judging people by their clothing

People give me such a hard time because I don’t wear dresses. What’s that got to do with anything?

— Ellen DeGeneres

ID-100100738 clothign
Image courtesy of olovedog at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


There is so much unnecessary importance placed on clothing, so-called ‘appropriate’ clothing, society appears to have forgotten how to assess individuals by their actions and character.

This is not to advocate the wearing of scruffy, too-short, dirty clothing — but what is wrong with ‘neat casual’? Surely it is the person operating under the clothing that is important?

I have the best story to illustrate this — the fact we should not judge a person’s worth, ability and skill by their clothing. Many (many) years ago, I was assigned to a particular male teacher for what was to be my last teaching practicum prior to graduating. Every time we went out on a prac, it was drilled into us — ‘Wear appropriate clothing. Males in shirts and ties, females in dresses, skirts or pants suits. The first impression counts … yada, yada, yada.’

So, I was sitting, uncomfortable in my formal clothing, waiting in the staff room for my mentor to meet me and take me down to our composite Kindergarten/Year 1 class. I was with several other teaching students, who were all duly collected by their smartly dressed mentors. Then, it was only me in the staff room when a tall dude ambled in. I glanced up, and down again — he was wearing rather short shorts (like a workman would wear), a thin jumper with loose threads and a hole in the elbow and tennis shoes. He wouldn’t be my mentor.


My mouth must have gaped open. My mentor didn’t let that phase him. He quickly introduced himself and we walked down to the classroom.

He was the best mentor I ever had. He was (and still is) an amazing teacher. The kids loved him. The staff loved him. I was fortunate enough to be placed as a permanent employee back in this school a couple of years later, my mentor was still there — still the same. Then, years later, my daughter was placed in his class (at a different school) — he was still the same. A totally brilliant teacher.

Clothing does not define a person’s skill or worth.

I admire people who wear what they feel comfortable in and do not let societal expectations dictate this. If we cannot see beyond the clothing into the person’s character, and value them for who they are rather than what they wear, then that is our loss.

Everyone knows the saying, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover,’ but how many of us actively apply this?

As teachers, we are often down on the floor working with our students, or we are organising paint for their art lesson, or we are outside in the dust teaching (and sometimes participating in) a P.E. lesson. This is not the time for our best clothes, yet often that is the parental and societal expectation.

When I was teaching in Japan I was flabbergasted at the number of outfits the Japanese teachers brought to school each day: smart, best-Sunday clothing for travelling to and from school; business suits for when education officials were visiting; casual clothing for teaching classes; and tracksuits for when they were outside doing physical education. It’s all about appearances and, in Australia, it seems we are not too far behind.

It should be all about practicality and comfort. For any event and any profession.

I know several teachers who wear beautiful clothing each and every day to school — not because they feel they have to, but because they want to. Their clothing is often commented on, and as a parent I am often privy to comments by other parents about the worth of a particular teacher who ‘always dresses well’.  Other teachers who feel more comfortable in their smart tracksuits, or smart jeans should be afforded the same respect. Our clothes do not make us better, or worse teachers.

I rarely wear dresses because I am a weird shape and no dress designer known to man seems to be able to design one-piece clothing for people who are three sizes bigger on the top half than the bottom.

Occasionally I find a dress-like piece of clothing that does the trick, but am loath to wear it because of the comments, ‘Oh, you’re wearing a dress,’ or ‘Oh wow, you look nice today.’ Sorry, that last today is not necessary and implies something else entirely; and, yes, I know I’m wearing a dress, I do have a mirror.

The most annoying comments I have received have been along the lines of, ‘You should wear dresses … skirts … more often, it looks more professional.’ Sorry – stuff you, because in my job, they are not practical.

Surely, if you are comfortable, but still presenting a good image, then your work performance will be improved. I wonder if this is where the ‘casual Friday’ concept comes from? Casual Friday apparently means you may have a day off the business suits, ties and shoes and … go casual. So, if you can do this on Friday, why not every day? Or is Friday expected to be low output day anyway? I would suspect it yields a higher output.

Most parents of pre-teens and teenagers would understand the angst involved in dressing said child. There is so much pressure these days to conform and wear the right clothing. This is the only time I appreciate school uniforms. (I do not appreciate their price or the pain of laundering them.)

At this current time, a lot of schools seem to be running on ‘colour code’. They sell school shirts and jumpers, but you also have the option to just wear anything in the correct-ish colour as long as there are no logos or slogans or rips or whatever. I have been waiting outside the schools my son and daughter attend on occasion … and this rule is not effectively policed. Rumour is the government is trying to legislate to make full school uniform compulsory. It won’t happen, it has been too long now since that was the case. Apart from the student (and possibly parent) rebellion such legislation may well cause, most uniforms these days are not suited to or appropriate for the variety of subjects on offer.

On non-uniform days (usually conducted for fund-raising events) and at social events such as discos and graduation dinners, the clothing some parents allow their children to wear is insane. In most cases, the children are wearing clothes way too old for them. The worst examples I have seen have been at graduation parties where the girls are in flouncy dresses and stilettos. (The boys are mostly a bit more sensible.) They want to feel grown up … but, again, it is the practicality issue that comes back to bite them. They want to act like kids, but look grown up — the two don’t mix, but unfortunately the pressure from peers (and parents) does not see this.

Who do we blame? Is it the fault of the media? Maybe the designers? Is it society as a whole? The parents? The kids? People in general?

If I was the boss of the world my one rule would be: dress as you feel comfortable; everyone else needs to judge you for you and your actions, not your clothing.


2 thoughts on “judging people by their clothing

  1. How true….’Clothes do not maketh the man’ and as my husband says in his mixed-up English, ‘You can’t judge a cover by its book.’
    I am guilty of dressing up for the occasion. I think I am a victim of social pressure and demands. At school, our uniform had to adhere to very strict expectations. Hat and gloves were the order of the day, with dress length at a regulation low level. Prefects enforced the rules!! Consequences for inappropriate choices were harsh. Our sons were required to wear long socks, not falling around the ankles, together with regulation ties, shorts, or long trousers, together with felt hats. Did it hurt? I guess not. I am in favour of school uniforms, as it is my opinion they enforce equality among students, especially, females it seems. Ridiculous make-up does not spoil fresh young skin and faces. Competition about who’s got the latest gear is non existent.
    As I get older, I must admit that I get jealous and more that a bit envious about teaching colleagues who front up to work in beautiful clothes and fashionable shoes, with tidy hair, well manicured nails and perfect make-up. Not built for speed I’m thinking!! Meow! Meow!
    I pull myself up by thinking that ”Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not.’ AND as an old Roman proverb says, ‘Once the game is over the knight and the pawn go back into the same box.’


    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree about the makeup … I meant to write about that. I don’t wear makeup myself because it irritates my skin … and I get sick of people telling me I should (in the past, not so much now.) I also don’t get the clothing overkill for work … but each to their own I suppose.


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