Dress Codes for Teachers

Schools have had rules governing what students can wear to class for decades. Now, it seems, many school districts have decided they need to regulate the teachers, too.

Teacher Attire Becoming a Touchy Topic (AP)

Teachers are expected to bear long days, challenging students and demanding parents. Now, apparently, some teachers are baring too much of themselves. School boards and superintendents increasingly are pursuing dress codes for teachers. At issue is the same kind of questionable attire most often associated with students.

In some districts, teachers can get dressed down for wearing skimpy tops, short skirts, flip flops, jeans, T-shirts, spandex or baseball caps. Spaghetti is fine in the cafeteria, but shirts supported by spaghetti straps are not welcome in the classroom. District 11 in Colorado Springs, Colo., for example, prohibits sexually provocative items. That includes clothing that exposes “cleavage, private parts, the midriff or undergarments,” district rules say. In Georgia’s Miller County, skirts must reach the knee. Elsewhere in the state, hair curlers are disallowed in Harris County and male teachers in Talbot County must wear ties two or three times a week.

“There’s an impression that teachers are dressing more and more — well, the good term for it would be ‘relaxed,'” said Bill Scharffe, director of bylaws and policy services for the Michigan Association of School Boards. “Another term for it would be ‘sloppy.'”


School administrators say inappropriate dress is most often an issue with younger teachers, whose trendy clothing and casual style can make it hard to distinguish them from their students.

Mark Berntson, who teaches high school band in West Fargo, N.D., wears a tie each day. It’s a tradition he began years ago to stand out from his students. He does not wear blue jeans to class often, saving them for occasions such as the first day of baseball season. “I don’t think I’m taken as seriously if I’m dressed down and I don’t think I take my job as seriously if I’m dressed down,” he said. “When I dress more professionally, I think I teach better, I think I’m received better, and I think I show more respect for my profession.”

Schools usually have exceptions, such as allowing gym teachers to wear shorts. But sometimes the trouble is in finding the line — literally. At the Tangipahoa Parish School System in southeastern Louisiana, the dress code was recently updated to let women wear crop pants that stretch almost to the ankle. But the school board still does not allow Capri pants because those stop only around the midcalf. In Houston, the Aldine Independent School District’s policy is cut-and-dried: Male teachers must ensure their hair does not go below the collar. Their sideburns cannot extend beyond the earlobe. Mustaches may not be of the “Fu Man Chu” variety.

This year in Alabama, Birmingham school superintendent Wayne Shiver Jr. tried to ban excessively tight clothing, see-through tops, blouses with revealing necklines and other no-nos. But city school board members have directed him to scale back his plan in favor of a more generic policy. They do not want their administrators to become the fashion police.

One would think it unnecessary, frankly. School teachers are, by definition, college educated adults in positions of significant responsibility. One would think they would have enough sense to dress themselves appropriately. Sadly, though, a sizable percentage do not.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    My wife has worked at schools that have “professional attire” codes and schools that require teachers wear “uniforms.”

    By far, she prefers the uniforms. It saves a ton on clothing costs and removes the “one-upsmanship” teachers have in their clothing choices. It also means she doesn’t have to wear dresses, but can wear slacks.

  2. Kathy says:

    “… hair curlers are disallowed”
    I’m shocked. Seriously shocked. Teachers wearing HAIR CURLERS to school? It’s no wonder there are such discipline problems in classrooms.

  3. Kenny says:

    Teachers may be college educated and should know how to dress properly, but they can’t even conduct themselves properly. How many have been arrested in Alabama alone for having sex with a student? And these aren’t the older men leches that most think about when it comes to such things but these are women preying on younger boys. And these women are married. Is their marriage life so bad that they have to seek comfort from a 13 yr old student? How do we expect them to dress like a professional?

  4. leelu says:


    “…college educated…”. Uh-huh. Have you noticed how they dress for school? Where do you think the “..and now magic happens..” is that suddenly gives them how-to-dress-smarts??

    Someone has to teach each of us how to dress, and more importantly, how to dress appropriately for whatever it is we are doing. Doesn’t seem to be happening much, or to be very important, generally.

    Too bad.