Hot and bothered

9th May 2014 at 01:00

It's a warm day and I'm getting ready for school. There are three discarded outfits on the bed. They have been rejected because they make me look a) too desperate, b) too old or c) like Jabba the Hutt - none of which are conducive to effective classroom management.

In a mild panic, I try on an oatmeal linen dress. It makes me look like porridge but at least it will feel cool. I do the customary 360-degree twirl. The sight of my backside contoured in crumpled linen prompts me to seek out a second opinion. I find my husband in the kitchen making toast.

"What do you think?" I ask. He shoots me an evaluative glance. "Well?" I say, impatiently.

"It's hard to tell when you're making that weird face," he shrugs.

"What face?" I ask as I study my reflection in the door of the stainless steel fridge. I am giving off the same air of studied detachment as a woman in the middle of a smear test.

"That face you always pull when you ask me what I think of what you're wearing," my husband replies. "Just try to look normal."

I pull another face. Finally, he shakes his head: "Maybe you need some beads."

Saying that a woman "needs some beads" is tantamount to telling her that she needs support tights, a cholesterol-lowering spread and a wimple. It's a euphemism for looking middle-aged, another way of saying that since your hair has the texture of a Brillo pad and your skin is the colour of starch, you require at least three strands of bright baubles around your neck in order to "lift your complexion". But, much as I want to ignore his advice, my husband is right. With the addition of a gaudy pendant and a couple of bangles, I almost look presentable.

Dressing for work is difficult at any time of year but it's so much worse in the warmer months. In our students' eyes we are what we wear: sharp-edged suits = hard-line disciplinarian; floaty floral frocks = fuzzy flip-flopping tree-hugger. Suffice to say, their behaviour degenerates accordingly. So the perennial question for clammy classroom teachers is: "How do we stay cool and remain in control?"

I wish I knew the answer. Maybe Ofsted - which has decided to mark down training institutions that fail to show student teachers the importance of smart attire - could point out what constitutes acceptable summer apparel, because in my experience maintaining discipline and staying cool are mutually exclusive. You can either sweat it out in your winter suit and keep the kids in check or crack out the Crocs and risk a rebellion.

But I've recently found a celebrity role model whose wardrobe would work perfectly in the classroom. Julianna Margulies, who plays the title character in The Good Wife, manages to carry off the lightweight suit without compromising her gravitas. I'd try it, but I suspect that once I've added the big burly beads I'll end up looking more Wife of Bath than Good Wife.

Beverley Briggs is a secondary school teacher from County Durham

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