Style counsel

29th August 1997 at 01:00
Change the way you dress and promotion will come your way. Stop the smirking: image consultant Jan Goodwin - who claims to have turbo-charged the working lives of many teachers - says it works. Susannah Kirkman reports

How important is a teacher's appearance? Does it matter if Mr Jones turns up on the first day back in his moth-eaten jacket, or Miss Brown arrives, still dressed in leggings and a baggy jumper?

According to Maureen Bromley-Smith, an education-business partnership manager in Hampshire, dress is crucial if you want to be a successful teacher.

"It's about public credibility," she says, impressive in her corn-coloured suit. "Teachers lose respect because of the way they look. It's not that you're a bad teacher because you dress badly, but that's how the public perceives it."

Looking good also improves professional performance, as Maureen discovered when she invited a colour and image consultant, Jan Goodwin, to work with teachers on professional effectiveness courses. The results were astounding. Within a few months of being "Goodwinned", many teachers were gaining promotion.

"Knowing that I looked fine gave me the confidence to go ahead and apply, " says Sue Lewis, who landed the headship of a successful infants' school a few months after attending a "dressing for success" course run by Jan Goodwin.

"My appearance definitely made an impact at interview and yet the last thing I had to worry about was my clothes," she recalls, immaculate in a long pleated navy skirt with a loose jacket, heather-coloured top and co-ordinating flowing scarf.

"I've always been interested in clothes - but being a large woman is not easy in this fashionable world. Shopping can be difficult. You tend to think, 'If it fits, buy it,' even if it doesn't suit you."

Sue Lewis finds her changed dress sense a great advantage at her new school. "It's handy when it comes to dealing with parents. My school is in a very middle-class area and the parents expect a professional to look good. I now know that when I stand up and talk at a parents' meeting, my clothes are right and it doesn't matter that I am overweight and too short."

Overweight people often fall into the trap of thinking that they must wear dark colours, says Kay MacFarlane, a head of year at a comprehensive and a Jan Goodwin graduate. She looks stunning in a scarlet two-piece - with matching lipstick. "It's not a question of power dressing, but of finding things which are appropriate for the occasion and which suit you," she explains. "I look like a traffic warden in a formal jacket."

Kay found that stylish dressing helped her through a recent period of ill-health, too. "Knowing I could put comfortable, attractive clothes on helped me get through the day. After my hysterectomy, I amazed the nurses by getting up and getting dressed and made-up instead of lying around in bed."

Those teachers who have transformed their own appearance are irritated by their colleagues' sloppiness. "The men often look terrible," says Cassie Ellins, deputy head of a large comprehensive, who is wearing a well-cut peach jacket with a short black skirt. "Some of them still seem to have their demob suits. They never clean their shoes and, if they do have a jacket, the pockets hang down."

She thinks it is incongruous to expect pupils to wear blazers and ties when the staff are turning up in shapeless leggings. Kay MacFarlane says it makes pupils resentful if they are expected to be smart while staff are allowed to look as if they have just come in from gardening.

"It really is quite galling to see a scruffy teacher tapping a child on the shoulder and telling them to smarten up," she says. Television coverage of union conferences showing teachers in jeans and wrinkled T-shirts does nothing for the image of the profession, either. Sue Lewis believes teachers have a duty to their pupils not to be frumpy. "In any gathering of professionals, the older women teachers are usually the ones who look like WI members of 25 years ago," she says. "But even four and five-year-olds will comment on what you wear.They love to see you dressed in pretty colours."

A positive appearance can also help with classroom discipline, according to Kay MacFarlane. "Clothing is an armoury," she says. "Fifteen and 16-year-olds can be big and pretty intimidating, especially to a new teacher who's looking small and frightened, their shoulders drooping inside a sloppy jumper. If a teacher walks in looking right, the pupils immediately know who's in charge. " Cassie Ellins, who teaches in an under-privileged district near Portsmouth, insists that dressing down because you teach in a deprived area is not the answer. "It's good presenting a positive image to children who may not see many positive images," she says. She also loathes teachers dressing casually for parents' evenings to make the point that they are attending in their own time.

Jan Goodwin, who looks wonderful in her turqouise suit, believes many teachers' poor dress sense is rooted in a caring, and sometimes puritanical ethos where caring about yourself is seen as wrong. "It's viewed as self-centred to be interested in your appearance or to spend any time thinking about clothes or make-up," she says. "But before you can give to other people, you've got to care about yourself."

And many teachers never leave the school environment, going straight to university and back to school without being exposed to the dress codes common in other professions or in the business world.

Jan Goodwin's training sessions include discussions on finding the right image which reflects your personality, hairstyles, make-up and analysis of the colours which suit you. She has worked in five local education authorities, and at least half of the teachers have later paid for in-depth colour or style analysis with her. But the keynote is dressing appropriately.

"An infants' teacher can't wear a suit or a very short skirt," says Maggie Lawrence, a reception teacher, who is wearing loose silky peach trousers with a matching top. "Your clothes must be washable so that they can withstand painting and small children wiping their noses on your skirt." If Maggie has to meet parents or governors, she will have a jacket ready to add a touch of formality.

"I feel much more confident now, although I think teachers of young children can be particularly undervalued. Parents seem to think that your teaching competence is related to the age of your pupils," she says.

Although there are many delighted "Goodwinned" teachers like Maggie, Jan is aware of the need for tact when she talks to teachers about changing their appearance. If she is too critical, she could actually end up making people feel worse about themselves.

"I think it helps that I am coming from the same place. I am 5ft and I used to long to be 5ft 8in, but you have to learn to accept yourself, even if you are not Cindy Crawford."

Sometimes teachers will react defensively against what she has to say. At Cassie Ellins's previous school, some teachers lampooned their "Goodwinned" colleagues in the staff Christmas play. "They can find it very threatening if colleagues suddenly change their image," she says.

Men are particularly sensitive - those who pay for extra training from Jan Goodwin always want her to keep it secret. "Male teachers get a particularly bad press about their appearance, yet many of them resent criticism and don't seem aware of the need to smarten themselves up," Jan Goodwin says. "My job is to try to change their attitude."

Some also question the rigidity of the dress code Jan Goodwin suggests. Why insist on tights when they are no longer de rigueur even at a Royal garden party?

The cost of a makeover could seem prohibitive. But Jan Goodwin says that it costs the same to buy clothes from Oxfam in the right colours as in the wrong colours. Sue Lewis says she has saved time and money since she had her appearance analysed.

"It makes shopping easier because I can see straightaway if there's nothing there for me," she says. "I no longer have to buy things for special occasions as I can always put something suitable together."

Cassie Ellins says she now spends less on clothes. "I used to be a shopaholic, buying unsuitable things just because they were in the sale. Now I can go for months without buying anything."

A "colour day" with Jan Goodwin costs Pounds 60; she will help you work out which colours suit you best. For Pounds 85, you can learn about shape and style - are your black jackets making you look 20 years older? Does that mid-calf length skirt really do anything for your legs?

Meanwhile, after her success with teachers, Jan Goodwin is now working with pupils as part of a programme to help them get the most out of work experience. She is advising them on personal presentation for their placement. But as Maureen Bromley-Smith???? points out, the pupils won't get the message unless their teachers have. In September, she is launching two new professional development courses involving teachers which will include sessions on enhancing their appearance.

For further information, please contact: Jan Goodwin of House of Colour, Atlas Business Centre, Stoke Barn, 72 Havant Road, Hayling Island, Hants PO11 OLH. TelFax 01705 465333. Maureen Bromley-Smith, Southampton and New Forest Education-Business Partnership. Tel: 01703 237662.


Style for teachers

1 Avoid see-through blouses, low necks or dangly bracelets.

2 Don't lug around a huge, bulging handbag.

3 Leave your leggings, jeans and Fair Isle jumpers at home.

4 Men should steer clear of old tweed jackets, shorts and sandals.

5 Try to express your personality through your clothes.

6 Keep a smart jacket and a pair of heeled shoes ready to slip on for meetings with governors or parents.

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