Kit for the job

14th January 2000 at 00:00
Gown and mortar board? Or do you prefer the corduroy slacks and elbow patches look? Kevin Berry offers sartorial advice...

My father-in-law is mellowing with age, or it might be the whisky, but whenever a teacher appears on television he will still mutter:

"Scruffy lot, teachers. Just look at him - no tie, bet he hasn't had a bath for a month. And they want a pay rise!" He looks back to a time in the the late Twenties when male teachers dressed like solicitors, female teachers were as prim as they were proper and schools were clean places.

My own teachers had tweed sports coats with leather arm patches and they wore the same nylon shirt for a week. When the sun burned down and children were fainting in the heat they would wear "ice cream jackets" and sandals - and then it was back to the sports coats. Arm pits were hardly charm pits and classrooms had the sweaty odour of changing rooms.

When I became a teacher my Mum duly dragged me off to a city centre tailor for a sports coat and some cord trousers, "With elbow patches?" asked the man behind the counter.

I nodded "Thought so," he said. "I've got just the thing for you, Sir. We get a lot of your sort in at this time of the year."

My sort? What did he mean, my sort?

"You are a teacher," he replied.

There was no point in telling a fib. I was not ashamed of being a teacher - but thanks to that chap I took a long hard look at my wardrobe. And I never did buy a sports coat, with or without leather patches.

I bought two outfits for school and kept them solely for that purpose because the school cleaners used strong fluid, laced with vinegar, and my clothes carried the odour.

That - with the stink of boiled cabbage from school dinners - was why nobody ever, sat next to me on the bus. Or at least I think it was.

My father-in-law doesn't understand that schools are grubby places. Cuts in maintenance budgets have ensured there is dust everywhere. Brush your sleeve against a classroom wall and you will see dust - it could be one reason why child asthma figures are going through the roof. P> Clothing for school has to be a compromise. You never know when a child is going to be sick on you or run up to you with a dripping painting, But don't feel forced to adopt the scruffy approach - you'll only give my father-in-law more ammunition, Take hints from other teachers in school: avoid whites and creams and yellows, go for machine washable fabrics and have a basis of two interchangeable outfits. Given the average teacher salary, dare I suggest charity shops? The best are in towns where folk with more money than brain cells will wear something expensive no more than half a dozen times and then fling it out. Buying from a charity shop in somewhere like Cheltenham or Harrogate, or anywhere in Cheshire, is on a par with buying from a factory seconds outlet.

Be self indulgent with one item in your wardrobe - always buy the very best of whatever it is and you will feel great. My own personal choice was a pair of shoes.

Tips for top gear Rotate your shoes by never wearing the same pair two days running. It helps to keep them fresh.

An electric trouser press is a worthwhile investment. Great for keeping trousersslacks looking smart and there is the bonus of slipping into something warm on a cold morning.

For ideas on repairing clothes and keeping them fresh and clean look in a household management book. The best ones were written in the Forties and Fifties and still appear on charity stalls.

Odours on clothes? Put handfuls of pot-pourri in the pockets and hang them in the open air.

Bad stains on a favourite shirt or blouse can be cut out and a motif, a sort of cloth badge, sewn on in its place. Needlework shops have a wide selection.

Worn cuffs? Cut them off and have short sleeves.

Why not wear a lab coat? I've seen teachers wearing red ones, white, blue, green and brown. They look sensible and business-like - and their purchase and cleaning could be set against your tax if you teach a "messy" subject.

Save your best clothes for parents' night or the school concert... or whenever you know there will be a TV camera around.

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