Dressing like a teacher

Miss Rabbage and Miss Everitt always dressed sensibly. Cardigans, blouses, skirts, flat shoes, their attire in the late-1960s was that from a former generation. At secondary school, there were signs of fashion among younger members of staff, wider ties, brighter coloured shirts, flared trousers, but the senior staff members remained suit and tie men. Even at sixth-form college, jackets were still the order of the day for male lecturers and jeans were not be seen.

I have often wondered about what message the way you dress sends out.

Sometimes male teachers look like plain clothes police officers. I remember seeing one such officer on a June evening at a school in the Dublin mountains.

He had lowered his newspaper and had turned and watched us as we pulled into the car park.  Closely cut silver, grey hair, a good quarter inch clear of his ears; a neat grey suit, white shirt, plain tie: was he a former soldier or had his whole  career been in special branch?  Satisfied with whatever he had seen of us, he had returned to his newspaper.

There had been no need to notice the “CD” plate on the back of his grey Mercedes; this man made it clear to anyone present that he was there and that he had noted their presence.  Walking from the car park, thoughts had arisen as to whether his jackets would be cut in such a way that the holster under his left arm did not spoil the line of his suit, or in more peaceful times would there be no .357 revolver to carry?

There had been no pretence at being undercover, even the car had appeared  armoured, at least against gunshots, the thickened glass gave the windows a deeper hue than normal.

The man used his appearance, his car, and his presence to convey a clear message, “I’m protecting a child from the British Embassy, don’t mess with me.”

Does the way teachers dress suggest a protector role? Shouldn’t there be something more poetic?

I once attended a poetry seminar led by two academics which prompted thoughts about how people dress makes a statement about the how they think.  The woman speaking had unstyled greying brown hair that hung at waist length, her baggy black tee shirt and matching trousers were worn for comfort.  The man wore an open necked shirt and pale trousers with a tweed sports jacket, his mane of grey hair was brushed straight back from his forehead; at the side it was tucked behind his ear,s but strands at the back of his head pointed in random directions.

A clear message of the way they dressed was, “we are not worried about how we appear, what is important is what we say.”  What they had said had been excellent.

Perhaps there is a compromise, a synthesis, a middle ground. Of course there is a need to be a protector, but there also needs to be a message that creativity and originality are possible.

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