Natascha Chtena is a PhD student in Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. You can follow her on Twitter @nataschachtena
* Sorry guys, I have to say upfront that this post was written with female readers in mind!
Around the time I was taking on my first Teaching Assistant job, I read this study titled “Effects of Graduate Teaching Assistant Attire on Student Learning, Misbehaviors, and Ratings of Instruction.” And quite frankly, it scared the hell out of me. Of course, we all know that appearances matter. After all there are numerous studies out there demonstrating how people judge you by tailoring, dress size, looks, and even hairstyle. But this one didn’t just argue that how I dress influences student perceptions, it argued that it directly affects my ratings, and more importantly, my students’ behavior in class and the quality of their learning.
I knew what I had to do but, frankly, changing my habits wasn’t easy. I entered grad school after years of working in the art and publishing industries where success is a lot about standing out, having a voice, being an Original. Naturally, I had my fair share of in-class fashion disasters: too flashy jewelry, too spiky hair, too low-cut shirts, too eccentric glasses, and the list goes on. I call them “disasters” because I could tell they distracted my students, and that is something no committed TA wants to see. Eventually I accepted that transitioning from office to classroom would mean completely reconceptualizing my understanding of “work-appropriate,” which now excluded anything short, sheer, sparkly, unbuttoned, ultra-tight, and leather (well, except for accessories thank goodness!).
But how on earth was I to do that? The more I taught and the more studies I read, the more I realized that I wasn’t just after a more conservative wardrobe. Anyone can dress in loafers and a buttoned up cardigan after all! And I wasn’t after a quick fix stylist either (too limiting for my taste). What I needed was advice to help me deal with an aspect of teaching considered too superficial to be extensively discussed in TA-training seminars. Advice that was intelligent, effective, easy, abundant and, most importantly, free, and I found it online.
Featured below is a list of reviews of workplace-oriented style blogs and websites, filled with all sorts of fashion tips, suggestions and how-to’s that have saved me from frustration and countless awkward classroom moments. Over the past year these resources, along with my own teaching experiences, have deeply change my perception of work fashion. Of course I still greatly value clothing as a form of self-expression, but I’ve also realized that more burning than my desire to have fun with clothes, is my desire to do my job well and to protect myself from anything that can potentially undermine my standing in class. And I’ve come to accept that safer is always better: teaching simply is one of those jobs where you have to be really conservative and pulled together. And it’s a hard one as well—why would I wanna make it even harder?
Hello, Gorgeous!: A personal style blog run by Yasi, a 20-something Michigan girl. The aesthetic is very “Banana Republic,” but then, Banana Republic is pretty great for work wear. I especially like how she uses color and layers her outfits, and there’s never a bare midriff in sight.
The Classy Cubicle: This blog has “power-female” written all over it. A bit aesthetically upscale (or corporate America) for a TA, maybe, but the outfits are actually (or mostly, at least) very affordable. This girl can work wonders with brands like H&M and risqué nail-polish, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s got model looks either.
Levo League: This isn’t a blog, and it’s not all fashion either, but it’s one of my favorite sources of career-related tips and advice. More of a hub for young professional women, Levo League helps with anything from personal branding to starting your own business to asking for a raise at work. The Fashion section is pure genius with topics ranging from the more traditional how-to-dress-professionally-in-hot-weather advice to the more provocative achieving-equality-through-dressing-for-work. And yes, that’s a blog post title.
Chioma’s Evolution of Style: The most laid-back blog in the list, run by elementary education student and teacher Chioma. Chioma has a real eye for patterns and accessories, and her outfits are great if you’re after a more playful or “chilled” look, but bear in mind that the skirts may be a bit short for the classroom.
The Working Wardrobe: Missing the personal stamp of the other sites featured but oh so great for online shopping. I love how they keep you up to date with current sales (at favorites like Gap and Target for example), and their Outfits Under $100 section is plain gold for any budget-conscious grad student.
12:04: Probably the most edgy blog in this list, 12:04 is run by an art director in San Francisco and is a fantastic resource if you have a penchant for sharp, masculine tailoring. While I find the personal style posts a bit too fashion-forward (i.e. distracting) for the classroom, the “Wear This Now” segments are very well-curated. A top choice if you love smart details and simple, yet exceptionally cut shirts (a rarity).
Girl With Curves: Tanesha is a poster girl for curvy fashion bloggers, but that's not the only reason she got a spot on this list. When many personal style blogs carry the "look at me and my awesome wardrobe" vibe, this one is filled with intelligent and valuable style advice for women of ALL shapes and sizes. Watch out for her (honestly) exceptional Beauty section as well, filled with easy tips for the busy and value/budget-conscious.
9 To 5 Chic: My personal favorite among work-oriented personal style blogs, run by a San Francisco-based marketing manager. Mixing high-street with high end, Anh is excellent at styling flats for work, and at gracefully avoiding that safe but ultimately lame (I mean, let’s be honest) business blouse.
Of course I’m aware that this list largely reflects my own clothing, body, and experience, and cannot possibly speak to everyone's taste. But given that no TA can really escape fashion judgement, this isn’t a conversation we can avoid having either. And sharing our experiences makes the process of adjusting to a TA wardrobe run that much smoother.
What resources do you use to dress for the classroom?
[Image by Flickr user Freddycat1, used under Creative Commons License]