This week on the Truth for Teachers podcast: simple steps for creating a comfortable teacher wardrobe that feels like “you.”
The secret to getting dressed quickly in the morning and feeling comfortable and confident all day is to have a closet that consists ONLY of things that make you feel like yourself.
If you’re wasting way too much time trying to figure out what to wear in the mornings and putting outfits together, this episode will help you simplify without taking away your ability to be creative and express yourself through what you wear. These tips will work for your teaching wardrobe but also apply to what you wear in your free time, as well.
I’ll share the process that I have developed over the years. It’s based on what’s already in your closet, for two reasons. Obviously, it’s more affordable to work with what you already have rather than starting from scratch. But also, noticing what’s already in your closet that you really love will give you a good insight as to what your informal teaching uniform might be. You may not be able to name your favorite silhouette or color palette offhand, but when you look around at the pieces you love in your closet and the things you wear over and over, it becomes a lot easier to tell what you love and should keep, and what you don’t and should stop buying.
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3 steps to figuring out your signature style
1. Choose a color palette you love, based on what’s already in your closet.
In warm weather, I don’t think about this as much because I tend to wear dresses, and that doesn’t require any color coordination. I pick a dress, put on black, brown, or metallic sandals, and I’m done. People always think I look super put together when I have a dress on — there’s something about dresses that have that effect, even when they’re really casual — but it’s just the easiest and coolest thing to wear when it’s hot.
Layering and wearing multiple pieces in cooler weather requires more thought. I find myself drawn to jewel tones in cooler weather: deep rich purple and burgundy, teal, forest green, and mustard. Starting about 10 years ago, just about everything I buy for fall and winter has been in those tones, or else black or gray. Then when I’m getting dressed, I know that everything basically goes together, because there’s nothing with bright orange or red stripes.
Having one color palette also makes packing for trips easier. All my cardigans coordinate with my blouses, for example, because they’re all in the jewel tone color palette.
So, I encourage you to notice the color family you are most drawn to, and try to ensure the majority of things you buy and the things you keep in your closet coordinate.
2. Choose a handful of silhouettes you love, based on what’s already in your closet.
My favorite silhouette is either skinny pants or leggings and a loose, flowing top, or an A-line dress that hits just above the knee. I feel most comfortable in those silhouettes and most like myself.
As much as I love the look of wide leg pants and boyfriend jeans, I know I’ll pass them over every morning in favor of stretchy pants that I feel comfortable curling up in, or a flowing dress which doesn’t restrict my movements.
This is not about what’s in style or what you like theoretically or even about flattering your body type: it’s just noticing what silhouettes (what styles of clothing) you tend to pull out of your closet every morning and which ones you never seem to want to wear.
3. Choose a handful of shoe types you love, based on what’s already in your closet.
I used to be a shoe addict: I wanted every shoe style in every color, and I’d scour Ross Dress for Less weekly in my quest for cute shoes. As I got older, I realized that wearing cheap shoes had actually been creating back pain for a long time, and I needed to start choosing quality over quantity. My days of standing on hard tile in a classroom wearing $8.99 uncushioned sandals were over.
I had no choice but to start being more intentional about what I bought, and realized that there were only a handful of styles I’d wear in any given year. Currently, I’m into sneakers because I love athleisure, as well as booties, and flat sandals. I have a few other types of shoes for occasional use (heels, snow boots, and rain boots, for example). But my daily rotation is sneakers, booties, or flat sandals, period.
I wear them mostly in black so that they go with every single thing in my wardrobe. When I pack for a trip, I really don’t need more than 2 pairs of shoes (a dressier pair and a more casual pair, both in black) because one of the two will work with everything I’ve packed.
I always think about shoes first when choosing an outfit: What kind of footwear will I need in order to be comfortable and dressed appropriately for whatever I’m doing that day? And then I choose clothes based on that.
I encourage you to think about which shoes you are most comfortable teaching in. Chances are, there are just a couple of pairs you wear repeatedly. Remember that style when you are shopping. If a new pair of pants isn’t going to look right with the shoes that keep your feet happy all day, you will probably won’t wear those pants much and they’ll be a waste of money.
Those are the three steps for figuring out your style: the color palette, the silhouette, and the shoe styles that you love. If this feels limiting, remember that your pajamas, workout clothes, and lounge clothes don’t have to fit this pattern. I wear wide legged pajama pants and I buy nightgowns in every crazy color and pattern you can imagine, and since I spend 8-10 hours a day in loungewear around the house, I get my color fix then.
When you know your palette, silhouette, and shoe type, shopping becomes much, much easier. That red shift dress I see in the window might be adorable, but when it’s time to get dressed, I know I’m going to pick the A-line dress in my closet because I can move more freely. And, I know I’m going to want something in my jewel tone palette because that’s what I feel best in, and all my accessories are designed to match that. I will never get my money’s worth from that gorgeous red shift, so I can admire it and move on.
How to clean out your closet so it’s mostly items in your signature style
I’ve talked a lot about how to use these guidelines when you’re buying new stuff, because chances are good that if you’re reading this article, you enjoy shopping and experimenting with different looks to some extent. (That’s part of why it’s so time-consuming for you to get dressed in the morning for school!)
But, thinking about your color palette, silhouette, and shoe type is important when it comes to cleaning out what you already have. I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but cleaning out your closet is imperative if you want getting dressed to be fast and easy for you in the mornings.
The more choices you have, the harder it is to make a decision. The more “meh” clothes you have, the harder it is to see the things you really love.
Getting rid of clothes is tough for me and I have to be in the right mood. I know it when I feel it: 90% of the time I look at my closet and think, “I like most of this stuff, I don’t want to get rid of it.” But when that mood hits, I’m suddenly feeling ruthless: “Why am I looking at this sweater right now knowing that I’m never going to wear it again once it started ripping a little at the shoulder seam? Get rid of it, Angela!” And that’s when I seize the moment and look for other things to toss out.
If you struggle with getting rid of things, try to do it when you’re not in a sentimental mood. That fed-up-with-clutter energy will come eventually, and you’ll be more far more efficient and effective if you clean from that mental state instead of when you’re in a mood to hang on to everything.
When it’s the right time, clean out your closet and get rid of the things that either don’t fit your style or don’t bring you joy. The bringing you joy part is the Marie Kondo method, from the book “Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” which I only found to be effective for me when it comes to clothes. But it was so helpful for cleaning out my closet that it’s the only system I’ll ever use now.
I take everything out of a drawer and pile it on the floor, I look at each thing and ask, “Does this bring me joy?” Now that may sound woo-woo to our Americanized ears, but it’s been amazingly helpful for me, and so much more effective than asking if I might ever wear it:
That ratty tee shirt with a stain? Yeah, I might wear it to bed or to do yard work. Keep it. But does it bring me joy? No. So, toss it out.
I got rid of more clothes than ever before when I used this method, and the best part is that I now open my drawers and only see things I love. Because the truth is that when it’s time to go to bed, I don’t want to wear a ratty tee shirt. I want to wear something soft and pretty and comfortable, and the tee shirt never gets chosen. That means it’s time to get rid of it.
So I would encourage you to use the joy factor when cleaning out your closet. And when you get stuck, think about your palette and silhouette, too. You might find the occasional thing that doesn’t fit your norm but truly does bring you joy — it’s just a unique piece or you have a great memory from a time you wore it, and then it can stay.
But most of the things that bring you joy are going to be things that are in good condition and that you feel comfortable in and feel like yourself. That’s why you wear them over and over.
If you don’t feel like yourself in something, it should go. Sometimes that’s a fit issue. If you look at something in your closet and always think to yourself, “Nah, I don’t feel like tugging that up or pulling that down or adjusting that part all day” then get it out of your closet. Especially when you’re teaching, you do not need to be worrying about a blouse that keeps slipping or a pair of pants you have to keep hiking up. Doesn’t matter how cute it is, you will never wear it because it’s not comfortable, so part ways with it.
How to buy clothes that you’ll actually wear
The goal is to only wear clothes that make you feel like you, and to keep that goal in mind while shopping.
I’ve gotten so good at this that my mom and my friends that I shop with know what my look is intuitively. They’ll pick something up and say, “That looks like an Angela dress” and I’m like, “Yep, it is.” Get you some friends like this. These ladies KNOW ME. They never encourage me to buy something just because it’s cute or “flattering.”
When something is an “Angela dress” or an “Angela top,” I instantly feel more like me, or like my best self when I try it on. It’s something that I’m going to wear over and over again, so it truly deserves a place in my closet.
Here are some tips to help when you’re shopping:
1. Don’t buy things just because they’re different from anything else you own.
I used to look at store racks and think, “Oh, I don’t have anything in pale yellow. I should get the shirt in that color.” Well, the reason I don’t have anything in pale yellow is because it doesn’t look great on me, I don’t love the color, and it doesn’t really go with the rest of my wardrobe.
I’ve done the same thing with different styles of clothing. I love the look of blazers and denim jackets and think they look fabulous on other women, but when it’s time to get dressed, I will always pick a soft, cozy sweater instead. So why even buy the blazer?
Buying something just because it’s unique or interesting or different probably means you will never wear it enough to get your money’s worth. Stepping out of your comfort zone is better done when NOT shopping for things that go on your body.
2. Only buy pieces if you want to put them on right now.
If you’re not excited about it in the store when it’s brand new, you’re going to be even less enthusiastic later. Don’t bring stuff home unless you’re crazy about it—with so many options available now, there’s no reason to ever settle for things that don’t fit well.
3. Only buy things if you can envision them paired with at least three other things in your closet.
If something will only look good with one particular pair of shoes, for example, it’s going to be too limiting and require too much thought when you’re getting dressed. You want new purchases to be as versatile as possible.
How to create a capsule wardrobe or go super minimalist
Once your closet is full of ONLY things you feel confident and comfortable in, getting dressed in the morning is simple:
- You’ve picked a color palette, so everything basically coordinates and picking out your accessories and layers is easy.
- You’ve picked a silhouette, so all your tops are fitted or loose (or whatever it is you like and feel looks best with the style of pants you prefer.)
Now if you want to be really radical, you can try a minimalist wardrobe. There’s a couple of ways to do this.
One is to limit the number of pieces each season (for example, 30 pieces you wear for fall, and everything else is either donated or stored away.) You can change your 30 pieces every season, or some people change once a month.
I do something similar to this but with more pieces. These items occupy the front rack in my closet and I typically pick from them every day. I switch them out seasonally. The other clothes are still available if I need them.
Some teachers I know create an actual teaching uniform for themselves. Some wear the same uniforms as their students: polo shirt and khakis, or whatever the school has assigned. Personally, I would get bored by that, but it sure does simplify things!
Other teachers design a uniform of sorts for themselves: They own 3-4 pairs of the same black pants, the same shirt in a bunch of different colors, and just rotate through them. You can always make it more interesting with jewelry or scarves.
Another way to do this is by picking a super limited color palette that takes all the decision making out. I heard Christina Costa of Teach Like a Girl talking about this once — she only wears white, black, gray, and denim. That’s not just to teach in: those are literally the only colors she buys or wears. What’s really cool is that I follow her on Instagram and I see what she’s wearing almost daily because of her Instagram stories, and until she announced that she has a minimalist wardrobe, I truly had no idea. I never noticed she was wearing the same handful of colors over and over again.
I hope these tips have been helpful for you in developing your signature style and simplifying the process of figuring out what to wear every day.
I’m going to give you two takeaway truths for the week ahead because I think they’re both so important:
“Opening up your closet should be like arriving at a really good party where everyone you see is someone you like.” –Amy Fine Collins
“Everyone has their own style. When you have found it, you should stick to it.” –Audrey Hepbur
You can have as much fun or as little fun with your outfits and shopping as you’d like, but always think about YOUR signature style. Not what looks good on the model, or on a friend, or what you saw in a magazine, or what the other teachers in your school wear.
What feels like YOU? What do you really love and feel good in?
Find your style and stick to it, instead of chasing trends, trying to change your body, or attempting to fit in with other people.
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