If you have followed my writings, you know that I struggle with fashion. I hate it, as a matter of fact, though with proper guidance I clean up well. But I think I’m in a better place now than I was in September when I prayed for Carson Kressley to come and take me to 5th Avenue even if it meant that someone on reality TV got to laugh at my transformation.
I’m grateful, in part, to the lady at Banana Republic who took my coupons and came back with clothes. I’m not saying this was easy—I refused to let her put me in the size that she said fit, if only because it gave me an atomic wedgie of the proportion reserved for 80’s movies where the nerd got skewered on the flagpole. We don’t allow atomic wedgies these days—zero tolerance for bullying. As such, I refuse to be bullied by my own clothes—I’ll wear them slightly oversized.
I have improved in my ability to look at fashion. I’m in a place where I can now look in the mirror and determine if an outfit works or not even though I really don’t match colors well. I can’t, on a good day, place salmon in the color wheel and when called upon to choose colors for my bathroom, I redecorated using the colors of nature—yellow and green. It looked nothing like nature—it looked like it was a hangover job done by the marketing guy from Sprite.
So, I plagiarize a lot. I’m not above looking at someone’s well put together purple sweater, realizing that I have a purple sweater sitting in a bin that could well see the light of day. In fact, that’s how I chose my outfit today. And I seem to be getting by.
But there’s a larger disruption going on in the field of education today, something very wrong indeed. It’s lowering test scores and distracting students…It might be too late to save us, in which case we should just pack it up and declare Finland the winner in all things education. The problem, in my mind, isn’t the achievement gap. It’s…
They’re horrible. If I think teacher clothes are an issue–zero fashion me–then there must be a disturbance in the force. When fashion is so…unique…that even I am distracted, I can say with data correlation that it most definitely affects student achievement. I couldn’t do a math paper if I had the opportunity to stare at my instructor’s Rudolph Christmas tie with the LED blinking nose.
I went to a conference recently. My favorite thing to do at teacher conferences is to look at teacher clothes. It makes it tough to learn about, say, vocabulary or classroom management when there are so many bright and shiny things to capture my attention.
Teacher clothes have been the subject of jokes for 50 years. The schoolmarm in the a-line skirt brandishing a ruler over the cowering students image that won’t go away. Every time I look around a room full of teachers, I see the following:
- Power suits. These are cool. I suspect teachers with power suits came over from Corporate America seeking to change the world or work fewer hours. Since teaching is actually a 24/7 job, they probably suspect they made a mistake, but still believe in world-changing, so they hang on. That is, until their first second-grader sneaks his second chocolate milk and barfs all over the power suit. That’s $800 down the drain.
- Cardigans. These can be done well, but more often than not, they represent the repeat syndrome. Most teachers have one or two sweaters that they drape over the back of their chairs for the three coldest months of the year when the heating system malfunctions. It’s like hiking Everest. You have to have layers.
- Vintage clothes. I respect teachers with experience, and I, too, have been guilty of wearing vintage clothes. I tried to rebrand it as Zen. I don’t need to be materialistic and buy hundreds of dollars worth of new clothing just because the runway season changed. But there’s something to be said for ditching the powder blue leisure suit, too. “Vintage,” only goes so far.
- Holiday-themed sweaters. Yes, the dreaded embroidered Christmas sweater. The only excuse EVER for wearing such an item is for making fun of someone who wears such items. In the case of humor, satire, and practical jokes, a holiday sweater can be worn if the wearer can keep a straight face. Holiday socks are okay, however.
- Clothes that don’t match with the decade in which the wearer was born. This one is tough. I’m 41. There is no reason on earth that I should be stuffing myself in things from the Junior section. Even though it would fit, it would be wrong. Not allowed.
- Bangles. This is a personal issue—I don’t own or wear a lot of jewelry. Some people wear it in style. But in any case, it shouldn’t be worn all at once like a Mr. T revival. At many teacher conventions, I see so many layers of beads, bangles, and bracelets, I wonder if I’m in the wind chime aisle at my local garden superstore.
- The scarves—oh, the scarves!! Teachers love scarves. They wear them indoors. I wear scarves, too, but usually just when my heat doesn’t work or when I go hiking. I can’t figure out scarves. Too close to macrame or hojojitsu (the samurai art of knot tying). For the brief time I lived in Russia, I associated scarves with old ladies. The word for scarf in Russian is, in fact, babushka, which also means “grandmother.” I don’t want to be an old lady. No scarf for me.
As I get older and confront my own mortality, I have to address the subject of teacher clothes in my own life. In 20 years if I’m still in the classroom, I think I’ll be the hippie crunchy teacher—the one with the silver braid, hiking boots, and Irish cable knit sweater playing music from two decades ago. But that’s a long way off. In the mean time, I’ll keep bringing my coupon to the girl at the store that tells me what to wear. And I won’t wear teacher clothes.