What Not To Wear

My social media feeds have been lit up this week over an issue that combines my hometown, fashion, and talking about professionalism–three of my favorite things! So let’s get to it.

An Atlanta teacher went viral after pictures of her posing in the classroom set off a huge debate about whether her outfits were professional. After pictures from her Instagram profile started to circulate on Twitter, the story was soon picked up by media outlets such as The Root and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (which wins the award for best headline, lol). The outfits in question are shown below.

To me, it’s not even a question. While she’s dressed appropriately (i.e., all pertinent body parts are covered) 2 out of 3 of these are definitely not okay. Tight, clingy spandex dresses are not professional attire, across the board. Each of these outfits is tight all over. Yes, she has a beautiful, curvy figure and there’s no hiding that. However, she can work around it. The first pictures is a good example–the tights and cardigan mean no skin is showing and there is something to cover her hips and bust. In the second picture, which I’ll assume is a casual Friday/jeans day, she should have worn a longer, looser shirt or boot cut pants which would balance out her hips and legs. However, there’s no saving that pink dress in the third picture. If you can wear it at the club, DON’T WEAR IT TO WORK. Forever 21 body con dresses are not professional attire!

I’m curvy and also plus size, so I know the struggle. If you have curves, they will always show but you can work around it. Buy shirts a size up so they don’t cling, wear a-line or pleated skirts and boot cut or wide leg pants. If everything is fitted, wear a longline blazer or cardigan.he key is balance. Tight all over is for weekends and after work. You don’t have to wear a potato sack, but in a work setting you can either be fitted on top or fitted on the bottom–not both. You can have bare legs or bare arms or cleavage–just one, not all three. Those are just the rules.

I saw a lot of arguments about how this was body shaming and objectification of women and reeks of rape culture. I hear that, and agree that women’s bodies are always sexualized whereas men’s bodies are not. That’s an unfortunate double standard. But in this case, I don’t think it’s that deep. Rightly or wrongly, certain jobs require us to dress certain ways in order to be taken seriously. If I show up for a hearing in khakis, a polo shirt, and Converse sneakers, the judge is very likely to send me home to change. Is it appropriate (i.e., all body parts covered)? Absolutely. Is it professional and reflective of the role I am playing? Absolutely not. Courtroom and law firm dress code are formal. Nobody wants to pay hundreds of dollars an hour to someone who can’t be bothered to put on a suit.

Like lawyer, and also doctors, teachers have to more than just apply for their job. They must have at least a Bachelor’s degree; pass a state licensing exam; and take continuing education courses to keep their license current. Why so much work? For one, we have specialized knowledge outside of what can be taught on the job. Secondly and most importantly, I think, we take care of the things that people value most: their health; their freedom and property; and their children. Because of that the standard for professionalism is higher and we are expected to conduct ourselves accordingly. In a perfect world, it would be all about competence and people could wear whatever they wanted to work. But that is not the world we live in. Her outfits were cute. She wasn’t wildly inapporpriate. But that doesn’t mean she was professional.

On a final note-for goodness sake, teachers, STOP TAKING SELFIES AT WORK. At least do it in the bathroom or the parking lot or some place that’s not obviously a classroom. These pictures were more than likely taken after dismissal when the kids were out. But when people see a picture of a teacher in a club dress with an alphabet rug on the floor, they’re usually going to assume that she was neglecting her job because the outfit is already sending cues that she doesn’t take it seriously (even if  Additionally I think a large part of the uproar is that she was doing outfit of the day pictures in the classroom– making it seem as if she potentially was neglecting her job. It’s just not a good look.

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