When considering suitable workwear, there are some practical decisions to be made…
When I landed my first teaching job, I rushed out to a local department store to buy what I thought was ‘suitable business attire’. But the humble off-the-peg suit I came home with ended up being a dreadful choice.
Despite trying it on under the gaze of a sales assistant, it didn’t quite fit properly – the trousers were too short and the jacket was too big. I looked and felt like a child trying on his father’s work clothes.
Made out of a double-digit percentage of polyester, I was sweaty and itchy in warm weather, yet oddly cold in the winter.
It was ‘dry-clean only’ which meant the regular expense of getting it cleaned. There were also days spent without the suit while it was at the drycleaners which were only ever open during school hours.
Not to mention the price – one suit jacket and matching pair of trousers cost nearly two hundred pounds; a painful sum to part with on my modest salary.
After that first year, I hung up the fateful suit choosing to adopt a preferable range of garments. I humbly present to you my daily outfit for school in 2020:
Cotton vest and shirt
This is not a blog about fashion. Full disclosure: I am not a fashionista and know next to nothing about how to dress well (just ask my wife). So how is this outfit, on at least a practical level, good for a teacher?
I have neither the time nor the energy to sit around deciding what to wear each morning. To reduce this so-called ‘decision-making fatigue’, I wear pretty much the same outfit Monday through Friday. I wake up, shower and put it on without any thought. Don’t worry, the shirt, pants and socks change daily, but I’ll keep the same blazer and trousers each day, washing the trousers at the weekend.
Cotton is cool and breathable in the summer and warm in the winter. It dries quickly for those moments when you get stuck on break duty in the rain.
As teachers we are very mobile around the classroom. A shirt which is long enough to achieve a deep tuck will prevent it spilling out every few minutes as you move about during the day.
Get trousers that fit you in the waist and leg. Nobody loses gravitas like a man constantly fiddling with his waistband and I can’t afford to look any more of a clown than I already do.
I wear the same black leather shoes every day. I polish them probably once a month (not every week – sorry Dad!). Once a year I get them re-heeled and re-soled, but they have withstood a lot of use and turned out to be great value for money.
The wool in the blazer naturally repels moisture and stains.
Cotton can be washed, dried and ironed quickly.
A pair of chino trousers are some of the most inexpensive clothing items a man can buy. A quick search of the M&S website at the time of writing shows that chino trousers start at £19.50 and go up to a ‘premium’ of £45. Gap, Uniqlo, River Island (to name but a few) also sell inexpensive quality chinos.
My woollen blazer was relatively expensive (around £100), but since I wear it every day it cost feels justified.
Dry cleaning is expensive and inconvenient, (not to mention bad for the environment) so buy clothes you can wash yourself at home.
Pockets should not be underestimated. I’ve found that I use my blazer as a quickdraw holster for board markers.
The cotton vest is primarily for warmth and comfort. It also helps absorb sweat to stop staining under the armpits of your shirt.
The black leather shoes are waterproof and durable.
Everyone will choose a work outfit for different reasons. If I had to guess, I’d say the clothes we wear are often more of an emotional response than the cold logic of practicality I’ve described above.
Whatever you choose to wear to school, considering these five qualities shouldn’t lead you too far wrong – at the very least, they’ve kept me warm, dry and comfortable.
But what have I missed? Is there anything else you consider important when shopping for work clothes? Let me know in the comments below.