Last week, my pre-service student teachers were gearing up to start their field practicum. While we were going over expectations and organization, our conversation led us to cute teacher outfits (that are also affordable). Though teacher style may seem like the last thing on our priority list, it’s actually a really important topic for teachers, especially young teachers. Professionalism is one of four domains in the Danielson Framework that we use to evaluate student teachers and practicing teachers here in Pennsylvania. Professional appearance and attire is a small part of that domain and a big part of the conversation. Not to mention, it’s always good to feel prepared by having on the right outfit for the job: one that’s professional yet comfortable.
After teaching high school for over a decade, I transitioned to teaching college right after having a baby. With the new school year approaching, I knew I had to revamp my wardrobe. Plus, I have to admit I know a thing or two about creating a professional look that can be easily converted to a casual work outfit. My students also tell me I have a knack for stylish teacher outfits.
Why Simple Is Better
As a busy mom of three kids under 10, I don’t have time to fuss over picking out the perfect teacher outfit with the latest trends every single morning. Therefore, a few years ago, I figured a way to do a twist on a capsule wardrobe so it could work for my teacher wardrobe. I’m not disciplined enough to truly follow the capsule wardrobe lifestyle because I love clothes and shopping a little too much. However, I have learned to prioritize wardrobe staple items to create different looks quickly and easily when I’m rushing in the mornings. This gives me the ability to quickly mix and match based on teacher style categories.
Thanks to the encouragement from my pre-service students and teacher friends in my department, I’m writing this article to explain my best tips for curating your closet to use basic pieces in different ways to create the best teacher outfits. I’m also going to link my personal favorite finds in these categories. Some of my favorite pieces I’ve had since I started teaching, so I’ll link options that are similar.
How to Use This Post to Create Your Own Cute and Easy School Style
The beauty of this post is that you can use it to shop and edit your own closet. In fact, you probably already have a lot of similar items described. Then, you can build your wardrobe around that piece. If you’re looking for an item you don’t have and love, I’ll show you the next best clothing item. My goal is to give you a system for curating your closet that will work for an elementary teacher or high school teachers.
How to Curate Your Closet For Cute Outfits and Easy Mornings
When I was early in my career, I didn’t have a plan of action when it came to my teacher outfit ideas. What I ended up doing was buying a lot of trendy pieces, like printed dresses from Target. A causal Target dress, for example, is an affordable price, but my closet became stuffed with so many of them. I then learned more is not better. In fact, I had too many options. It became way too hard to keep track of what I recently wore, what I actually felt comfortable in when I wore it, and how to accessorize it.
After reading Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I completely changed my philosophy and the best part was it was pretty easy. Here’s how I did it and how I recommend you do it too:
Start by identifying your key pieces. This is similar to a capsule wardrobe where you’ll pick the main categories and fill in the blanks. Don’t worry if you don’t know what categories you need, I’ll help you below.
Look for items you already have and love in your closet that fit those categories and take them out of your closet.
Whatever is left, go through one by one and determine if you actually love it. Marie Kondo’s method is to actually hold the item in your hand and think carefully about how you feel about the item. It sounds silly, but it actually worked for me. This is also the time to try it on again and think very honestly about whether or not you love the fit, how it feels, and how it looks. For example, I was hanging on to this one wool sweater for years because it was an expensive item and the color was beautiful. However, I never ended up wearing it because wool makes me itchy. I finally parted with it, and I never missed it!
If you have items like this that are still in great condition, but you know aren’t the piece for you. I recommend selling your items on Poshmark or Thred Up. Poshmark, in my opinion, is better for a high-demand single item. Thred Up is my preference for bulk closet cleaning because it’s so easy. They will send you a big Thred Up bag with a paid shipping label. You send it to them, and they sell it on their site for you.
Find items to fit your new categories. Poshmark and Thred Up are also great to find particular gently used items to create your wardrobe. If you use my links above, you’ll get $10 off a purchase on either site for first time users. I’ll link my favorite items from each category as well. I will mention here that I prioritize comfort and quality over price, but that does not mean I won’t give you affordable teacher outfit ideas. On the contrary, you’ll have less items in general, so I’d rather pick a versatile piece that you can have for a long time over the trendy pattern Target dress that will go out of style next season.
Teacher Style Categories
Now, let’s get down to the categories I recommend. First, start with your base. You’ll either want pants or skirt and a shirt or a dress. Then, because the temperature in a school building changes daily, you’ll need an outer piece that can dress you up or down. Finally, you’ll need comfortable, yet classy shoes. Now keep in mind a lot of these pieces will depend on your personal style. I’ll give you options, but these categories work for a kindergarten teacher or a high school English teacher.
Category 1: Bottoms
For dress pants, you should have at least one pair of simple black pants because they can go with anything. I’ve tried on black dress pants from just about everywhere, and my absolute favorites are from Express (linked below). These are super high waisted, and in my opinion, the most comfortable. I have a high waist and long torso, and these fit me perfectly. They run small on me. I sized up one size.
My next favorite are the Abercrombie slacks. I bought these in tan to give me another great option for mixing and matching.
Many people like the Old Navy Pixie Pant, so I’ll link them below. These just don’t fit me right; I think I’m between sizes.
White Skinny Jeans / White Jeans
These Everlane jeans in Ecru are my favorite. They’re the perfect wash and can work for causal looks or dressed up for more professional looks.
Even if you’re only allowed to wear jeans on dress down day depending on your school dress code, you definitely need comfortable jeans. I like to have a pair of dark jeans and a lighter color. Jeans are a personal preference, so I’ll just tell you my favorites.
These jeans from Agolde are an investment piece, but I will tell you I wear them several times a week from personal wear to work wear. I also own a black skinny leg pair that can be dressed up or down. Agolde run true to size for me. My other favorite pair are from Everlane. I like that they’re high waisted, and tapered without being completely skinny.
If you’re allowed to wear leggings, I recommend the Spanx faux leather leggings because they feel like regular leggings, but look elevated and are more versatile.
Midi Skirt or knee-length skirt
I prefer knee-length skirts because they’re easier to move in when you have to kneel at desks and move around the classroom. I only have one black one, and it’s good enough for me.
Category 2: Tops
What teacher wardrobe would be complete without cute t-shirts and teacher tees? I love East Nash Teacher tees! Still, I prefer simple solid colors because they’re easier to mix and match. (I’ll link my favorite below.) However, if you want to play with different patterns or add a pop of color, find some graphic tees that express that side of your style. To me, this is a great way to add bright colors yet keep your staples simple and still be trendy.
I searched high and low for a tank top that I could wear stand alone when the classroom gets hot. This wasn’t an easy task! I don’t like camis with spaghetti straps because I just don’t feel comfortable with it as a stand-alone piece. Plus, so many are see through. I finally found the Body Contour line at Express, and now it’s all I wear. It’s double lined, so not see through, and looks great alone or with a layer piece on top.
It’s hard to find the perfect cute blouse, so again this one might be preference. I love the satin long sleeve from Abercrombie, but sadly they’re sold out in most sizes. I haven’t been able to find another great choice in satin. Everlane silk blouses are my next favorite, but they’re pricey.
I love throwing a chunky sweater over my Body Contour tank and mixing and matching bottoms. There are so many options. My students recently showed me how they throw one over a summer dress to make a new look. I don’t have specific recommendations here because again, it’s all about preference. For example, I personally can’t wear anything with even the smallest percent of wool because it makes me itchy. Therefore, I choose a few non-wool sweaters in neutral colors that can go with any outfit. I’ll link a few below at different price points to give you an idea of what I look for.
I’m lumping dresses in with tops here because I don’t want to make them their own category. As I already said, I’m moving away from having a ton of dresses because they’re just much harder to mix and match for a simple morning routine. Instead of hoarding tons of them, I’m only choosing the absolute best most flattering dresses and getting rid of the rest. For example, I always like a special casual dress for the first day, but it has to be one I love! Again, I prefer at least a knee-length dress or midi dress so you can move around easier without issue. This is especially important if you’re trying to match the energy (and movement) of elementary school kids.
No matter how many dresses you choose to keep, I recommend one black dress that you can wear in multiple ways. I really like this affordable classic black dress because you can wear it front with a lower neckline or backwards for a higher neckline, which makes it even more versatile!
Category 3: Versatile Outer Layer
A versatile outer layer can make or break an outfit! Want comfortable outfits that you can easily make professional? Throw on a blazer or a cardigan! This is my favorite styling tip because it’s so easy to create different outfits.
I love blazers! They can dress up casual work outfits in just seconds! I have a few blazers that I mix and match with everything, and they don’t go out of style, you can have one for years. I still have a J Crew blazer from my very first teacher interview!
They are the best thing to turn casual looks into a whole new look. There are so many different colors, but of course, I think it’s a good idea to stay neutral, unless you fall in love with a pink one, like I did. I’ll link this one and others at different price points below.
Of course, you need a jean jacket for layering when it’s chilly!
Take a tip from Mister Rogers. A great cardigan is necessary to complete a look. Just like sweaters, it’s really up to your style. But if you throw it over a fun tee, you now have a new look for a different school day.
Category 4: Comfortable Shoes
You need at least one pair of neutral sneakers. I have three because I like creating a more casual look by dressing down a typical school teacher outfit with a neutral pair of sneakers. My favorite pair of sneakers are my Vejas, but they’re pricey. However, they wear really well! All of these options are true to size. Keep in mind these are the shoes I love, but you can choose any neutral sneaker.
I don’t like wearing flats in general because I don’t feel like they give me enough support. I personally like the sneaker look better. The only pair I like are the pointy flats from Rothy’s. If you use my link, you’ll get $20 off your purchase.
I leave one pair of classic neutral heels in my office at all times, so I can quickly change into them if something important comes up. But, honesty, it’s unrealistic to wear high heels all day, even though I love how they look. The only heels I’ll wear are the ones linked below. I have them in nude, black, and tan. The heel is perfect, not too high, but gives you a few inches. They’re padded, and they come in wide!
Boots for Fall Outfits
I live in Pennsylvania, so with the snowy (slushy) weather, I basically destroy boots every season and have to buy new ones. I don’t mind because boot trends change each fall, so this one item I don’t mind keeping on trend. Here’s what I wore or similar this year. All are true to size.
Category 5: Accessories
In my effort to simplify my closet, I really pared down my accessory to give me less choices to make. I now have two belts: one black and one brown.
I also have simple gold jewelry that I can wear with anything. I recently discovered Hey Harper from a targeted Instagram ad. They make affordable “waterproof” gold jewelry, and I bought several gold necklaces and bracelets that I can wear anytime and don’t have to worry about them turning green. I’ve been wearing them for over a month, and so far so good! If you use my link above, you’ll get $20 off your purchase plus it’s stackable with sitewide promos.
I can’t be trusted with expensive earrings because I constantly lose them. Here are my favorite cheap earrings that don’t hurt my ears.
Purses / Teacher Bags
I really love my Lo & Sons laptop bag. It’s perfect for travel, and it’s great for lugging my laptop home. I found I don’t need to take my laptop home very often though, so I’ve been sticking to a simple crossbody bag to carry essentials only.
Putting It All Together
Now that you have your categories, make a checklist of what you already have for each category. Just start with the base layer, add a versatile outer layer that you can take off if your classroom gets hot or you want to move better, throw on some shoes, and accessorize. Then, you can begin mixing and matching to make 100s of outfits.
Having a visual like this really helps me:
I hope you enjoyed my favorite outfit ideas! If you liked this post, please let me know in the comments if you’d like to see more like this.
If you liked this article, you might also like this article about the ultimate teacher gift guide.