I find dressing for work to be stressful. In my previous life I worked in corporate America. Even though at the time I thought that putting together an outfit was challenging for an office environment, I’ve found that dressing for a school environment is more tricky. I want to look professional, but I also work with little kids, which means that they can be messy or snotty or both.
If you work in a setting where you can wear scrubs, consider yourself lucky. You can’t wear scrubs to school! But there is latitude given to people who are therapists. For example, physical therapists can and should wear comfortable khakis and polos to work every day. They get down on the floor with their patients and so PTs should wear practical clothes.
Planning what to wear each day takes more energy than I’d really like to spend and it’s also costly if you try to keep up with the trends. I think that most employees should stay away from trendy items. They can be expensive and then they can only be worn for one or maybe two seasons. Buy the basics and you will have your bases covered.
1) Dressy tanks or shells with cardigans
Layering is critical in a school environment. I spent six years working in Chicago Public Schools, which are mostly without air conditioning. However, many administrators did have air conditioning so I found myself going from my own sweltering office on the second or third floor to a meeting in an air-conditioned space on ground level. The dressy tank or shell looks great without the cardigan for the times you need to be sleeveless, but a classic black cardigan pairs beautifully for that IEP meeting down the hall in an air conditioned room. (Source: Ann Taylor)
2) Casual jackets
I love the look of a casual jacket over pants — but I’m not referring to a jacket or blazer you might wear to an interview. Like you can see above, I have this blue jacket that’s stretch cotton that I adore. It’s nice and low key, but I don’t look sloppy when I wear it. At least, I don’t think I do! (Source: Kohl’s)
3) The black turtleneck with a long skirt (and boots)
If I look proud of myself in this picture, I guess I am. Steve Jobs was right: you can’t go wrong with a black turtleneck. I love pairing it with my favorite floral skirt and black boots. But the turtleneck goes nicely with brightly colored pants as well. (Source: Kohl’s)
4) Printed Scarves
I know I said not to buy or wear trendy things to work. And I know that scarves are pretty much on point at the moment, but I’ve seen speech paths rockin scarves for years in a way that makes a professional statement. The scarf in the above picture I purchased in Spain in 1996. It looks like random colorful print, but the pattern is of the 101 Dalmations. Scarves are also helpful if you feel body conscious. (Source: Spain, but scarves are everywhere)
5) Long, draped sweaters
Leggings or skinny pants/jeans are an “in” item at the moment, but there’s nothing worse than seeing a coworker’s butt in leggings/skinny pants/jeans. I don’t care if it’s a little or a big butt, it’s not professional to put your rear on display at work. Long, draped sweaters save the day. You can keep your butt covered while still being stylish. (Source: Gap)
Overall, my wardrobe is far from perfect but over the years I think I’ve struck a balance between looking professional for work and keeping it practical working with kids. Entering a preschool classroom means that I have to be on the floor or by the sand/ water tables and so fancy clothes are not an option. I hope that I’ve inspired you with my clothing tips. Please feel free to share your wardrobe short-cuts in the comment section!
Bernadette Lora says
Hi! I am very interested in becoming a bilingual speech pathologist. You seem like you love your job. I was wondering if you could give me some first hand information on how the job is and your feelings about it. Thank you so much
Sarah Wu says
Thanks for reaching out to me! I’m in the process of putting together an ebook about becoming a speech path. I’ll keep you updated!