I make this look good! /Feelin' Hot Hot Hot
March 22, 2011 9:52 AM   Subscribe

How do I dress like and adult, in the heat, in a semi casual (?[teaching]) setting?

This summer I am moving to Austin, TX to do a teaching certification program that will hopefully result in me being employed in a middle school come fall 2011. (Please refrain from commentary on the current budget crisis in Austin, it's already stressing me out)

It will be my first time really working as a professional, and certainly the first time learning to look good in the heat. In the past I've been able to be either the sloppy foreigner in the heat, giving me excuses for my appearance or a student. I'm currently a language assistant and I wear jeans and sneakers every day (this is acceptable where I'm currently working).

I'm female, early 20's, 5'11'', about 180lbs , white (though I tan fairly quickly, if it matters for fashion ideas) with curly blondish/brown hair. I've got some boobs and belly on me, and while I'm trying to loose weight I'm also trying to be realistic. My fashion varies from Jcrew to H&M, I love anthropologie, though I feel like I have difficulties pulling the looks off without looking sloppy, (hobo scarves chic turns into bag lady) and anyway I don't have that kind of budget right now. Lately I've been wearing scarves to spruce up outfits, but that seems pretty silly for Austin life. Some times I love florescent colors, others day a more Nantucket vibe. Pretty much always some bright colors of some time. Most of my basics and Jcrew knockoffs come from Old Navy. I also buy a fair amount from Alloy/Delias though I know I should probably give that up. Oh, and I will not wear heels under any circumstances.

I don't think I'm going to be able to stand wearing pants in the apparently brutal Austin heat and humidity, though I favor A line skirts, and dresses that are tailored close to the ribcage. An "egyptian blue" brings out my eyes and I like to wear it a lot.

I know that linens area good idea, but how to keep them looking good in the heat? I like cardigans and I'll keep one stashed in my purse for buildings, but then what do I wear underneath? My usual tank top won't cut it. How do I not destroy an outfit when constantly removing/adding pieces (looked good with the cardi, looks crap without it). Can I wear sandals (nice ones) at work if my toes are looking good? Are shorts ever appropriate? Is teaching usually considered "semi casual?"

Something like this seems nice, but turns out to be sloppy looking on me (http://www.anthropologie.eu/block-colour/clouded-cornflower-dress/invt/7130429100511/)

I'm pretty decent with fashion basics, but being a student for the past many years I've been able to look awful in the heat and that's been fine. Can you help a girl out and make me look good for work?

TL;DR How do I look professional for a middle school, without overdressing or looking like a student, and most of all, making it work in the heat?
posted by raccoon409 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Linen pants are great - they're still pants but they're very cool. I just discovered them last year and they saved me in a summer job where I couldn't wear shorts.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:55 AM on March 22, 2011

Open-toe shoes are dependent on your school's policies (and how they enforce them). My wife couldn't wear sandals at one school, and at another they were fine (same school district, same class level, different principals).

If you have time, go in and visit some other classrooms to see how the other teachers dress. You might be shocked how casual the other teachers dress, but don't let that fool you - as a young lady, you might be confused for a student if you dress that way. Heck, even dressed well, you might be confused as a student! (I say this only because my wife, almost 31, has been in that situation a time or two, when she's talking to another teacher who didn't know her). Perhaps take a hint from how the principal and vice principal dress (though again, they might be really casual, especially in the summer).

In short, dress well enough to be differentiated from your students, and so that your students and co-workers take you seriously.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:15 AM on March 22, 2011

Best answer: Seconding linen pants. They can be really light and breezy. It sounds like J Jill isn't exactly your style, but a nice pair of linen pants plus a simple, tailored t-shirt, plus a nice lightweight scarf is a great combination--and the scarf makes the whole outfit look super polished. You can find lightweight summer scarves that won't feel silly.

This was pretty much my standard outfit (well, sometimes I wore a linen skirt) when I worked in a similar environment in Egypt.

I've found summer weight, work-appropriate linen pants at Banana Republic and Gap.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:15 AM on March 22, 2011

Sundresses are great (and many have A-line skirts) for the heat. You can wear them with sandals or a low heel, and they are often bright and cheerful (so you can go for that Egyptian blue).

I know linen is cool, but here in Florida I tend to go for cottons and knits that don't require a lot of upkeep. I honestly have very, very few things that I iron. I wear capris and wedges or sandals or sundresses most days. My hair isn't really long anymore, but if it was I would pull it back with a headband or bright pony-tail holder. You could certainly wear a scarf to pull your hair back!

Pro-tip for off-duty times: I have several bra-tops and built-in bra dresses for casual days (I wouldn't recommend those for work).
posted by misha at 10:20 AM on March 22, 2011

You should check out sleeveless shift dresses (hang from the shoulders, a little looser) and sheath dresses (fit more tightly, defines curves). I think that simple, well-cut dresses like that can be paired with nice jewelry, cute flats, and an optional cardigan to look professional and put together. Linen dresses would also be great in the heat. Gap, Banana Republic, and J Crew will have good basic ones, but I'd also look at department stores like Macy's for fun patterns and prints.
posted by hefeweizen at 10:25 AM on March 22, 2011

Best answer: Your style and requirements sound similar to my own. If I were starting out, I would buy every A-line skirt that is knee-length or longer that I see, like, and can afford (by the way, I've had remarkably good success finding skirts like this, in good condition, at thrift stores). I would also find some good-quality, solid color tshirts like this one and buy multiple colors. Then iteratively mix and match, with a few accessories-- a belt or a scarf, long necklace, whatever. Infinity scarves tend to look less sloppy since there are no loose ends.

So many men mix and match the same set of shirts and pants over and over on repeat, and no one notices because they're all relatively basic items and in a family of colors that go well together. Once I realized I could do the same, the game totally changed and I look better for it. I still haven't solved the cardigan conundrum, but scarves can fit that purpose to some extent.
posted by dino might at 10:30 AM on March 22, 2011

The cold A/C in Texas can be just as brutal as the outdoor heat. I wouldn't stress about it much.
posted by Neekee at 10:31 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sundresses or shift dresses with a linen jacket. Sleeveless really isn't a good look for teaching.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:31 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

victoria's secret has great linen pants that come in different lengths. i'm short, so i buy longer ones to wear with 4" heels - you can wear them with flats.
posted by sabh at 10:38 AM on March 22, 2011

Best answer: I'm an education student working in Florida at a high school, and I'm 21- similar situations, although it's even harder as a younger teacher working with high schoolers than middle schoolers.

First of all, regardless of what anyone else says, your hair and makeup will make a difference. A more professional hair style will make everyone take you more seriously (I moved from wearing a ponytail every day to pulling my hair up with a clip or french braiding it and saw a definite difference in how I was treated. I'm also treated differently when I'm too lazy/tired to put my makeup on in the morning, even though I don't wear a lot.

Dress without a jacket or cardi, and then find a cardi that works with your outfit. Don't wear shirts that will crinkle oddly under a cardi or jacket. Wearing a tight cami under my work shirts actually makes a big difference in reducing how much I sweat and how comfortable I am, same with bike shorts under skirts. I have tried linen pants and found that they tend to look like you're trying to act a lot older than you are when you're younger, and can also look too casual- I also found that they weren't as cool as skirts, but it could be because it's so humid here.

A lot of this will depend on where you end up teaching- the school that I teach at is really casual (the teacher across the hall wears a polo and jeans every day) but the most casual I ever go is jeans, heels, and a really dressy shirt (although a really dressy shirt is the key to that, not the heels, since you don't wear them- I rarely do). A sundress with a cardi and nice sandals is comfortable and cute, but can veer too casual if you're not careful. It will depend on you (I feel like I look really young) but I feel like I need to dress at least 2 steps above my kids at all times. Sleeveless really only works for teaching if it's a shift dress, IMO. I would never ever wear regular shorts while teaching, I know many teachers get away with bermuda shorts, but they look awful on me, so I've never tried. I stay somewhere between "formal" and "semi-casual".

As far as what to wear under cardis, start with solid t-shirts...Old Navy quality is fine. V-necks and boat necks tend to look "nicer" than a round neck t-shirt, although round neck shirts can look really nice belted. What matters more is how you accessorize- a v-neck and an a-line skirt looks ok, but with nice shoes and a nice bracelet or necklace, you'll instantly look more put together. I have the biggest problem finding shoes that are comfortable, cute, don't make me feel like an old lady, but are still appropriate for teaching- I live in cute flats, and dressy sandals.

Oh, and start reading fashion blogs! I can recommend a few if you're interested, but I love You Look Fab, she's older and I definitely don't share her taste in a lot of things, but she has a lot of really good advice on dressing professionally- here is an article on dressing professionally and wearing bright colors, I wouldn't wear a lot of those things but it's a jumping off point. I also love ...love, maegan- her style is waaaay more eclectic than mine but I get a lot of ideas for accessorizing from her.I can give you the rest of my blogroll if you're interested. sorry this turned into the longest post ever, my brain is all scrambled right now.
posted by kro at 10:47 AM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Flax clothing is great in the heat and comes in all sorts of sizes.
posted by analog at 10:55 AM on March 22, 2011

Best answer: Some more specific suggestions:

These pants from Anthropologie with maybe a shirt like this or this would be cute.

You could also do the same pants with a plain shirt and a scarf. You are right about the Anthropologie scarves: they have so much material that they'd feel warm and maybe look silly in the heat. But they could be great for when it cools down a bit. And in the meantime, you could find scarves with less material.

Gap has some pretty scarves.

What do you think about these J Jill pants? They don't look too dowdy, and I bet they are comfy.

If you want to splurge on a cute dress, maybe something from Shabby Apple?

For something less expensive: this Old Navy skirt is cute (it's also in plain colors) and would work with the aforementioned tshirt and scarf.

Also, don't forget: it's hot out, but you'll be in a/c all day.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:58 AM on March 22, 2011

Best answer: Find out if the school district has some dress code for teachers. a friend who teaches in a public school in Florida is not allowed to wear anything sleeveless, nor is she allowed to wear shoes with open toes.
posted by mareli at 11:10 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I second fashion blogs! Academic Chic is more Midwestern than Texas, but look through the summer options. They do teaching style very, very well. I also like Kendi Everyday (which is set in Austin) and Bright Side Dweller (her body type sounds like yours, though she is in the Bay Area).
Fashion blogs are great- I love how you can see them wear the same item over and over, but in different and unique ways. I love how these ladies look young and stylish, but not college-age or immature. And they usually tell you where they bought their clothes and they are big fans of thrifting.
posted by aabbbiee at 11:32 AM on March 22, 2011

Best answer: I can't address the teaching environment, but I am a veteran of 13 Austin summers, almost all of which I was dressing for some sort of office job where business casual was the norm. (Ugh, and four of those were in a car without air conditioning. I bead with sweat just thinking about it.)

Totally agree with misha—linen is good in theory, but in execution can be a real pain in the ass to care for (worse because I personally really, really hate ironing). Look for linen/cotton blends and you'll save a ton of ironing time. Another care tip: after washing, put those items in the dryer on lowest heat for just a couple minutes, and hang them up warm and damp. The wrinkles will fall right out with no iron in sight. Worst case scenario: hang them up in the bathroom while you shower and let them steam a few minutes.

Silk/cotton blends are also a nice look, although you want a higher percentage of cotton than silk or the fabric will look wrinkled and sweaty very quickly. I would never wear 100% silk in the Austin heat. Even raw silk is asking for trouble.

Layering (as you've surmised) is the key. The secret to the cardi-or-not problem is two-fold:

1. Instead of actual sweater-knit cardigans, think lighter weight. A casual linen jacket like this one, for example (and you don't have to go Calvin Klein for it, that's just the first similar shape I saw). Or instead of jacket, go with an "overshirt"... Target and Stein Mart have loads of linen and finer-weave cotton button-front shirts with collars that are colorful and tailored in cut (basically in this shape), which can sub in a pinch for a "jacket" if you leave them unbuttoned and top with a nice necklace, or roll the cuffs once and wear a nice bracelet.

2. Then, good shells. Don't go tanks underneath, but think slightly dressier, and in neutrals. Something cut like this or this, where it's obviously got some extra styling and isn't just a plain cotton tank. Again, these can be found at Stein Mart, Target, Old Navy, Ross... you just have to look. Macy's, JCPenney's often have these on sale.

And you don't have to go sleeveless for the underneath piece... nice tees can be a great base. The key to making them dressy enough for work, versus bumming around, are the fabric, cut and fit. Stick with boatnecks, or round neck, but avoid scoop neck or deep V's. Look for woven cotton, and jersey; skip anything ribbed, or with a t-shirt hem. You want nice finished dressy hems. Just make sure that the ones you would wear against your body can go easily into the wash and will hold up, because you will not have the option of "Febreze and re-wear" them.

hefeweizen is dead on about the dresses... although at 5'3" I have a hard time finding them that hit the right length... and when I was in my 20's I didn't have the disposable cash to buy a $40 dress and then go spend $40 on tailoring. So I stuck to separates.

My core bottom pieces were a long black linen skirt, a calf-length woven-cotton khaki skirt, a black shift dress, and a couple pair of dressy cotton trousers (in woven "khaki" fabric) from Stein Mart in tan, olive and black. (Obviously I wear mostly neutrals, but you could go with other colors here)

On top of any of those, I could add dressy sandals, cute flats or a low pump; a belt + jewelry; and some sort of two-piece top combo (shell + elbow-length-sleeved linen top, or tee + light jacket). I like to pair a heavier outer piece (like a jacket) with something with sleeves, so that if I have to take off the jacket I'm not too casual.

If you are going to be inside the same 68° indoor space all day, you only have to worry about getting to and from work. My trick was that I would leave the house with my outer piece on a hanger, so it didn't get crumpled in the car, and then just pull it on before walking in. Same thing on the way home: get to the car and slip off the overshirt, re-hang in the back seat, and then it doesn't get needlessly sweaty and crumpled during the drive home. (Of course if you will be taking the bus this doesn't help.)

I agree that scarves are really not going to be much help for the season; it's already hot and sticky out, why add a needless layer of fabric around your neck of all places? Use jewelry to style up your look, instead.

Sorry, lots of random thoughts here as I recall Austin summer dressing. Good luck!
posted by pineapple at 11:35 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: pineapple has said almost everything I have to say about summer dressing in Texas (3 summers in Austin, lived and worked in Houston until age 35).

Do find out what the AC circumstances will be in your school: some are full-blast main buildings and some are "temporary" buildings with window AC and fans. Obviously your dressing strategy will differ a little between the two. You may not know until you get there, but keep it in mind before you commit to spending a lot of wardrobe money.

(And welcome to Austin! Hope to see you at a meetup this summer!)
posted by immlass at 12:07 PM on March 22, 2011

Best answer: Find out if the school district has some dress code for teachers. a friend who teaches in a public school in Florida is not allowed to wear anything sleeveless, nor is she allowed to wear shoes with open toes.

The following recommendations are generalizations and each district will have specific dress code requirements. A lot of teachers in Texas wear capri length pants in the warmer months instead of long pants. Shorts, even knee-length ones are rarely allowed. Tanks or spaghetti strap dresses or tops usually aren't allowed. Some districts are even stricter and prohibit any sleeveless top or dress. Usually tattoos are required to be covered. No cleavage or undergarments showing and dresses or skirts must be knee-length or close to it. Some districts still require closed-toed shoes but most allow sandals as long as they are not flip-flops. Most only allow jeans on Fridays or other designated days. As a middle-school teacher, you will probably not be outdoors in the heat much so I would dress for the air-conditioning, which you may or may not have control over in the classroom. Many teachers just keep an all-purpose cardigan at work for whenever they need it. You will see a lot of casual slacks, capri pants with cute tops, a few dresses, etc. The administrators usually dress up a notch or two from the teachers but it's not that unusual to see teachers wearing a nice jacket or cardigan either. Teachers are usually required to be in compliance with whatever it says in the student dress code, which can usually be found on the district or campus website. Thank goodness that few districts require panty hose anymore, which used to be a pretty common requirement!
posted by tamitang at 4:08 PM on March 22, 2011

Pineapple speaks the truth about linen and raw silk. In hot PLUS humid areas, sitting in 100% linen pants for even a minute is akin to ironing wrinkles in the front of the pants at the hips, and in the back of the pants behind the knee.

One solution I haven't seen proposed is to go to the school's website. My sister is a teacher in Houston, and each school in her district has its own website (and each teacher maintains their own page in that site). There's a big group photo of the teachers on the main page, and you can click through to each teacher's individual pages to see a photo of each teacher. That should give you an idea of what your actual coworkers wear. They took the group photo on the week before school started, so... in August.

Also they will give you a dress code (for example, my sister can only wear jeans on Fridays with the school t-shirt, and no shorts or capri pants are allowed on any day).
posted by Houstonian at 7:37 PM on March 22, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the fantastic help. I really appreciate the great answers, although now I want EVERYTHING from the shabby apple site. I kind of scared to look at some of the other links because my heart will fall for some other dresses.

The info on linen in Austin is particularly helpful, as I tend to wrinkle things fairly easily and it seems like it will quickly take away from the look. I think that this is also helping me face the sad reality that I probably need to actually do my hair/makeup and remember to put on accessories. They tend to make the outfit, I'm just sad not to be able to roll out of bed to work anymore.

Hope to see some of you at an Austin meet-up!
posted by raccoon409 at 11:03 AM on March 23, 2011

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