Must-have Wardrobe Basics: Teaching

Today, as I was once again stock-piling solid white camisoles, it occurred to me that when I was a brand-new teacher, I would have loved for someone to take me shopping and tell me all the the things I absolutely needed to have for my upcoming job. I feel like I have a closet full of clothes that I naively thought would be totally school-appropriate, comfortable, stylish and fun. I have to admit it was hit-or-miss most of the time. It’s true, there are some items that I bought for my first teaching job that still make an appearance in my weekly cycle of dress. There are a lot more that, unfortunately, have gone in the Goodwill pile after one or two wears.
It’s difficult to find the balance between style, function, and propriety, but I promise it can be done. Whether you are building your teaching wardrobe for the first time or just refreshing one that badly needs it, here is my basic list of must-haves:

White Cami:

Be careful. You can’t just go out and buy the first cami you find. I wear a solid white camisole underneath my shirt almost every day. It covers up cleavage and saves you from “plumbing” (showing your crack when you bend down to your student’s height). It also smooths out any bra lines and sucks you in a little when you shouldn’t have had that extra scoop of ice cream after dinner last night. Many camis are too short or low-cut on their own to help you out at all. Try to find a long-line camisole that isn’t too loose but doesn’t cut off circulation, either. This one is from Kohl’s. I’ve also seen some good ones at The Gap. I try to buy about 6 at time. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Chinos in black, gray, and khaki:

Classic Khaki Pants: The Gap, $49.99

I love these things for sooo many reasons. First, the chino is a really classic pant that’s super-easy to wash and generally has a flattering fit. If one cut isn’t your style, there’s a big possibility that you’ll be able to find your favorite silhouette in the same type of fabric. Also, you can wear heels, flats, or sandals with them so they’re pretty versatile. They’re also really comfortable and allow you to go from floor to desk without a lot of wrinkling or readjusting. Luckily, unless you have a big meeting or a conference with parents, teaching doesn’t require fancy shmancy suits that can be uncomfortable and difficult to care for. At least in my school, the dress code is more casual than that. So, I wear these at least 3 days a week.

Cardigans in all colors:

Solid button-front cardigan: The Gap, $39.95

I know, I know, the cardigan is tell-tale nerd wear, but it allows you to be a lot more flexible with what you already have in your wardrobe. I bought a lot of fun tank-tops over the summer that I love but they just aren’t practical school or cold weather attire- unless you have a nifty cardigan to go over them. Also, when I teach, my body temperature fluctuates a ton. For some reason, I feel like the school is always cold but moving around a lot with the kids warms me up quickly. It’s nice to have the ability to take off or put on layers when I feel like it. I buy basic cardigans in several colors, but it’s nice to have a few fun ones to be the centerpiece of your outfit, also. My favorites are from The Loft, The Limited, and The Gap.


Tipsy Pink Flats: Kate Spade, $198

I know several of you girls practically sleep in heels but trust me when I tell you, at the end of a long day on your feet, you will be thankful you wore flats. While I don’t think a bit of a heel will hurt (especially if it’s a wedge), I save my stilettos for the weekend. Still, my shoes are where I can let most of my personality come out and fortunately, there are so many styles, prints, and patterns out there that I can really do that. Invest in some high-quality black and brown flats and then go crazy with some colorful shoes that will really pop. A little hint: the pointy-toed version will immediately dress up a more casual outfit.

One or two nice pairs of jeans:

1969 Perfect Boot Jeans: The Gap, $69.95

Even on casual days (Yay for casual days!) you can’t wear your ripped, too-tight weekend jeans to work. Having one or two nice pairs of jeans on hand helps give you a casual, polished look on Fridays.


Classy Leggings

Cashmere cardigan, £125
Marc by Marc Jacobs embroidered shirt, £29
Plein Sud skinny pants, $226
Flat shoes, 20 AUD
Heart necklace, $5.99

I have never been comfortable wearing leggings under a tunic or long sweatshirt, but that may be because I’m tall. Many of my teacher friends have put together some fabulous outfits with the ever-comfortable legging. I especially love the belted sweater, legging, and high boot look. I prefer to wear mine under dresses to extend their life into a little bit chillier weather. Either way, you can’t go wrong as long as you follow this one rule. Right hand up and repeat after me ladies: “I will not wear leggings without a top that covers up my pelvic region.” Even if you are rail-thin, this is just not an OK look. Leggings are not pants. Sorry.


Ink Blot Scarf: The Limited, $32.90

This is my favorite (and I believe one of the most important) parts of my teaching wardrobe. If you don’t have something fun to dress up the basics you will go nuts with boredom! I promise to do an entire post on the perfect accessories for an awesome teaching wardrobe, but for now, just know that there are a few key pieces: scarves, belts, and jewelry. OK that’s it. You’ll just have to read the accessories post when I write it for more.

Remember: These basics are where you are going to need to splurge a little. Think of it as an investment. These are the pieces that aren’t going to go out of style. Year after year, you will need cardigans, flats, chinos, etc. You don’t want them falling apart after six months or you will be shopping all the time and probably spending more money in the long run. Stick with simple stuff that looks good and you can build your accessories around those basics to make your wardrobe more exciting.

Now for a little freebie!!! When you do take the plunge to put together your awesome new wardrobe, print out and take this list with you to make sure you get all the little details checked off. Keep track of your expenses, too. That way you’ll know about how much is reasonable for a nice cardigan when you need to rebuild your wardrobe (way) down the line.

Shopping List

Click here for a larger downloadable pdf version of the above document.