Last week, Allie @ Wardrobe Oxygen answered a reader’s post that asked whether wearing makeup was necessary for a professional appearance. I heartily advocate Allie’s response, primarily because I’ve long soapboxed over this topic myself.
As a teacher, I’m used to people looking disparagingly down their noses at me. I’m over feeling apologetic when people look at me askance after I tell them I graduated from UC Berkeley, as if a degree from this prestigious university should automatically eliminate me from such a pedestrian profession. I’m even able to chuckle good-naturedly at that old, albeit scornful, chestnut: Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.
What I cannot abide is succumbing to the censure by dressing/looking the part. Why do teachers – particularly female ones – undermine the dignity of our profession by coming to work in flip flops and ill-fitting shorts? In tank tops or scruffy trainers? With unkempt hair or wind-chapped lips?
I kid you not. In the seventeen years I’ve worked as a teacher and in the eleven years I’ve visited teachers as a parent, I’ve seen it all. For some reason – perhaps because they’re intellectuals and believe appearance to be petty; perhaps because they think they’re really only one step above baby-sitters and comport themselves accordingly – educators in general seem disinterested in “looking good”. (Apparently, education does not have a monopoly on this philosophy.)
My lofty goal is to help transform teachers, one denim jump dress at a time. Now before you all jump down my throat for being shallow/presumptuous/grievous about all this, please know that I’m not asking for complete metamorphoses into haute couture stylistas. I just want teachers to be afforded the respect they deserve. And I want them to realize and believe that teaching is a profession and therefore they ought to feel no shame in dressing professionally.
That said, I decided to interview BFF – a fellow educator and recent initiate of the School of Style – to get her perspective on things. A long-time fashion skeptic (although she was always very supportive of my frivolous ways), BFF has lived on both sides of the fence, and I think her voice adds a richer dimension to this debate.
an interview with an educator
What was your opinion about clothing/fashion/shopping in your 20s? In your 30s? In your 40s?
20’s – I was a tiny thing then, so I almost always was given compliments on how small I was. I felt that I could wear pretty much anything (unless it required larger breasts). My parents would laugh if they read this, but I was raised with pretty Puritan values. Thriftiness is a part of who I am, and I never really lost that. I also felt a little funny trying to draw attention to myself with wardrobe choices.
30’s – I lost my 20’s metabolism and could no longer eat what I wanted if I wanted to stay thin. Since I’d never really acquired self-discipline in this area, it took me a long time to figure it out. For that reason, I kept trying to wear my standards from my 20’s. Blues, greys, and blacks were my go-to pieces. I didn’t understand why so many women had so many shoes.
40’s – Oddly, I now love color! I don’t spend a bundle compared to many women, but I enjoy having choices. I buy certain staples that I really want and look a lot at thrift stores for items to liven things up. I also have more shoes than I can fit in my shoe cubby (which is amazing for a girl who thought more than two pairs for work was pretty silly).
We did a style makeover for you – at your behest – two years ago. What was the pivotal point that made you ask? How did you feel then?
I begged M to do a style makeover for me at 38…just before I turned 39. I wasn’t a heavy woman, but I was definitely carrying extra weight. Since I am small-breasted with larger hips and had a little weight on my tummy, I was constantly being asked, “Are you pregnant?” M would comfort me like a good best friend, but she once said to me, “Perhaps it’s because you are using the same types of cuts that worked when you were younger and as skinny as a rail.”
I set aside some money one summer, and we spent an amazing several days where I realized I like so many things I thought I hated or would look terrible on me. I still think M should do style consults. It changed my life; no kidding!
How do you feel now?
Now, I feel really happy about my wardrobe. Definitely in control of how I look. At first, I was afraid of looking ridiculous in some of the things I was wearing (colors/bold patterns/jewelry and scarves), but now if I feel I’ve made a poor choice on a combination, it doesn’t freak me out. I also will wear things I like just because I like them…even if they do make my hips look big…in fact, I think my hips are kinda sexy.
In addition to this, I should mention that I always used to think I’d buy a new wardrobe when I lost some weight; unfortunately, I had a lot of trouble taking weight off. Once M gave me a style makeover, I started with a running club and dropped almost 20 pounds. I think I needed to feel more confident about my body before I could motivate myself to exercise and eat right. Of course, I didn’t want to go back to my 20’s weight, but it is nice to be less than I was…I feel healthier, too.
What advice/words of wisdom can you impart after having gone through this sartorial journey?
My advice is this: Consider a style consult or wardrobe makeover before you consider losing weight. How much money do women spend on weight loss with no (or fleeting) results. In a few days, I was able to change the way that people reacted to me as well as the way I felt about myself. I did end up losing weight, but I would have been fine if I hadn’t; changing the way I dressed somehow made losing weight easier.Also, don’t scorn the thrift store if you enjoy changing things up and don’t have a lot of money. Wear leggings and a tank top (with a button down shirt and long skirt if you are the modest type) and then find a couple places that you like in your area. Ask a friend who already thrifts to take you. Of course, this would have overwhelmed me before my style makeover…just too many clothes and not enough organization. Now, I think of it like a treasure hunt and will try on lots of things I never would have tried.