Arnold's World

The subject of socks reared its ugly head in this column a couple of weeks ago, and I felt I dealt with it in a commendably frank and adult way. Today, I will turn my attention to the other items of clothing that should be in every ambitious teacher's wardrobe.

If you are an upwardly mobile male, you do not have to waste too much time worrying about what you should wear. All you need do is pop into the nearest branch of Marks and Spencer and grab enough suits off the peg to see you safely up the greasy pole to a headship. But, remember to keep the receipt. Attached to your curriculum vitae, it offers incontrovertible proof that you are senior management material.

Indeed, the constant newspaper reports of bogus claims made on job application forms suggest that there are possibly some highly-placed teachers whose only verifiable qualifications are their M S receipts.

None of this is of any help to ambitious women teachers. While men have to do no more than eenie-meanie-mynee-mo through a handful of suits, whenever a woman opens her wardrobe doors, she is faced by a terrifying range of sartorial decisions. And what she chooses to wear will be taken far more seriously by her colleagues than anything she might say or do.

According to a spokesperson for the Institute of Directors: "The clothes a woman wears are as important as the way in which she presents ideas and the way she comes across." It seems ludicrous, but if you are a female teacher who believes you're due for promotion, don't waste your time thinking about the curriculum, classrooms or children - concentrate on your clobber. Studying The Tes to find out what's going on in education won't do your career nearly as much good as a lazy flick through this month's Vogue. I certainly can't offer you any guidance.

However, regular readers will know that when faced with the trickier issues on the female agenda, I turn for guidance to the doughty headmistress of a comprehensive which holds the distinction of having been bottom of more league tables than Accrington Stanley. Her advice is always original and occasionally coherent - despite the alarming cocktail of Prozac, industrial-strength oil of evening primrose and Harvey's Bristol Cream upon which she has become reliant.

She usually opts for an ankle-length rubber apron as worn by popular TV pathologist Amanda Burton - schools are mucky places, so something that can be easily sluiced down is always an advantage. Similarly, her sensible drip-dry culottes are permanently worn at calf-length so she can avoid the worst of the detritus that inevitably accumulates in school corridors. Bicycle clips prevent the incursion of small rodents.

As a sop to the boys, she usually dons the Man United away-shirt, with a baseball cap, rakishly reversed, in deference to teenage style-gurus LL Cool J and William Hague.

As a fashion statement, she chooses to wear her brassiere on the outside of her other garments, so the substantial cups can double as convenient receptacles for items she might suddenly be called upon to use during the course of her busy working-day - a whistle, a red pen, a miniature bottle of Johnny Walker and her letter of resignation. The ensemble is currently unavailable in any high street outlet and has yet to feature in Vogue. But, apparently, Vivian Westwood has expressed an interest.

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