Or menswear for the private schools — we're not picky.
There may be different dress codes from one institution to the next, but the male teacher usually falls into the same vague “dress casual” bracket at most secondary schools across America, public or private.
Elementary school teachers may enjoy a little more leeway, probably because small children can be awfully hard on the nice sports coat.
The key thing to be aware of is that we're working in an odd middle-ground of clothing where it's just as possible to be too formal as it is to be too casual.
Clothing represents you visually to the people you work with. Teachers are in a different boat from most other wage-earners because they work closely with three different groups of people: their students, their fellow instructors, and the school administrators.
We see a lot of male teachers opting for the least-offensive compromise between the three, resulting in an almost uniform look of khaki slacks, white or blue button-down dress shirts, and brown leather shoes — formal enough to satisfy daily occasions, casual enough not to look too much like “The Man” in front of the students, and dressy enough for meetings if you grab a sport coat out of the closet.
There's nothing wrong with the blue-shirt-and-khakis look, but we like to think that men can do better. Teachers usually have a large degree of flexibility because of the semi-casual nature of their workplace, and that's an advantage worth playing with.
For the instructor looking to break out a little bit, we've put together a few wardrobe tips:
Buy Versatile Clothes
The wardrobe budget isn't exactly unlimited, so each piece needs to do as much work as possible. Single-purpose garments even bought cheaply, aren't a huge value for you.
If you own a suit (and you probably want one for the most important occasions), buy something in a medium-weight “three-season” wool and a neutral color like charcoal gray or dark brown.
This allows you to wear it year-round and to wear each piece as part of other outfits — the jacket with a pair of khakis is one outfit, the trousers with a turtleneck is another, and so on. Just be careful not to wear either piece much more frequently than the other, or the color may wear until it is noticeably mismatched.
Dress Up So You Can Dress Down
You can always make dressy clothes more casual by shedding a piece or changing the way it's worn; you can't do much to make casual clothes dressier beyond tucking in an untucked shirt.
Try to have a nice sweater or jacket on hand even if you're only planning on wearing your shirtsleeves for the day. Same goes for neckties — better to have the thing and not need it than need the thing and not have it. Keep a few in a closet at work if you really hate tying them in the morning.
Wear Noticeable Details
Stand out in the crowd by adding small touches that other people aren't thinking to. If you take thirty seconds in the morning to tuck a pocket square into your jacket, odds are good you'll be the only man sporting one that day. Got a special occasion, or just feeling cheerful one morning?
Tuck a fresh flower in the lapel for a boutonniere instead. Wear a nice hat. Rock a decorative belt buckle (within moderation, cowboy). Try a bow tie (but wear a jacket — a bowtie and shirtsleeves says “nerd”). Just work on checking yourself out in the mirror each morning and asking “What is making me stand out today?” If there's nothing, get something.
All this has to come within the boundaries of your school's dress codes, of course. But be sure that you're wearing clothing you can feel comfortable and confident in, whatever the restrictions. People (and especially teenagers) have a good sense for someone that feels awkward or disadvantaged, and that can cost you in the classroom.
Try to at least be sure of your fit — there're articles here on this blog that can help you find a good fit for your body type, and there's always more information at ATailoredSuit.com's comprehensive Style Guide.
Happy Teaching this Fall!