Working in a school does not lend itself to high fashion. From Monday to Friday, my sartorial decisions are generally based on which fabric will repel paint spills and children’s bodily fluids, rather than any discernible sense of style – Anna Wintour would shrivel up with disdain. Despite this, I’m learning that in a primary school, like it or not, every day is a runway.
One Friday, not long after arriving in a new school, there was a knock at my door. Two P3 girls shyly handed me a piece of paper and stood, giggling, while I unfolded it. In coloured pencil, beautifully illustrated with pictures of shoes, bags and coats, it read: “Miss Rose, you are a grate fashion ladie [sic].”
Bemused, I praised their creativity, mentally praised their teacher’s golden-time activities, and decided to pay more attention to the clothes that I threw on next Monday. In fact, I am regularly subjected to helpful advice from young fashionistas: “Is that a new dress? You shouldn’t wear it again.” Or: “I don’t think those colours go, Ms Rose. They make you look a bit…well…old.”
Tips can come from any child at any time and, unlike the tabloid media assaults on tennis players and politicians, the comments are not directed solely at women.
I once overheard a male colleague being told that his tie was “not even from this century”.
Some comments are confusing: “Ms Rose, I like your bag. When you get too old to need it, can I have it?” Too old to need a bag? What are we teaching these children? Don’t they know that the older I get, the more I’ll need my enormous bag to tote around loose digestive biscuits and half-finished sudoku puzzles? Other comments are downright horrifying: “Hey, Ms Rose. That stuff round your eyes, what is it?”
“Oh. Right. How do you do it?”
“Well I just, sort of…draw it on.”
“Oh, right.” Pause. “But what do you use to draw it on?”
“An eyeliner.” Suspicious pause. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, I tried it with a marker pen at the weekend, but it didn’t really work.”
Part of my job is to foster an environment where nobody, not even me, is judged according to the clothes they wear. But it’s a frightening thing, becoming aware of the inadvertent influence that my clothing choices wield.
Therefore, I hereby resolve to ensure that I’m wearing matching shoes (on a good day, maybe even matching socks), and that my clothing is clean and inoffensive.
Maybe one day the children will pay less attention to what I wear than they do to the seven-times table. In the meantime, I’ll endeavour to make the seven-times table interesting enough to compete – or, if that fails, wear it.
Joanna Rose is a primary teacher in Dundee