegant, casual.... use as many words and you need to define what your preferences are.
  • Go through your closet and pull out all of your favorite pieces and good basics that fit you well. 
  • Add to your list anything you already own and love. - button down shirts, cardigans, a favorite wrap dress... whatever you have in your closet that you love, is professional and fits you well. (For example: I don't like button down shirts. They aren't on my list, but a wrap dress is.)
  • Go through my must have list and figure out what you need to add to your closet to round it out.
  • Work out a plan to add them OVER TIME. Plan your purchases so you stay in budget and aren't in the shops all the time. This way you will buy items with purpose and intention.

Basic Must Have List [Grab a FREE copy here.]

  • Jackets or coats for all seasons in your area. Trench coat, winter coat, rain coat, mid-weight coat... What might you need? Everyone needs at least one coat, if not 2. 
  • Some sort of blazer or professional coat or sweater. I have a lovely, swing sweater and a nice blazer that has some stretch to it. This is a "go with lots of things" finishing touch for a professional meeting, interview, conferences or award ceremony.
  • 1-2 good pairs of basic flat or very low heeled shoes. Invest here a bit. You'll probably wear these a lot. You can do a color, just make it one that will look nice with lots of your other clothing. If you are doing 2 pairs, choose one in a color or pattern and one neutral. 
  • A good pair of heels - any height or style that you can wear for a longer period of time. 
  • Sandals - think of what you will wear them for and buy accordingly. Because I live in a warmer climate, I have 2 pairs - fancy and every day.
  • Trainers or tennis shoes. (workout and field trips)
  • Boots - any heel hight. You can do booties or taller boots. This is an investment - choose a good neutral that you like.
  • Shoes for your area's weather, if needed. Snow boots, rain boots...
  • Slacks - 2 pairs (any length/style) in different colors - black, brown, tan, white, cream.... Subtle patterns or textures are ok.
  • Skirts - 2 (or 1 and another pair of slacks) It's nice to have a neutral one and a fun one.
  • Jeans - 1-2 pairs. If you are able to wear jeans to school, pick a nice pair - no stylish rips or anything. Not too tight, if you like skinny jeans.
  • Dresses - at least one day dress. Find something in a simple style that you love. Go with a color or pattern that makes you feel happy. I love dresses with pockets, so I hold out for that most of the time. 
  • Evening "event" outfit - Think professional event cocktail night or dinner, school gala or auction. Examples: elegant flowing pants and a nice silky blouse, a black cocktail dress, nicely tailored slacks with an elegant, fancy blouse... 
  • Tops - 7-10 pieces. Be picky. These should each make you feel beautiful and go with the skirts/pants you chose. 
  • Sweaters or cardigans - Choose 2. Classrooms are never the right temperature. Have, at least, 2 nice sweaters you can wear with lots of things you own.
  • Purses - 2 bags. One nice every day bag - choose something you love that will "go", not match, with most everything you have. For example, if you have a lot of red clothing, you probably don't want a red bag. If you wear a lot of neutrals, you might want something colorful. Wear a lot of color? Buy a neutral or a solid color that looks good with most everything you own. Buy one other purse. Mix it up. Purchase something different - mini, backpack, oversized, straw, fancy... 
  • School Bag - Computer storage, lunch and other items. 31 makes some nice study bags. Find something you love. I know this is silly, but it should look nice in your home office space. (You're going to see it there a lot.)
  • Jewelry. Completely up to you. It's nice to have 2 good pairs of earrings and a nice necklace or two. A watch is nice, if you use one. I love bracelets, but not usually at school.  If jewelry is not you, no worries. You can look professional and pulled together without it.
  • Scarves or other accessories.
  • A nice lanyard for your school ID and keys. I invested in something nice from Brighton, so it has lasted year to year. 

Don't break the bank.

Make a shopping budget each month and stick to it. If you can afford one new item once every 2 month, fine. If you can afford one new item each month, lucky you. Be realistic.

I shop sales, sale racks, discount stores and make an occasional splurge on an expensive time I'll wear a lot.  But, I'm very picky about what comes home with me. A deal is only a deal if it is something I love so much I'm going to wear it a lot.

True Story: As a teenager, I bought a very expensive sweater, and my mother was horrified by how much I spent. I wore that sweater for several years until it was almost falling apart. I LOVED it. My mom told me later on she learned a lesson from that. Better to invest in one nice item and wear it a lot than to buy a lot of cheaper items and hardly wear them. If I divided the cost of the sweater over the amount of times I wore it, it cost me less than a penny a wear. 

Special Considerations

  • Think about the seasons and weather for where you live. Find things for all seasons.
  • Consider the types of places you go, activities you do and your lifestyle outside of school. Special events you attend, how you like to be at home, etc. It's nice to have some items that can do double duty.
  • Create a decent selection. Don't forget outerwear.
  • Mix and match. Most items you choose should mix and match in several ways.

And there you have it. You can do this. Remember, you are worth investing in. 


Get a copy of the Essentials List here. It's free.

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