Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
Most teachers will probably tell you that shaping young minds is an honor, and ballpoint pen explosions in your shirt pocket just come with the territory. No matter the grade or subject, educators need to juggle a variety of clothing requirements on the day-to-day: appropriately covered but not uncomfortable, not too stiff but not too distracting, and above all, easy to wash — especially if you’re teaching children who will speckle your clothes with Magic Marker stains. Oh, and everything you wear has to be affordable on a teacher’s salary.
We spoke with eight teachers prepping kids on everything from nap time to the SATs about where they shop for the classroom.
Joanna, Connecticut, kindergarten teacher
I don’t shop at high-end stores due to the fact that I work with little people who are known to sneeze, cough, pee, and/or vomit unexpectedly. At any given point in the day, I can be covered with glue, juice, or exploding yogurt or fruit cups. As such, I look for inexpensive clothes that are also easy to wash and care for. I tend to shop at Kohl’s, T.J. Maxx, or Marshalls. I look for stylish clothes that won’t break the bank and can be worn more than one year.
I learned about LuLaRoe last year — I like their clothes because they have great prints and are very comfortable. I love the Cassie skirt, which is a pencil skirt that’s very stretchy; it’s perfect for me, since I’m always on the go in the classroom. The Madison skirt is a flowy skirt with pockets that I also like.
Emily, New York, middle school science teacher
I’m the science chair at a small private school in an old mansion, so temperatures can vary wildly. Plus, I take my classes outside a lot! So I prefer short-sleeved dresses and sweaters pretty much year-round. In the winter, I wear them with opaque tights and boots; I’m on my feet all day, so I wear Keens all the time. In spring and fall, I wear either J.Crew ballet flats or a pair of shockingly non-frumpy Aerosole wedge sandals.
My school has a much more formal dress code for teachers than a lot of other places I’ve worked, so I tend to wear A-line shapes. There’s nothing less convenient than crouching down to help a student or set up a lab demonstration in a fitted skirt.
When I do wear pants, it’s reliably the Old Navy pixie pants, because they fit like jeans but give the impression that I’ve tried to dress up.
I live far away from malls/major shopping areas except a large outlet complex, so J.Crew Factory is pretty much my standby because it’s the only place I can really try things on.
John, New York, high school math and computer science teacher
I like the Uniqlo dry stretch wool-like pants. They’re super lightweight and breathable, and the stretch is key for bounding up the stairs and squatting down to my students’ level. For shirts, I wear the Brooks Brothers Regent Fit Button-Down Collar Dress Shirt.
I’m tall and slim, so getting the right fit can be difficult, but these shirts fit fantastically well. On our teacher-sized budget, I buy them at an outlet.
Helen, Australia, special education teacher
I support kids who are in the hospital or missing school due to medical or mental health reasons. I work in a children's hospital and on a pediatric ward in an adult hospital.
I think my clothes play a big role in how I connect with my students. In an environment where most of the adults are dressed either very business-like or uniformed as doctors and nurses, I have the opportunity to stand out and make a positive first impression, and my clothes contribute a lot to this. Kids often comment on what I wear, and it’s a good icebreaker to start chatting and then engage them in an activity. I think my casual style of dress compared to all the other adults around them helps me win kids over by not looking too formal or threatening, especially when meeting teens.
My look is pretty casual and very similar to what I wear outside of work. I’ve gotten away with this by always working in public schools (dress codes are much stricter in private schools), and also my current school is quite alternative and unique. I’m one of the youngest people on staff — and the only person who wears unicorn shirts — and people just accept my style as part of my personality.
I nearly always wear black pants or trousers with boots or sneakers and a fitted top or comfy-fit T-shirt. My shirts usually have some sort of picture or design on them, often something pop culture-related. I’ve bought a few shirts online from Redbubble that have educational things on them — science jokes, history gags, etc. Super nerdy.
I have a few shirts from concerts and musicals that I’ve been to as well. My Matilda Trunchbull hoodie is often received pretty well!
Tara, Connecticut, third-grade teacher
I like to keep outfits simple but jazz them up with fun shoes, sneakers, and socks. Kids in third grade LOVE fun accessories and notice everything, so I like to pop on a funky pair of earrings in their honor.
They comment on everything — adding fun socks is easy and goes a long way when trying to impress your average nine-year-old. It’s cool when you have a job where it’s acceptable to wear a scarf that is covered in owls or squirrels.
Sara, Vermont, kindergarten teacher
I teach kindergarten and shop at Ann Taylor Loft, Stitch Fix, LuLaRoe, and Marshalls/T.J. Maxx. My clothes need to be comfortable above all else, but also easy to make into an outfit (half the year I get dressed when it’s still dark outside) and easy to launder. I mostly wear dresses with leggings like these.
Melissa, New York, adult writing teacher
When I taught art and creative writing to kindergarten through fifth-grade kids, I used to love to shop the sales racks at Anthropologie: pencil skirts, ruffly tops. Of course, everything would get ruined by all the markers and paint. I would try to wear the new stuff on days when we were just drawing and save the stuff that had already been ruined for the dirtier days.
Now that I teach writing to adults, I wear whatever — I am talking very casual. Like, leggings or house dresses or whatever. I shop almost exclusively at thrift stores. The other day I wasn’t wearing a bra and I didn’t realize until around lunchtime! It was a day I was teaching a seven-hour intensive course to, like, 25 new students. Oops.
Ebony, California, middle school English teacher
I shop at J.Crew mostly, and then a little Gap, Madewell and Old Navy. My middle school English teacher style is classic/preppy. I like to wear colorful prints and fun blazers paired with fun necklaces, bracelets, and earrings.