A wardrobe that suits

22nd August 2003 at 01:00
Want to make a good impression at school? Then choose what you wear carefully. Jill Parkin looks at how to dress for success

Do your pupils snuggle up for stories and cuddles, or do they engage you in economic debate? Is your new job mainly in school management? Or half on the carpet and midway up a climbing frame? Whatever the answer, you need to dress right. Clothes count, especially in your first term, while you're making an impression.

Susan Bull, chief fashion consultant for the John Lewis chain, which offers an advisory service, reckons teachers should take time to think about their look. "My first question is always, 'Who are you teaching?' If you're teaching small children, they will be touching you, asking for cuddles, wanting attention," she says. "You need clothes that are colourful, washable and nice to touch, soft things. And that you can move in. Loose, long skirts are good, so are soft trousers.

"If you're a young woman in a secondary school, be careful, because a lot of your pupils are adolescent boys with raging hormones. Classic trousers are great. No gaps, no popping buttons, no thongs, no bits of bra. Nothing that makes them talk to your boobs."

It's simpler for men, who are fashion adviser Geri Cox's main concern at John Lewis. "Classroom teachers need shirts, jackets and easy-to-wash chinos. No short sleeves and a tie," she says.

"Don't go for expensive labels. Teenagers will pick up on this. Do you want to be known as the guy who gives great physics lessons or who fancies himself in yet another Boss shirt."

Pupils are your audience, but bear in mind your colleagues and parents, some of whom are quick to pick up the wrong signals. "Put your children first. Parents will be suspicious of anyone putting out 'Look at me'

signals. There's something about the values you are suggesting to the pupils if you go for expensive labels," says Ms Bull. "If you dress too fashionably your colleagues will think you're a poser and not take you seriously. Tight clothing is out for all teachers.

"Deep colours, especially in secondary classrooms, are good in the new shades: peat brown, khakis, aubergines, deep purples, blues. Cardigans are out this season."

You need to look businesslike - important for younger teachers who may have problems asserting themselves. But the authoritarian look can go too far.

"If you're a male head and wear a suit, avoid black: it's too powerful and unapproachable. Go for soft charcoal, grey or blue. A black skin can take darker shades; a white skin something paler," says Ms Cox.

Women in senior ranks should consider colours carefully, says Ms Bull.

"Choose grey, blue, aqua, which are tranquil. If you want to go pale under the jacket, try dusty pink, dove grey, buttermilk, lavender or forget-me-not blue."

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