If you’re packing up your bag to move abroad and teach English in Spain, you’ve likely hit that moment of wondering “What do teachers in Spain actually wear!?” This is not a question that plagues only the fashionistas of the world but one that also stumps those of us, like myself, who may not be so fashion-forward but who want to make a good impression while also fitting in. Thus, it’s important to know what kind of clothes teachers do and do not wear as the norms here can be quite different from back home.
“Teacher Clothes” is not really a thing
I’m not sure if this is just something said within my circle, but most of the teachers who I know in the US refer to their work wardrobe as “teacher clothes.” For women, this tends to include pants and tops that have been specifically chosen for their looseness and higher necklines. For men, this tends to include khakis and other non-jean “dress pants” and shirts with collars. Essentially, “teacher clothes” is what you would deem appropriate for an authority figure to wear in front of children and adolescents.
I personally would not pack the majority of the clothes you think of as “teacher clothes!”
I made this mistake and packed all of my ugliest “professional” outfits, wearing this “teacher clothes” for the first week or two and then mostly gave up because I was generally the most formal person in the whole building. Granted, I was in a pueblo so the look might be a little bit more formal in a city center and you should take my advice with a grain of salt. Still, I had teachers coming to school in jeans-and-t-shirts or leggings-and-sweaters combos ALL THE TIME! And if you’re assisting in one of the gym classes it is totally acceptable to show up in sweatpants; the P.E. teacher at my school never wore anything other than tracksuits.
What’s appropriate in one place can feel awkward in another
You can make up your own mind about whether you feel the teachers at your school are “dressed appropriately for the job.” In my experience, the majority of the teachers at my school were not normally “dressed appropriately” for an American school. But keep in mind that the norms you observe—not the perspective you carry from back home—should be used to judge what is “appropriate” for your particular school.
Although I went into teaching English believing that it was proper to dress modestly, I soon felt that I looked ridiculous wearing “teacher pants” that weren’t tight-fitted because, if any other female teachers were in dress pants, they were pants that majorly showed off their curves. Jeans also tend to be totally acceptable and there’s no such thing as “dressing down on Friday” as you can pretty much go casual everyday. It was much more common for me to see my male colleagues in t-shirts than button-downs. And, to my surprise, when teachers did dress up (for example, for the Christmas show) the women often wore shorter and tighter dresses than I would have expected or “thought appropriate” compared to what I see back home.
Embrace the Culture
Overall, my advice would be to not waste too much of your luggage space on things that you don’t plan on wearing outside of the classroom. Schools don’t tend to make too much of a fuss about what teachers are and are not allowed to wear and so I wouldn’t go out of your way to have “appropriate” clothing for work if that doesn’t consist of the same clothing you would wear otherwise.
Of course, you’ll want to look presentable (especially over the first few days when you’re feeling out the environment at your particular school) so having nicer pants than your worn-out jeans and nicer tops than your workout t-shirts is advisable. However, most people can generally get away with whatever they would wear on a non-teaching occasion in the classroom as well, so don’t stress! Throw in a couple extra polos or a couple nicer blouses if you want to ensure you’ll have a professional enough look and call it a day!