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Can Teachers Make ‘Business Casual’ Work?

Many believe that teacher attire, following the larger cultural trend of increasingly casual dressing, has lost its sense of style. Mary Lou Andre, author of Ready to Wear: An Expert's Guide to Choosing and Using Your Wardrobe, shares with EducationWorld some strategies that can help keep educators looking sharp in the classroom.

Andre believes that business-casual dress can work, if teachers put the emphasis on the “business” part of the term.

View your outfit as a business communications tool.

For men, business casual is a little easier to accomplish.

Your outfit speaks loudly about your professionalism. Make sure whatever you wear is wrinkle-free, in good repair, and pulled together with unifying elements such as matching belts and shoes.

Stand out, but blend in.

A neat, tied-together look will help you stand out. Too much jewelry or t-shirts with logos will also help you stand out, but not in a positive way.

Set proper business boundaries.

Make sure your outfits provide proper coverage at the neckline and hemline. In a business setting, opt for nylons and closed-toe footwear rather than flip-flops or other casual shoes.

Fortunately, going business casual is often a simple matter of mixing a new, informal piece or two with your existing everyday business wear.

For women:

  • Start with at least one good suit in a
    dark neutral – black, navy, brown or gray. If being
    trendy is important to you, look for pantsuits with a small (i.e. notched) collar
    jacket and flat-front pant.
  • Women find achieving business casual a little more difficult.
    Stock up on different tops to give your suits, pants and skirts versatility. Crisp, cotton shirts in white and modern colors such as chambray and chartreuse instantly dress down traditional suits. Cardigan twin sets with a variety of office-appropriate necklines are an easy way to present a softer look while still setting a business tone.
  • The easiest shoe color to incorporate into a professional wardrobe is black. A dress pump and a loafer in this hue are good starters. An ankle boot with pants and long skirts can provide a fashion-forward look in the cooler months.
  • Jewelry, scarves and other accessories often complete an outfit and help you add a personal touch to your overall look. Be aware that less is often more in terms of accessorizing in a professional setting.

For men:

  • Even if you work in a business-casual environment, there is still room in a professional wardrobe for a few suits and jackets. A sport coat paired with a dark to medium-color wool pant is always less formal than a suit.
  • A classic “straight” collar is appropriate for all suits. It is traditional and conservative. The “tab” or “pin” collars are other traditional styles. They are both neat and formal. The “button-down” collar is the most casual of all business shirts.
  • For many men, shoes are an afterthought, but cheap or unkempt shoes can ruin an otherwise polished look. The best shoes for a traditional business suit are wingtips. Oxfords and loafers are better choices when wearing more casual clothes.
  • The details do matter. Dark socks such as navy, black or brown are best. Over-the-calf socks are much better than shorter styles. Coordinating your belt with your shoe instantly pulls your look together.


Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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