Photos by Scott Buschman
Back-to-school readiness isn’t just about classroom preparation and lesson planning. It’s also about what you wear, so you can start the school year feeling confident and comfortable. This may involve buying new clothing items, discarding others, and accessorizing old favorites. It matters, because what you wear to school tells others about who you are.
For those new to the profession, it’s challenging to create a wardrobe on a budget — and what’s acceptable in a corporate office or on a college student is not always appropriate in your own classroom.
The good news: It’s entirely possible to look trendy without breaking the bank, say two CTA members who regularly offer style advice to educators via YouTube vlogs (video blogs). Recently they agreed to an impromptu photo shoot with the California Educator, bringing some of their fashion favorites from closet to classroom.
Their districts are 30 miles apart, but Megan Forbes and La Tawnya Robinson enjoy getting together for coffee and bouncing ideas off each other when it comes to fashion, classroom décor, staying organized, maintaining a balance between work and life, and the latest techie trends. It should be noted that the YouTube stars could easily have become rivals, but instead reached out to each other on social media and became friends — demonstrating character traits they hope to instill in students.
Here is some advice from these fashionistas.
English teacher at First Avenue Middle School, Arcadia Teachers Association. Her vlog, Too Cool for Middle School, can be viewed at youtube.com/toocoolformiddleschoolblog, or visit her on Instagram @toocoolformiddleschool.
Teachers can be fashionable, even on a budget, says Forbes, who enjoys shopping at Target, Marshalls and Kohl’s. Purchasing from fair trade and sustainable companies — such as Carly Jean Los Angeles, Krochet Kids and Elegantees — is also a priority.
Forbes, who starts her fifth year of teaching this fall, believes in having a capsule wardrobe. This means fewer clothing items that cost a bit more — but quality ones that mix and match well. Knowing she can grab most anything out of her closet and have it look good with most other pieces makes getting ready for work much easier for Forbes, a mother of a 2-year-old.
A capsule wardrobe doesn’t mean looking the same every day, insists Forbes, a petite woman who always looks crisp and put together.
“Students notice,” she observes. “I had a teacher in middle school who wore the same pants every day. I don’t know if they were the exact same pair or he had multiple pairs, but I can still remember students talking about it.”
She advises educators to be careful about lower necklines and low-waist pants, which may look fine when standing up, but present problems when bending over to help students. “And teachers do a lot of bending,” she says.
Five teacher wardrobe staples:
- Long, neutral-colored, flowy, button-down-collared shirts and tunics — with tank tops underneath if necessary — provide comfort and freedom of movement. Shirts with buttons to adjust sleeve length allow the same shirt to look both short- and long-sleeved.
- Topping them with different cardigans offers a variety of looks that can dress up any outfit. Bright patterned cardigans are fun, but she has a variety of solids, too. “You may have to wear your school colors, or red for Red Ribbon Week, and if I don’t want to have my whole outfit centered on a particular color, I can wear black pants, a white shirt and the colored cardigan.”
- Her fitted “go-to” pants are black skinny slacks, which go with any shoes — or boots.
- There’s nothing like a “one-step” dress with sleeves to feel comfortable, she adds. Shorter dresses can be worn with leggings.
- “I love shoes that are comfortable the whole day. It’s important, because teachers are on their feet all day.” Her favorite footwear includes the ballet slipper look of Tieks, which are expensive, but extremely comfortable and a “splurge.” She also likes Converse tennies.
- Wear colorful shoes to jazz up any outfit.
- Experiment to find out what kind of styles work well with your body shape. “Instead of focusing on what’s in fashion, I try to focus on what suits me.”
- Organize a clothing and accessories swap with colleagues at someone’s home. Remaining items can be brought to the teachers’ lounge for those unable to attend the swap, or donated to charity.
- “It’s important to wear something that makes you feel good every day, so you can be your happiest, most confident, comfortable self.”
La Tawnya Robinson
Third-grade teacher at Falcon Ridge Elementary School in Fontana, Etiwanda Teachers Association. To see her vlog, go to youtube.com and search for SmartieStyle, or check her out on Instagram @smartiestyle.
As a student, Robinson did not wear all of her new back-to-school clothes at the beginning of the year. She would spread them out over time.
“I felt like once I’d worn all my new clothes during the first few weeks of school, the school year was over,” she laughs.
Robinson still avoids wearing all her back-to-school items at the beginning of the year. She has an extensive wardrobe, and says she lacks discipline for a capsule wardrobe. Because she teaches young children, the clothing she buys is durable and easy to clean. Elementary teachers tend to go through more clothes.
“With younger kids, you’re going to get dirty,” says Robinson, who has taught various elementary grade levels during her 13 years in the profession. “You can get glue, paint and grape juice all over you. With really young kids, they may wipe their noses on you. So you don’t want to wear anything too fancy.”
It can be challenging to look both stylish and appropriate, comments Robinson. “You don’t want to show too much skin, and the clothes in stores can be revealing. It can also be hard to find jeans that are not distressed [ripped]. In our district, principals do not like fraying or ripped jeans.”
Another challenge for her: “The popular style is skinny pants, and I don’t have a skinny body.”
Her favorite stores are Old Navy, Target and H&M, but she likes any store that is reasonably priced. When buying shoes, she doesn’t go cheap, because she wants to be comfortable.
While her clothing tends to be in neutral shades, she brightens up her look by coloring her hair, which happens to be purple at the moment.
“I do change my hair color quite a bit, and even with brightly colored hair you can look professional and fun at the same time.”
- Long, flowy cardigans that can go with a white or other solid-colored top.
- Jessica Simpson jeans, which fit her curvy body type.
- Long cotton dresses for hot days that provide freedom of movement and comfort.
- Accessories galore to change the look of fashion favorites. “I love adding a belt or scarf or jewelry to my outfit. With accessories you can make your clothes look new, even if they aren’t.”
- Blazers to dress up shirt and pants, which she calls her “going to the district office” look.
- “Go to a store and look at the mannequins to see what coordinates well. I replicate things I see on mannequins that I wouldn’t have thought of doing myself.”
- Avoid clothing that needs dry cleaning or ironing.
- Find inspiration online through Pinterest, magazines, other vlogs (current favorite: @barbiestyle on Instagram).
- “Remember that you are a professional, and if you want people to perceive you that way, you must dress the part.”
- When shopping, search for clothing to mix and match with items you already own.
- Visit stores as seasons change, for discounts and clearance items.
Appreciate Each Other
Megan Forbes and La Tawnya Robinson came together with several other educator vloggers for Teacher Appreciation Week in May. Each person drew a name of another in the group, but kept it secret and shopped for a week’s worth of goodies specifically tailored to their giftee. Themes for each day’s gift:
- Day 1: Note and small item celebrating the educator.
- Day 2: Book the giver or their students greatly enjoyed.
- Day 3: School supply you can’t live without.
- Day 4: Treat to eat.
- Day 5: “The big reveal” — something special just for the giftee, along with a card identifying the giver.
The collaboration was a fun way to show and tell each other how much their colleague was valued and appreciated, and can be easily replicated by educators everywhere (even sans video).
Teacher Discounts & Access to Savings
Make sure you take advantage of your status as a teacher by asking for discounts at clothing stores. Among those offering discounts with your teacher ID are Ann Taylor Loft, J.Crew, Banana Republic and Eddie Bauer (call first to verify).
You can also use your NEA membership to shop at Click & Save, where you can find discounts from brand-name retailers on clothing, shoes, cosmetics and much more. Go to NEA Member Benefits at neamb.com/discounts.
Finally, remember to check out CTA’s Access to Savings discounts — great deals on shopping (including school supplies), entertainment, dining, lodging, travel and more, available exclusively to members. Here’s just a sampling of the name-brand retailers whose offers can save you money:
bebe Brooks Brothers Calvin Klein Claire’s Dressbarn FILA.com Gymboree Outlet JC Penney Jos. A. Bank Naturalizer Nike.com Men’s Wearhouse Rockport Target Timberland Tommy Hilfiger Van Heusen
To learn more about these discounts and others:
- Visit CTAMemberBenefits.org/Access.
- Log in with your username and password (or sign up if you don’t have a login yet).
- Click the “Enter” button.
- Download the My Deals mobile app.
- Use your email address and CTA Access to Savings password to get started (you may be prompted to enter your Program ID: 200449).
- Show what’s on your phone screen to save.
Go to CTAMemberBenefits.org/Access and start saving today.
Follow the links below to see the other parts of the 2018 “Back to School” feature section.