Wait, Some Teachers Have to Pay to Wear Jeans?

Will the pandemic permanently change dress codes for teachers?

Last spring, Education Week contributor Elizabeth Heubeck wrote about how after teaching at home in comfortable clothes, some school and district leaders supported casual attire for teachers who were returning to classrooms. Last week, we asked our social media followers whether more-relaxed dress codes for teachers has continued into the current school year.

In a LinkedIn poll, 46 percent of more than 2,200 respondents said their school or district continues to follow a relaxed dress code. Some respondents noted changes to student dress codes, but most teachers weighed in on rules for what they can and can’t wear at school. Those who said their school has adopted or maintained a casual dress code—or even no dress code at all—pointed to teachers’ need for proper mobility and comfort to effectively perform their jobs.

What teachers have to say about dress codes

Here’s what some teachers had to say about dress codes, including a revelation that in some schools, dressing comfortably comes at a cost.

“We don’t have a dress code in my district. The expectation is that we wear clean clothes without holes. I wear leggings and sweatshirts most days. I need to be able to move fast!”

—Jodie Czarnecki

“If by ‘relaxed’ you mean not enforced, then yes it has relaxed. Officially it has not changed in the handbook. But Monday our admin might decide its a good day to enforce it. we never know”

—Lisa Renee Hart-Gray

“As a substitute, I wear a comfortable jacket with a professional, but casual top, black knit pants (basically loose yoga pants), and some black tennis shoes. When working with elementary students, I need to be active and agile. My clothes must be able to get messy – I do like to wear fun or seasonal stuff, but you are up and down with students all day. Anything dressier would not make sense.”

—Sarah (Tieck) Novak

“We have college wear Wednesday and Casual Friday- but I’ve noticed people wearing jeans every day.”

—Diana Coles

“We don’t have a dress code (💁🏻‍♀️CA!). I move around every day and need comfortable clothes and shoes. You can dress up jeans, even leggings 😱 (yes, I said it!).When I hear that some teachers pay $5 for the ability to wear jeans on Fridays, I cringe. super cringey.”

—Sarah Avanessian

“We are now able to wear jeans daily. Admin tried to pull it back this year and the staff had some very persuasive reasons, so it stayed. We have a new principal now, so we’ll see next year”

—Kathleen Pernak Zwally

“If anything, my principal has been insistent on ‘dressing professionally’ this year now that we have students full time in person again. Our contract simply says to dress in such a way that we can comfortably do our job. I’ve always been one to raise an eyebrow at surface level crap like that as it is more our behavior than how we look that matters in any job.”

—Heather LaClaire

“We don’t have a dress code and I wouldn’t teach in a school with one.”

—Rachel O

“Last year, yes. This year business as usual.”

—Linda Caccomo-Maxa

Paying cash to wear jeans?

Some teachers said they currently work or have worked in schools that required them to pay for allotted “casual attire days.” Some paid a lump sum for a semester or paid each time they wanted to dress down.

“My previous district I had to pay $50 a year to wear jeans on Fridays only. In my current district no one cares what we wear. Guess what? The staff are much happier.”

—Ashley Norman

“The district I did my student teaching in had one dress down day a MONTH and you had to pay $5. Still a dress shirt and dress shoes with it. 🥴”

—Paige Warga

“👏🏼 This 👆🏼… We get to wear jeans on Fridays for $5, and are reminded weekly that it’s not work-out attire or sneakers 🙄… What I wouldn’t do to have a job that treats me like an adult and professional .”

—Alisia Bonilla

Other teachers responded to casual attire policies with price tags attached to them.

“Same, and also in CA! I wear jeans and a sweater or blouse every day. We are up and down on the carpet all day long. I couldn’t imagine having to do that in dress clothes! I also don’t understand having to pay to wear casual clothing. I think that’s yet another example of teachers not being fully respected.”

—Kori Hawkins Dam

“I can appreciate that our school emphasizes college and career readiness. We are not all suits and such, but you can dress up or dress down professionally and comfortably. Jeans are typically reserved for Fridays by most. I guess I would pay for Jean’s if it’s a good cause. I have always felt it was less expensive to wear a slack of some sort.”

—Sherry White

Yet another out of pocket expense

One teacher who took exception to paid casual dress policies pointed to all the other teachers spend money on supplies and necessities for their classrooms. In 2018, Education Week reporter Madeline Will wrote about how teachers spend an average of $479 of their own money on classroom supplies per year. During the pandemic, some teachers also faced additional costs in purchasing PPE, new tech tools to support remote instruction efforts, or more school supplies to limit student sharing.

“As if teachers make a fair wage. As if teachers don’t pay for their own classroom decor, supplies, books, etc already. As if teachers don’t work outside of school hours for free. As if teachers are not deserving of the same respect as every other professional. I really don’t understand making teachers pay. It is demeaning, really. Imagine an employee at Google, Apple, GM having to pay to have a casual day?”

—Sarah Avanessian

Are you a teacher who previously or currently abides by a pay-to-play dress down policy? We’d love to learn about your experience—and your opinion on the policy. Here’s where to submit an essay to Education Week Opinion.

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