An “F” in Fashion

I had a nice conversation recently with a student about the image of women in advertising. It’s a great classroom topic that stimulates much discussion about the influences of advertising on our lives. From an academic standpoint, the topic is flexible enough to cover in a history, marketing, psychology, art or sociology class.  Personally, I like to wake-up my 9am Advertising class by showing image after image of half-naked women in pop-culture ads. This ensures everyone is shocked into consciousness and slightly uncomfortable. I employ this technique at the end of the semester when students have just about had it with me.

As many times as I’ve taught a lesson on the portrayal of women in advertising, it always gets me thinking.  Am I influenced by what students wear – female and male? Do my interactions with a student change with their changing attire? Am I more generous with my grading based on a student’s ratio of fabric to exposed skin or jeans to exposed boxers?

I’d like to think I’m fairly immune at this point as I’ve seen a closet full of fashion disasters in my classroom. Students have worn everything from pajamas, costumes, shorts and a tank top in 30 degree weather, baggie pants hanging mid-thigh and tube skirts no wider than a Band-Aid.

Here’s my take on classroom dressing. If you feel awkward, I feel awkward. If you are constantly tugging something up or down, I notice and so do the other students. A suggestion to consider – college might be a good time to test the concept of presenting yourself professionally to those who are evaluating you on your brains.  I’m not asking you to wear a suit. I just don’t want to be able to read the fine print on your hidden tattoo.

shutterstock_151294550   Now a question for students – do you judge teachers by what they wear?

  • Hayley315

    Well I’m grateful for taking this class online than in person especially during the summer days 🙂
    I guess subconsciously I might judge a teacher based on what she/he wears. I say subconsciously because my initial thought was no – but then I recall making a link between my grandma and my last teacher. Could’ve potentially been because of the way she was dressed. So the answer is yes, I have judged or made inferences based on a teachers appearance.

  • BSeelick

    Given the fact that teachers may often serve as both advisors and mentors to students, it is important for them to recognize that what they do may be as important to the success of their students as what they teach in the classroom. Most teachers recognize the importance of professionalism to their own success and should recognize its perceived importance to their students. If teachers want to be taken seriously, they need to dress the part. Our appearance determines the first impression we make on others. Professional dress for teachers is not only necessary, but shows respect for the school and can have a positive impact on students. Students may have a higher opinion of their educational experience including the reputation of the institution as well as the value and quality of their education when their teacher is dressed appropriately.

    If a school dress code exists, it should be followed, and teachers should learn to balance professionalism with comfort. Creativity and individualism in dress need not be sacrificed as long as professionalism is maintained. Further, dress can sometimes depend on the demographics of the school; in an upper socioeconomic area, a teacher dress code can be affordable as well as adhered to, while at an inner-city school, a dress code may not be a priority, with the main challenge finding experienced, qualified teachers and improving student success.


    Maintaining a professional appearance is important in the classroom, especially for teachers. In my experience, gaining the respect and attention of a student can be greatly affected by attire. To me, a teacher who dressed sloppily would be perceived as unprepared and unserious. More than likely, a student will be more eager to hear teachers’ experiences and opinions if they are dressed appropriately. For example, advice on how to be noticed by bosses would be more credible to me from a teacher who is dressed in a suit verses a t-shirt and jeans. Lastly, many students go to school to better their lives in the future. Motivation to learn and participate would be greater for me if a teacher dressed in a way that I would want to represent myself to others.

  • dreynolds1

    Upon the first meetings with my new professors each semester, I have noticed that I definitely do make judgements about them based on their appearance, especially how they dress. The majority of the time, how the professor presents themselves, specifically on the first day, is indicative of how the remainder of the course will go. Their clothing and demeanor usually can provide a bit of insight on the difficulty of the course and how qualified the professor might be. If the professor comes to class dressed in professional attire, assumptions of a stricter and more difficult course load usually arise. Likewise, if the professor has a very casual appearance, I may perceive them as being more lenient with the requirements of the class. We all naturally categorize people when we first meet them. These preliminary judgements may be completely false, but are present and do skew our subsequent understanding of a person.

  • CPich23

    Walking into the classroom especially for the first time, you are expected to make a good impression whether you are the teacher or the student. In todays day and age people are beyond judgmental when they first see you. The way a teacher looks can also reflect on the way a teacher acts and or presents his or her self. I know that for me, if my mood is not a good mood ill dress a little sloppier if i am in a good mood i will dress better. I have had teachers in the past that did not dress nice to class at all. I never once took them seriously. Overall i believe that a teacher needs to come to class dressed nicely. Yes i also believe in casual fridays or any other days but for 3/4 of the year you need to come prepared and dressed appropriately.

  • MariaClara

    I would love to say that people are not judged by their appearance. And how I wish that was true! Unfortunately, we live in a world where you are told even how to dress.
    Most of the places people usually go have their own dress code. I am not saying that a person should use a mini skirt and even ‘minier’ top to church, we also need to use our sense, but there should not be such conventions.
    A person does not need to be wearing a suit to be the best professor in college.
    And that is a good point that I would like to talk about. Everyone keeps saying that teachers need to dress professionally, and as I read, I kept on thinking on a fashion teacher wearing really ‘unusual’ clothes. Would you consider it professional?
    I believe people need to follow these conventions (and I am probably going to follow them too for a while) just until they have reached a certain point. For example, you have to dress accordingly for a job interview. Even though you do not believe in the convention, you will not risk the opportunity of getting a great job just to show your disapproval. But once you got your own firm, you are the one who dictates, and you can dress the way you want, and set up a ‘no dress code’ politic for the company.
    Everyone is caught judging people by their appearance, and honestly, it is not our fault. We live in a society that tries to impose on us all the time the way we should dress and look. Apparently, they are doing a great job!

  • rnelson91295

    The idea of professionalism presents itself in two different ways. Some people believe professionalism only needs to exist when the scenario calls for it, such as a work setting or a job interview. Others believe professionalism is a consistent theme in their lives, as they are always expected to uphold the same standard they would at work and their demeanor is often serious and serves an objective purpose. People which uphold the latter idea of professionalism can be pretty boring to hang around, obviously. Part of the reason being that those people often let their work mentality interfere with their personal lives, as they expect everyone to hold them to the same expectations their coworkers do. That being said, the way you dress is a significant factor in expressing professionalism. Someone who belongs to the former group of people will generally dress for the situation, but not put much thought into casual scenarios and will dress freely. Someone who belongs to the latter would dress explicitly for what they are planning to do, rarely letting themselves be seen in clothes they just “threw on.” The question is whether a classroom is an environment where clothes can just be “thrown on” without care for whether you exhibit professionalism or not. I think that the answer to this varies between students and teachers. Students in a college classroom environment often don’t care for anything that doesn’t serve an objective purpose. They need their pencils, pens, and notebooks for taking notes and participating. In a student’s mind, what they wear has no weight on their classroom performance and they aren’t expected to dress to a standard, so they often will dress as if they didn’t plan on leaving the house. I think a lot of factors play into this, however, such as whether a student is looking to make a good impression on a teacher, the size of the class (which dictates how much attention is being paid to the student individually), and how much involvement a student expresses among their peers. A student who sees the classroom as a way to convey professionalism should be paying attention to how they dress. A student who sees attending class as a way to take notes and assessments, refusing to factor how they present themselves, will not pay much attention to this. Everyone is different and students will abide by the standards they set for themselves in terms of how they dress. With this in mind, this is where the line is drawn between students and teachers. While students set their own standards for how they present themselves, teachers are held by the standards of the students and the school. A teacher’s classroom is their workplace and they are surrounded by a body of people who are expected to dedicate their attention to the teacher. Due to this, I would personally expect a teacher to dress as if they are trying to convey professionalism. Teachers are not assessed by grades, they are assessed based on how they present themselves to their classroom and the efficiency of their teaching. The main thing that should be capturing a student’s attention is the information that is presented in a classroom, rather than the person presenting it. I believe that teachers should compose themselves in a way which ensures this, which includes dressing for a work environment.

  • Emily Rolnick

    I feel that it shouldn’t matter what someone wears to class, as long as they’re comfortable. How you look is a reflection on yourself. Today, I woke up, threw on sweatpants, and went to class. I got very little sleep, and worked the night before. I was exhausted, and it showed. But believe me, I was comfortable. Usually, I like to put on a cute top and jeans. Nothing that shows a lot of skin, but nothing that makes me look like my mother and I shop together. I feel like school clothes are tough, especially in college. When I see a girl wearing close to nothing, paired with 6inch stilettos, I am definitely judging her. But I’m judging her, because my question is how is she comfortable? She looks like she’s headed for the club at 10am on a Tuesday when really, she’s going to listen to a teacher lecture. I also feel that if someone were to show up in a suit and tie, I would also be asking how is he possibly comfortable? I feel like for college, you should dress for the occasion. We are there to sit still, and listen, and learn. I would much rather do that in jeans opposed to something uncomfortable. When I see teachers in suits, I literally think to myself “they should be in jeans”. I feel that wherever you go, your clothes should be appropriate and comfortable. School should be a casual look! But I definitely think that clothes can reflect your own feelings about yourself. Anyone else’s feelings are irrelevant!

  • stephwitt3

    This post really made me thin about what I, myself wear to class everyday. I am usually pretty comfortable, but I still try to be somewhat trendy. I can say that I have never been “hanging out” in my clothing because it’s just not comfortable, not flattering, and not appealing to anyone. As I walk around campus this day, I look at people sometimes like “Seriously”? With blue hair, ripped clothing, pants hanging below the waist with their underwear to match their shoes, I wonder, does anyone really want attention for that? I understand that clothing and image is a way to express our individual personality, but at the end of the day, is it working?
    Students are not the only ones who take part in this behavior, some teachers have a unique style all their own. My morning teacher for example, wear pant suits with coordinating jackets. I often just want to take her to the store and dress her up in trendier, more modern clothing, that will infact make her look more young and hip. I would say her clothing is distracting is some way, not in a negative way, but I often sit there and wonder, how long ago did she buy that? And sometimes I would even love to have some of these vintage pieces. Another professor of mine dresses very conservatively, but never in pants. I often want to update her look as well, but I obviously know that will never happen.

    So I see wardrobes as distracting no matter what they are, even if they are the norm. We as society are always judging a person by their looks, and teachers are no different. I mean, they are right in our faces for the whole class, how can we not start to look at what they are wearing and judge it accordingly?
    Something does have to be different to be judged. We as a society are distracted by everything.

  • Kristine Pulaski

    This is my second time reading this article, first time
    commenting. I have used this article for my Pinterest fashion board as it
    really got me thinking.

    Often at school and in life in general I look at other
    people and think “are you really wearing that right now”. Here is my
    take on college fashion.

    You are an adult dress like one. Pajamas and excessive
    exposed skin is not okay for a regular day forget about even school. Pajamas
    make me think the person is lazy, tired, or sick. If you are wearing pajamas
    plan on me asking you if you are okay, not in a rude way but I will assume you’re
    tired or sick. Next excessive exposed skin makes me feel uncomfortable for the
    person. I can’t stand woman with massive cleavage every day or the girls
    wearing backless shirts with their bras showing. Even the unintentional one of
    the thong showing, please don’t you feel the breeze. Finally oversized heels.
    You are a college student walking around campus not a runway.

    Quickly touching on guys fashion before moving on, college men
    need to stop wearing sagging pants. How are you ever going to get a job looking
    like that?

    My advice on how you should dress; be you but be
    comfortable. Pajamas are the exception. Personally I love my oversized sweaters
    especially for school. I can layer them or just wear that one top but either
    way my teacher and colleges will be focused on me and not an obnoxious fashion
    statement I am trying to make. If you really have a hard time trying to figure
    out how to dress you can always resort in professional work clothes.

  • Chloe Rissenberg

    In my humble opinion, I really believe that dressing appropriately for whatever you are doing is simply polite, nothing more, nothing less. It shows a basic level of person-to-person and professional respect and allows for a harmonious, positive, focused experience all around. As a fashion merchandising student myself, I enjoy seeing people looking comfortable, confident, and personable in their clothes. There is a HUGE difference between being stylish, unique, or just basic and classic and being crazy or apathetic. It drives me up the walls when people mistake being themselves with being trashy, depressed, lazy, or downright ridiculous. There is always a way to find your voice in fashion without making people (and especially professors) fight the urge to wince.

    This goes for all types of outlandish behavior in fashion. Fashion is certainly a form of creative and personal expression and there is a time and place for perhaps every fashion urge we might have. Save your urge to show cleavage and skin for the bedroom or nightclub, and cover up for class, because your classmates do not care and even if your crush is in class, he (or she) is likely going to be slightly disturbed and lose respect. If you feel like walking in wearing pjs, please bear in mind that we are all pulling ourselves out of bed during college years and really don’t want to drag our feet out the door. Think about what it’s going to be like when you are working full time and have to put on a suit or professional uniform. We don’t have to wear designer business suits or uniforms every day to class, so consider it a luxury you can still wear a clean sweatshirt and jeans or leggings if you feel the urge to stay comfy. You can put your pjs back on when you get home!!

    I really get the point that we should not judge people based on what they are wearing, but I think the real question is how do WE truly feel about the way we are presenting ourselves to the outside world? A part of growing up is realizing that other’s treat us the way we treat ourselves and to really be the best versions of ourselves we need to give off the right impression at the right time. Whether he or she denies or blocks it out, your professor and/or colleagues will get a vibe from your outfit and like it or not, it changes things.

    As for professors, I REALLY appreciate it when professors show up looking professional. If this sounds shallow, so be it, but it is a huge turn off and distraction when teachers don’t look ready to teach or like they don’t belong to the industry which they are professing. No one has to look like their entire wardrobe is from PRADA but a level of class and sophistication can give everyone involved a heightened sense of interest, enthusiasm, and confidence, and that is after all, what we need to enter the professional world head on.

  • Saray

    I have mixed feelings about this post. I do agree with the fact that we are young adults, and we should start dressing more professional. But I believe that we should maintain our own identity in the process. We should not be judging people because the way they dress. Maybe that girl that is showing more skin is really smart, and she has a high GPA. Don’t let stereotypes define you!

  • Danielle Moky

    I agree and disagree with this post. Many people come from different backgrounds and environments so when it comes to dressing, I try to be one not to judge. You don’t know everyone’s story. I grew up in a predominately rich neighborhood so you always your best to class. So I have always dressed professional in a way, but everyone has those “sweats kinda day.” Not everyone can wear jeans everyday. Presentation is key because in this world there are people who judge. Fashion has always been considered an issue in schools because it could be distracting. But no matter what people will always be distracting even with uniforms, it is the little things, the details like accessories. Anything could be distracting. I hands down agree with the covering up part about fashion, I believe showing midriff, too much cleavage, sagging pants, etc. are inappropriate for a classroom setting. You can’t eliminate the fashion, however you could decrease distraction.