I get this question about once a year from someone who is either about to start teaching as a new professor or a graduate school teaching assistant–what should be on my list of clothing for starting out as a teacher, especially if I’m starting from scratch on professional clothes? I know many of us are not in a spot to spend on clothing right now, but I so love thinking of mix and match outfits and business clothing capsule wardrobes–and chances are you already own some of these items. So, here are my 10 items I would suggest for starting out as a new teacher, linked for those on a budget and those interested in investing in some ethical clothing!
Here are all the items I would chose if I had to do it all over again, based on what gets worn the most:
-A killer blazer: When I’m tired, a blazer is the absolute thing I need to put on. When an outfit doesn’t feel done or feels too casual, a blazer absolutely solves most problems. I would recommend a classic black one (in whatever style is most “you”–mine is oversized and double breasted which I think is a bit more casual) plus one color or pattern. Plaid is always a fun choice for living that academic life. Here’s my budget pick (also in plus sizes) and my investment pick (above).
-A white dressy shirt: Is it a bit boring? Yes. Do I reach for mine constantly? Yes. You could choose a button up but I prefer to skip that so I never wonder if a button has come undone in class. I also love a drop sleeve–it hides sweat stains. Why is teaching sweat the worst?! For that reason I now own two sweatproof undershirts. Budget pick/investment pick.
-A sleeveless top: Teaching. sweat. is. the. worst. A sleeveless button up avoids that problem, is a cool layer under blazers and sweaters, and is still appropriate when it’s really hot out. Budget pick/investment pick.
-Skinny dress pants: According to my wardrobe tracker I have worn black skinny dress pants 32 times this season. Are they exciting? No. Are they easy? Yes. The fit really matters for me as it turns out. My favorite budget pick is this pair and my investment choice would be these!
-Point-toe flats: Leather flats are a true luxury item for me (coming from a lifetime shopping the Target shoe aisle…which I still love). But comfy shoes that still feel put together are a must (especially if you pace in the classroom like I do). I wear this pair so unbelievably often (they run BIG! I wear a 9.5 in them and I am usually a 10.5!) but here is a bit more of an investment pick.
-A midi dress: A midi dress is easy coverage for teaching. This gingham one would go with just about anything, and I’ve been lusting after this a bit pricier option for months!
-A work bag: Oooh people ask me what bag to pick frequently and as a Purse Person I am here for this conversation. My Herschel was a great grad school backpack choice (the leather straps give it something a little extra and I am still carrying it 7 years later!!!) but I now use this Madewell tote daily (found on Poshmark).
-A bright sweater: I own two secondhand Tippi sweaters from J. Crew and they get a ton of use: they have a 3/4 sleeve which is perfect for not overheating in class and they are a crewneck so they layer with button ups well. Because a sweater is the top layer and therefore what most people will see anyway I like to pick a favorite color like maroon or teal. Budget pick (but really, type in “tippi” on Poshmark)/investment pick (I can attest this is the softest sweater/top).
-An A-line skirt: Pencil skirts always migrate around my waist like they are trying to pull a 180, and I don’t like things that constrict movement for teaching anyway. Hence, an a-line skirt. Mine is midi length and white and makes me feel put together always and looks basically like this one but if I was going to invest in a second one I would pick a soft version like this.
-A giant desk sweater: I keep an oversized cardigan at school (I am now realizing this entire list is based on me complaining about temperature, oh well). It’s great for writing and grading but more often than not also comes to class with me because let’s face it teaching feels super vulnerable and some days you just need a giant cardigan. I thrifted this budget pick and it is surprisingly amazing and I wear it every day at my desk. I would call this the investment pick but Pact is a great pricepoint for those starting to shop ethically so win win!
If you’re starting to teach in the fall, I hope this list gets you started. Beginning to teach in grad school was both incredibly nerve-wracking and a thrill, and it just gets better every year.
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3 thoughts on “My Starter Teacher Wardrobe: 10 items that mix and match for new teachers and professors”
THIS IS SO HELPFUL!!!!
Thanks for this! I have a question for you, since I am about to start my first TT job this fall (yay!!). I’m in the humanities, and I’ve noticed many of your outfits are a bit more formal/businessy than what I usually wear, and what I often see in my departments (I’ve taught at 2 different universities since I got my PhD). This is not a criticism by the way, I love your style! Do you feel that your outfit choices reflect the standard of dress in your academic discipline, or the culture of your campus, or both? Or maybe I just dress down too much, haha! But I’m interested to know what most impacts your sense of what is appropriate for you in your position. Thanks!!
Hi! I used to be way more casual–both my previous institutions were jeans and sneakers places! But now I’m in a dept where people wear dress pants/blazers. So I’m trying to go with the flow but also see what boundaries I can push hehe.