The style counsel

13th January 2006 at 00:00
This interview season, successful applicants will look smart, practical and comfortable. But what does that mean? Gail Robinson paraded a pair of trainees in front of a TES panel of experts

The application forms have been filled in, the personal statement is written and the portfolio polished to perfection. The next step is to sort out an outfit to impress at interview.

Money is tight when you're a student and, much as you might like to hit the designer stores, your choice may be limited to the budget end of the market.

We set two trainee teachers, Hannah Morris and Iain Clyde, the challenge of finding interview outfits for under pound;75. Both are applying for jobs to start in September. To add a bit of spice to the challenge, they were dropped in the designer bargain store TK Maxx with just an hour to find an outfit.

Hannah is a third-year student at St Mary's College, Twickenham, taking a teaching degree, specialising in music and French. "I'm usually an MS shopper for basics, but I do venture into Miss Selfridge and Top Shop," she says.

She wants to stay around London and is applying to Sutton, Richmond, Merton and Hounslow. Her ideal role would be as a music co-ordinator.

Iain is taking an Open University PGCE in sciencephysics. He balances his studies with a day job as a lieutenant colonel in the army's mechanical engineers, and will be applying for work around his home town of Salisbury in Hampshire.

He usually shops online; Boden is a favourite. "I'm pretty conservative - I'm a rugby shirt and jeans kind of a chap."

We also wanted to see how the experts would dress our trainees for interview, so we briefed stylists from Topshop to select outfits for them.

Then we subjected all the outfits to the scrutiny of a panel of judges, all of whom have sat in many interviews.

John Howson, a teacher recruitment expert and our first judge, warns that much depends on whether you are applying for a post as a secondary school teacher in a small market town or a primary teacher in a trendy London suburb.

"However, you should remember that you might also be asked to teach part of a lesson, so the clothes need to both impress and be practical for the job," he says.

NQT and induction expert Sara Bubb has also cast an eye over the outfits.

Her advice is to "keep it bland" - you want the head judging your skills as a teacher, not your clothes.

Our final judge, governance expert Joan Sallis says: "My main desiderata were simplicity, a 'together' look and seeming at ease in the clothes".

We also asked heads of departments in website forums what they really hate to see at interviews. Here is their advice. Avoid too much flesh; piercings in noseeyebrowlip, visible tattoos, comedy ties and fishnet tights.

Thanks to Topshop's style advisers for their help. They are available in store, in your own home, and can even host parties for your friends. Visit www.topshop.; tel 0845 124 1144


We canvassed opinion on the busy TES student teacher forums to see where everybody else is buying interview outfits. Two supermarkets were the most popular: George at Asda received a resounding yes vote, as did Tesco's Florence and Fred range. As one forum member commented: "They're cheap but still reasonable quality."

Dorothy Perkins was mentioned by many as a good place for reasonably priced, well-cut suits - and you get student discounts there. "It's one of the few places that have trousers in a range of lengths," explained one contributor.

And, of course, good old MS had its fans, especially for its range of machine washable suits that don't need ironing.

Jezzie1, a regular poster on the TES website, is addicted to eBay. Over the course of one weekend, she managed to bag three smart skirts for a grand total of pound;12. And if they don't fit when they arrive, she simply bungs them back on eBay.

Chat with thousands of student teachers and get expert advice on interviews from Sara Bubb on our forums at



The clothes Hannah chose at TK Maxx were the experts' favourites.

"Hannah's outfit looked right to me as soon as she came in," said Joan Sallis. "It is organised and cool, professional but pretty. It suits her and there's nothing to fuss with."

John Howson agreed. "There is a sense of professionalism and a sense of personality with the floral border."

Skirt pound;19.99; blouse pound;7; jacket pound;22; total pound;61.98 All TK Maxx


"This skirt is too tight for sitting down in an interview," says Sara Bubb.

Joan reckons this mixes a formal jacket and blouse with a skirt that looks more suitable for a party.

Jacket pound;45; vest top pound;6; skirt pound;30; shoes pound;45; necklace pound;8; total pound;134 All Topshop


"This outfit doesn't demonstrate that Hannah can recognise the need for a gap between teacher and pupils," said John Howson. While Sara Bubb loved the trousers and reckons the outfit "would look super with a jacket rather than the shrug".

Shoes pound;45; vest top pound;6;

cashmere shrug pound;60;

trousers pound;35; total pound;146

All Topshop



Iain pulled together the panel's favourite outfit from TK Maxx.

"This is a classic look. It's not too formal but it says commitment and future head teacher," says John Howson. "It will impress all except those who think new teachers should be trendy."

Sara Bubb thinks this is "smart and professional" but suggests Iain "carry a bag to give him something to do with his hands".

Shirt pound;14.99; trousers pound;19.99; jacket pound;30; belt pound;9.99; total pound;74.97 All TK Maxx


John Howson says this look is just not serious enough. "The image suggests an advertising executive - not a teacher."

Shirt pound;25; trousers pound;60; shoes pound;50; total pound;135All Topshop


"Pointy shoes will draw attention. People will either love them or hate them and that's not a good strategy for an interview," says Sara Bubb.

Jacket pound;90; trousers pound;40; shirt pound;25; scarf pound;20; shoes pound;50; total pound;225 All Topshop

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