Advice to New Teachers: Clothing Matters

When parents meet you for the first time, they want to have a sense that their children are in safe hands. Your colleagues want to know that you are someone who can be relied upon to do a good job and your students want to have a teacher they can respect. I truly wish we lived in a world where people didn’t judge others by their appearance, but the sad reality is we don’t, so it pays to be mindful of the impression you leave upon others. Yes, clothing matters.

This doesn’t mean you have to hide your own personality and style, but depending on what yours is, you may need to tone things down or dress things up a little for the work environment.

While many private schools will have a clearly defined dress code, NSW government school teachers are simply asked to dress professionally – interpretations of which vary greatly from school to school and teacher to teacher. Most NSW government schools teachers wear neat, casual attire.

Here are some general guidelines, which should keep you out of trouble. What you wear is a personal choice, so feel free to follow or ignore.

  • Men – a collared shirt or polo is a good safe option.

    English: Example of a common dress code for ma...

    Business and Smart Casual are typical in NSW public schools. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Australian summers are hot, and many schools are not air-conditioned, so in my opinion shorts are acceptable so long as they are neat and tailored. Avoid wearing these on the first day, however.
  • Be a role model – this means wearing your hat on playground duty (most NSW schools have a no hat no play rule as part of their sun-safe policy) and avoid shoe string straps – follow the  same sun-safe guidelines expected of your students.
  • Thongs  (the footwear, NOT the underwear) are never acceptable. For non-Australian readers, thongs are also known as flip-flops or jandals.
  • Ladies – avoid necklines that will expose your bra when you are leaning over to help students with their work.
  • Primary teachers – avoid hemlines that won’t allow you to sit on low classroom chairs, or sit on the floor with a group of students
  • If you like wearing high heels, choose wedges for days when you will be doing playground duty on the oval.
  • Wear clothing that can be washed easily – especially if you work with small children, paint or other messy substances.
  • Wear shoes you can stand up in for a long time.
  • Choose clothing appropriate for the work you will be doing that day. If your day includes teaching dance, or sport, wear or pack something appropriate.
  • Smart jeans in a dark denim are acceptable in most NSW public schools, but ripped, torn or frayed jeans are best avoided.

Update: Since writing this post, a number of readers have commented on the dress code requirements for private schools. Find out more about what private schools like their teachers to wear in the comments section.

This was the fourth post in a series of advice for new teachers. For more, see my New Teachers page.


10 thoughts on “Advice to New Teachers: Clothing Matters

  1. Hi Michelle,
    Great post! I work in a Victorian private school and from what you’ve written it sounds like we have similar guidelines.
    We have a no-denim,no singlet top,no open-tied shoe rule. That being said,we’re not a highly prestigious school!
    PE teachers are really the only teachers at our school to wear Polo shirts/t-shirts,as most males west a short-sleeved dress shirt. I often wear sandals as we live in a very hot climate and many other staff do to!

    Hope this answered your question!

    • michelle says:

      Thanks Fiona for your detailed answer. I too presume that there may be a no sandal rule and no singlet tops. I wonder if I can wear smart dresses without sleeves? I will play it safe for the first couple of weeks anyway and Im sure guidelines will be issued.

      Thanks again

    • It sounds like it. Some of the private school teachers I’ve been speaking to have guidelines like, must have sleeves, wear pantyhose at PT meetings and one even had a requirement for academic gowns – kind of like Hogwarts!

      I imagine if your school is that strict, they’ll issue you with guidelines early on. Good luck with it and congratulations on the job!

  2. Hi Michelle,

    Our school is a private, co-educational school in Queensland.
    For females, the following guidelines apply:
    No singlets (sleeveless ok)
    No 3/4 pants (long pants or skirts)
    There is some consternation about shoes. The rules state appropriate and all shoes must have a heel strap, though the latest pictoral guideline showed only heeled shoes as being acceptable, though it doesn’t seem to be enforced.
    For formal occasions, parent meetins, formal functions a more formal dress code is expected (including stockings if wearing skirts, and a jacket/long sleeved shirt).
    For males:
    Smart/buisness casual is recommended. Long pants only. Collared, button up shirts.
    Collar and tie/jacket for formal occasions and parent meetings.

    Sport/PE days are a little more relaxed. While offically no 3/4 pants rule still applies, many female staff wear 3/4 pants as an alternative to shorts. School branded polos are recommended for male and female staff on these days, and for PE staff.

    If you have any other questions, I’m happy to answer. When asked for beginning teachers in a private school, I direct them to Jaqui E as a guide. Fill your wardrobe with black skirts/long pants, and change shirts with the season.

    • will says:

      In NSW, heeled shoes are not usually enforced as principals do not care……until an incident occurs. Workcover can fine you for not complying with WHS and you will probably be refused workers compensation. I know of one incident where this has happened to a teacher wearing high heels. End result was no pay for six weeks while waiting for an ankle to heal and a $3000 fine to boot…..pun intended.
      On the flip side, if you ask for PPE footwear to be provided (mandatory for them to provide it to workers) you will probably be told to buy it yourself.

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