School dress codes aren’t just for students anymore

School dress codes aren’t just for students anymore, reports USA Today. More schools are adopting dress codes for teachers.

When kids in one Kansas school district return to class this fall, they won’t be seeing cutoff shorts, pajama pants or flip flops — on teachers.

. . . Jeans are banned in at least one elementary school in New York City. A school district in Phoenix is requiring teachers to cover up tattoos and excessive piercings. And several Arizona schools are strictly defining business casual.

Nineteen percent of schools require uniforms for students, double the rate of 10 years ago, reports the National Center for Education Statistics.

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  1. I don’t know how to take this. I can see ordering teachers to cover up excessive tattoos or take out wilder piercings. But if they’re saying I can’t wear jeans and a tee to work,I’m going to be cranky.

  2. I made some suggestions for female teachers

  3. The problem with jeans is that they cover the gamut from totally inappropriate to highly appropriate. Obviously, ripped, leg-dragging, low-hanging versions are out (for both students and teachers) as are the too-low-waisted and/or too-tight versions. However, there’s a group on the upper end that are fine, in many schools. I am reminded of a HS history teacher, who retired in the 90s, who typically wore nice, well-tailored, well-fitting, ironed jeans, which he always paired with a dress shirt and tie (plus blazer in cool weather, and he always kept one at school). I also knew teachers, both male and female, who wore dressy denim trousers, with nice shirts and sweaters or jackets. I don’t have a problem with them, but in schools where they are a problem, the best solution is to put them on the no-no list. That goes for students, too. Recently, I have seen women teachers wearing tops that are definitely too tight and/or too low-cut (or too high-cut at waist). Double no-no for anyone.

  4. SuperSub says:

    Wait, what hairbrained schools allow teachers to wear jeans and tshirts to school on a regular basis? Heck, we were having troubles with twentysomething elementary teachers wearing short skirts and excessively high heels this year.
    If you want respect, you have to present yourself respectfully, and that includes dress.

    • The schools I’ve been at were like this (VA)

    • At the school at which I teach, teachers wear shorts and flip-flops. I’m serious.

      One time a student saw me at the mall. I was wearing shorts. He said, “I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen your legs!” I replied, “It’s absolutely the first time.”

      Shorts. Flip-flops. Sun dresses. Mu-mus. Lycra athletic clothing. I know it’s California, but come on.

      • What’s wrong with a sundress? Maybe what you’re thinking of is not what I’m thinking of by the term “sundress”. If you’re talking those beach cover-ups, then no, those aren’t appropriate. But I’m thinking those Lilly Pulitzer type sundresses which are totally appropriate for all but the most buttoned-up workplace.

    • Obi-Wandreas says:

      “Wait, what hairbrained schools allow teachers to wear jeans and tshirts to school on a regular basis?”

      The kind of schools whose union contracts do not give them the authority to have a dress code for teachers.

      For me, the two days at the end of the year after the 8th graders have had their moving up day are the only ones in which I don’t wear a tie. Any other day, if there are kids in the building, I’m in a tie.

      I have heard many principles make general statements that teachers should dress professionally. There’s even a section on the evaluation to describe whether or not teachers have a professional appearance. There is no direct authority, however, to require a teacher to dress in a certain way.

      If you want people to take you seriously, you need to dress the part. If you walk around wearing pajamas or clothes meant for athletic activity, people are not going to take you seriously. If you look like a clown, that’s how people are going to treat you.

    • I wish I had been an elementary school student at that school when I was that age!

  5. I can’t figure out how expecting adults to dress professionally is even an issue. How did we get here. Shorts, jeans, t-shirts are simply not acceptable for professional work. PE and technical arts teachers, sure. Everyone else? Dress for success.

    • Mark it on the calendar, boys and girls–Michael Mazenko and I agree! (Although I often wear jeans and a school t-shirt on Fridays)

  6. Ya’ll are nuts. It’s very common for older teachers, particularly male older teachers, to wear shorts and high tops and a polo shirt. Others just wear jeans and tees. The only teachers who dress formally are younger teachers, and they will all tell you it’s for the same reason: so they aren’t confused with the students.

    I know of no school in the Bay Area with a dress code, nor one where it’s ever been mentioned. I won’t say it’s unheard of.

    As for the idea that dressing formally guarantees respect, or even means you have respect, ha ha ha very ha. Teaching, at least as I do it, is a job where I’m constantly in motion, constantly walking around the room, wiping off white boards to show how to do a problem, kneeling or squatting down next to a desk to explain something, and so on. The idea that I’m going to wear something other than jeans? Not happening.

    • SuperSub says:

      You don’t deserve respect because you dress well…dressing well is a sign of respect towards your students and coworkers. If it helps to earn their respect, good…if not, that doesn’t make it ok to dress like some random person walking on the street. You should hold yourself to a higher standard than your students.

      We don’t have dress codes, either…in the Northeast its relatively standard that our dress is considered part of the professionalism clause in our contracts.

      Oh, and I’m a science teacher. I handle whiteboards, mix various colorful chemicals, get hands deep in dissections, and take my kids outside for field work, all while wearing dress slacks, a button down shirt, and a tie. Rarely do I get myself messy…and that’s what a clotheswasher is for.

      • I’ve worked at Xerox’s Webster Research Center among very smart people, many with PHDs. There, people dressed like college students and addressed each other by first names. The Chief Scientist and the Chief Custodian could easily be mistaken for one another. They too, referred to each other by first name only.

        There was no lack of respect there.

        Then I worked for EDS which was well known for dress codes. They too promoted the idea that it’s a sign of respect and that it will get you respect. I saw no sign of this. Our clients (wearing jeans) did not feel respected by EDS because EDS people wore nice clothes and they in turn did not respect EDS.

        In my experience, if you’re in an environment where people dress casually they need to earn respect by their actions because they can’t hide behind pretty clothes (or because no one notices or cares). On the other hand, in a place like EDS, there were useless people who climbed the social ladder on the wardrobes alone. There was a guy at EDS whose rise through the ranks was incredible, yet this guy seemed to have no good qualities apart from being well dressed and well groomed.

        In teaching, I never thought that a very casual dress code had any negative effects.

        Just my 2 cents.

        • if I’d been patient, this is the response I would have written. Yes, exactly.

        • So how often did the Chief Scientist meet with investors, board members, or the media dressed like a custodian?

          • If someone is meeting with investors, board members, and media, then they’re putting on a show and the “costume” may be part of the show. But no one gets to be chief scientist (or any other kind of scientist) by focusing on the show, do they?

            Now you’re sounding like typical EDS management

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            Whenever I’m in front of students, I’m putting on a show. I really am the sage on the stage.

            So I try to dress the part.

          • Roger,

            This raises the point of what a sage looks like. In my experience sages wore the jeans and the non-sages wore suits.

            On more than one occasion in my life people in suits have engaged me in conversation and I’ve thought “Amway” before they opened their mouths, and I was right. They thought that wearing suits made them credible.

            My point is that nice-clothes = respect is not necessarily written in stone.

            I simply saw nothing in my teaching career to indicate that dress codes for teachers were necessary.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            This “sage” doesn’t wear either. For me, it’s long pants and a dress shirt, no tie. Trying to hit that sweet spot.

          • Michael E. Lopez says:

            I’m of the mind that teachers can wear business casual or whatever when they’re workshopping and reviewing and so forth, but that they should throw on their undergrad/graduate regalia for lectures.

            Old Skool, indeed.

    • Where did you witness this? The only time I’ve ever worn shorts is on a field trip.

  7. We have a dress code. No tennis shoes, no jeans, …etc. I always wear a dress or skirt (below the knee length) and I never wear jeans. However- I did get a note from my doctor to be able to wear crocs. They are not allowed either.

  8. A nice pair of jeans and shirt can look appropriate, depending on the culture of the school and the classroom. However, banning jeans is usually to prevent some few teachers from wearing jeans that are highly inappropriate. In my experience, those individuals find other clothes that are also inappropriate for the same reasons, just not made of denim (too tight, too low waisted, etc…).

  9. Supersub says:

    Look…the local grocery chain expects their employees to wear nice khakis and a store branded polo. You cannot expect to convince a lot of people that a teacher, in a white collar professional public service position that usually requires post-graduate schooling, should have a lower standard of dress than a teenager who bags groceries.

  10. palisadesk says:

    Ah, well, we all know California is Lotus Land, where they dance to a different drummer. With the exception of a small rural district where I worked for a year, every place I’ve worked has had a dress code for teachers. Currently (urban district) the dress code prohibits shorts, cutoffs, track suits, sweat pants, regular jeans, sleeveless or low-cut shirts and dresses, see-through garments and very short skirts. Gym teachers are exempted from the prohibition of shorts and track suits. Many of our buildings lack AC, so tees are allowed as long as they have no inappropriate logos, designs or mottos; students must wear shirts with collars and no logos or mottos of any kind.

    The regulations were much tighter some years back; nowadays there is no regulation regarding footwear, though building principals have the authority to prohibit anything they consider unsafe or inappropriate. Personally I have no issues with being asked to dress as if I were going to work and not to the beach.

    • Jeez. That would be a drag. Lots of male teachers wear shorts and hightops; the casual look is a big part of their appeal. They look like they’re having fun. As I said, I wear jeans, tees, and flat sandals or trainers. I would find it incredibly annoying to be told that jeans were off-limits, but in that case, I would just go buy equally casual trousers, no better than jeans, in other colors. And I’m sure that’s why we here in Lotus Land stopped fussing about the details. If I can dress as casually following the letter of the law, then why bother banning jeans?

  11. I managed to survive (public) ES and HS without wearing jeans (field trips to ponds etc aside), athletic shoes or t-shirts and so did everyone I knew. In the 50s-60s, that was true of public and private schools alike. It was not until college that I could even wear slacks (and I wouldn’t want to return to that standard). Shirts had to be tucked in, unless obviously made to be worn out (a male classmate had several finished with a buttoned band a few inches below the waist). When my kids were in school, a number of the private schools required khaki pants, an oxford shirt (often white or light blue) and non-athletic leather shoes (with max heel height and minimum heel width for girls). Plain sweaters or vests, in specific colors, were usual for both sexes. At ES level, polo shirts were often substituted and HS kids might be required to wear a tie and sometimes a sports jacket. Girls had the option of a khaki skirt and ES kids could wear bermuda shorts if it was above a certain temperature (perhaps HS too, I can’t remember). My kids would have been perfectly happy with that, if the public schools required it. Obviously, if that is the student standard, then the teacher standard has to go up a notch; jackets and ties for men and the equivalent for women.

  12. Seriously, I don’t know where you guys work, but I don’t know of a single school in this area with a dress code. This is, flatly, a non-issue. So you can all yammer on about what you think teachers “should” do, but the plain truth is they aren’t, and you just look pretty dumb, like the idiots who say that we should all dress up to go on planes.

    And what are you talking about with this “professional” nonsense? Professors, lawyers (outside court), doctors, corporate America? None of these jobs have a “no-jeans” dress code.

    • Don’t see them having specific policies preventing them from insulting clients…or eating and talking to their clients with their mouths full. It’s called professionalism.

    • Crimson Wife says:

      I’ve spent time consulting quite a number of different physicians (combo of frequent moves, insurance changes, and having a disabled child) and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one wearing jeans, sweats, etc. If they weren’t in scrubs, they were in “business casual” like khakis, tailored pants, skirts/dresses, etc.

    • Doctors never have a dress code? Are you kidding? Do a Google search for “Mayo Clinic dress code.” Doctors there (at least in the Rochester, MN facility) are required to be in business dress unless they are in surgery. Male, female, young, old it doesn’t matter, the men are required to wear jackets and ties and the women are in suits or tailored blouses and skirts or slacks. The explanation? Because it reinforces the professionalism that is expected of all staff.

  13. I’ve always thought that part of a school’s mission was to prepare kids for their entry into the workplace; therefore, modeling appropriate dress and behavior and demanding the same from them is desirable.

    I find it amusing that nowdays Fridays are casual days. Perhaps some other commentors are old enough to remember that they used to be dress-up days for HS kids; we dressed as we would for church. Boys wore jackets and ties and girls nice dresses, nylons (no pantyhose, then) and heels. Perhaps it was regional (northern New England), but I had friends all over the state and their schools had the same tradition.

  14. I thought every employer in the history of employing people has had a dress code of some kind. Why would it suprise anyone that K-12 school districts would, too?

  15. But I am a teacher, and I’m saying that they don’t. Or at least, no school I’ve ever been to in California does.

    It’s also clearly not normal, if the USA Today article is accurate.

    So the real question is, why are you pretending that a dress code is the norm for schools, when this conversation and the article should have convinced a sentient being otherwise?

    • SuperSub says:

      There has always been a dress code…its just that it was never detailed out because teachers at the time understood it to fall under both the generic professionalism clause of their contracts and common sense- in a job where you are constantly working with clients, you dress the part. They never needed the details to be written because they were sentient and never needed big brother to explain it to them in small words. As notes in other threads, the intelligence and understanding that used to be associated with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees is lacking.

      • You are, of course, wrong. (You almost always are). There hasn’t always been a dress code, and there’s no real push to have one now. I suspect that the dress codes will be instated primarily in URM charter schools, where teachers are supposed to pretend to be “role models”. But fortunately, most teachers aren’t like you–of course you’re the only person I’ve seen who thinks it’s a major accomplishment to be a sub (regardless ofyour actual history).

        • LacklusterSub says:

          Oooh, two personal attacks in one reply… I must have hit a nerve somewhere. A little self-conscious, perhaps? Oh, and good job channeling my wife on the almost always wrong bit.

          As I’ve already stated… while few , if any, schools have had explicit policies regarding teacher dress and specific items that are allowed or not allowed, there has been a standard for teacher dress going back to the earliest days of teaching in the US. As a professional, it is understood that while you are on the job, you would have a professional appearance. Lawyers, for example, don’t have specific dress codes, but I can tell you I have never seen a lawyer at the office or in court that is not dressed professionally (button down shirt, tie, and slacks for men, for example).

          One of the benefits of my seemingly lackluster career as a substitute (thanks for letting me know about that, btw) nine years ago when I adopted my pseudonym, combined with multiple relocations, is that I was exposed to numerous schools in multiple urban, suburban, and rural areas, let alone the unfortunate repeated layoffs I’ve experienced the past five years. From a small rural school with 80 students per grade to a large significantly depressed urban district, every school has had clear expectations for teacher dress.

          I’ve seen union reps and senior teachers, unprovoked by administration, lecture younger teachers about their unprofessional dress that, while is not in violation of any specific language in the contract, does reflect poorly on the teaching profession. Parents and community members do judge us on our appearance, and if we dress like a random person off the street, many will treat us that way. Psychology experiments have shown that not only do others react differently to us based upon our dress, but the individuals wearing the clothes modify their own behaviors.

          Regarding your parting shot that I am out of the loop regarding teacher dress… the other comments here dispute that. Other than Educationally Incorrect, pretty much everyone seems on board with teacher dress codes, implied or explicit. Heck, from the USA Today in 2003, a what to wear feature for new teachers…

          Yes, you are from California, which does provide a unique and permissive environment regarding social standards. But, as with many issues in this country, California does not represent the mainstream. I’d also wager that there are plenty of schools in California that do have some sort of dress expectations for teachers, especially in the north. Be happy that you are given the freedom to wear what you want, that you are comfortable teaching in it, and that the culture there seemingly does not judge you on it. Or, perhaps in the land of bikinis and board shorts, jeans and t-shirts are professional by comparison.

  16. palisadesk says:

    What surprises me in this discussion is the absence of realization that things are not, and never have been, the same everywhere. While California may not have had dress codes, other parts of the country have had them for many years. Particulars vary not only by state and district but even between schools in a district, and of course whether or not the code is enforced depends on individual school administration.

    I’ve belonged to a private K-8 listserv with about 600 teachers from across the country (and a few abroad) for about 15 years, and the topic of dress codes for teachers comes up on a regular basis, with people sharing what is the practice in their areas. The Midwest, south, southeast and Great Lakes regions seem to be more “conservative” in these matters (some participants reported that women teachers were required to wear dresses until recently). When I did field work related to graduate studies in the greater Washington, D.C. area, the school where I was working had a dress code for staff — I don’t recall the particulars, but it did require me to trade in grad school shabbies for “business casual.”

    With one exception, every district I’ve worked in has had some kind of dress code for teachers. What is new in the U.S. News report is not the idea of a dress code for teachers — that’s about as new as television — but its extension to things like tattoos and piercings.

    The whole thing seems like a tempest in a teapot to me. I have seen the requirements become much less restrictive over the years (for example, while I can’t wear jeans to work, I can wear jean-style cords). I remember when male teachers had to wear a dress shirt and a jacket, and women could only wear slacks if they were part of a formal pantsuit.

    US News is hardly a definitive source of national data on such topics. It’s a big world folks. Standards vary.

  17. Hey look, *rocket scientists* wear a uniform!
    It’s video of JPL personnel during the landing of the Curiosity probe on Mars last night.

  18. Palisa, I saw your post to that effect earlier, and if you notice, I specified “California” many times. I agree that standards vary, although I very much doubt that it’s by state. I also suspect that many teachers think there’s a dress code until they learn there isn’t when a colleague starts wearing shorts and high tops.

  19. Roger Sweeny says:

    After 41 comments, can we agree on the following:

    1. Most school systems do not have a written dress code for teachers.

    2. Most all school systems have dress expectations for teachers.

    3. These expectations differ in different places. What is considered “unprofessional” in one system will be acceptable in another.