Why Art Teachers and Stilettos Don’t Mix

4 Feb

First, a disclaimer to all the dudes out there- I do love and respect your readership- but this post is about clothing. Continue if you dare.

Our clothing is so much a part of who we are, so when thinking about the profession of art education and our  “crazy art teacher” stigma we have to live up to, I can’t help but think that outer appearance is an important part of shaping anyone’s career identity.  I am always amazed when I go to art conferences how cool everyone looks, usually much more unique, earthy and artsy then myself.  I am more of the preppy art teacher (could you guess?).

I remember the moment I knew I was different.

In college I walked into our junior art seminar where all art majors were required to attend. Lots of brown, tan, prints, messenger bags, and even guys with no shoes at all were staring up at me as I walked in with my pink purse, tailored blazer, and wedge heels and I knew right then I was the odd man out (and the person everyone called when they needed that assignment they lost for tomorrow, so in the end, we all made friends).. but I digress..Let’s just say it was a Legally Blonde moment.

So you all know I am not really a superficial person in general. I write and think a lot about inner things. Motivation, attitude, creativity, the organization behind your cupboards and other inner workings. However, today I would like to talk about appearance, professionalism, practicality and also what NOT to wear!


I am pretty practical when it comes to my dress for work.  Black pants, brown pants, kacki pants, cardigans, pashmina scarves, basic colored T shirts, ruffled blouses and a few wrap sweaters and dresses are my go-to outfits.  The occasional sweater dress, leggings and boots on office days.  You get the picture.  But I noticed something as I looked around at most of my colleagues.  They always seem more dressed up than me. Is it because I am the art teacher and count to get messy? Not sure. But these little chickies prance around in heels and panty hose all day at school and I don’t know how they do it. Their feet must kill. How can they crouch down and get in a cupboard?

I have come to a conclusion.

Other teachers sit a lot more than art teachers, and they also don’t move as much as we do. Our jobs are physical. The attire must match the physicality of our job.

Next, lets talk about my dirty little secret for practicality in my wardrobe.  Goodwill. Yes, I buy some of my clothing at thrift stores, Goodwill, tag sales, etc.  First this came out of necessity as a poor college student. Now, I just do it because it’s smart, it’s fun and you can get a lot of amazing name brand things for really cheap, especially in the somewhat affluent suburb in which I teach. I always enjoy the look in people’s faces when I tell them my entire outfit cost under 10 dollars. They hate me.  Some people are grossed out by it because it had a former owner. Well, guess what? The new apparel you just threw on probably has more chemicals and junk on it being shipped over from China than my pre-worn, pre-softened and pre shrunk Gap sweater, so there!

This strategy really helps when you get paint on your clothes or clay dust or ink.  The profession is pretty messy, even though I wear an apron on paint/clay days. No more guilt for soiled clothing. If it’s ruined, then I guess I only spent 3 bucks on it anyway.

Why Art Teachers and Stilettos Don’t Mix:

I have bad feet. Not ugly, just bad. They are narrow and high arched and need LOTS of support to stand all day. Ballet flats and heels are totally out for me on a teaching day. Basically any shoe under $100 doesn’t feel good enough. So I choose to spend my money on good shoes. Dansko clogs (lots of nurses wear them) are my go to shoes and I SWEAR by them and that brand in general. (No they didn’t pay me to say it, I just LOVE them so much!) Anyhow, remember the colleague who’s feet probably hurt all day in heels or they never stood all day?  I just can’t do it! I can’t wear heels all day long and I envy people who can because my little clog friends aren’t always the cutest, although the brand has come a long way. I do love a great pair of heels to help boost my 5’2” frame, but I save them for weekends. For any of you who can swing it, bless your hearts!

What Not To Wear: 

Just because we are art teachers doesn’t mean we get to be slobs, either. You have to find that fine balance between professionalism and the art teacher look you are going for. And don’t wear leggings with anything that doesn’t cover your tushie. Just saying, legging offenders at work bug me. Sorry!

While we are taking no – no’s….I advise against doing too much with your hair. Mine is curly so I am of the minority with the easy care hair, but with recess and bus duty, by the end of the day I look like little orphan annie – all a mess. I still try, I do.  I just don’t think anyone realizes how different our jobs are from an office job. The days that I work in the office on curriculum work (more about that here) I am always more put together at the end of the day, have WAY more energy and just feel different. Not a complaint for the other days of the week, just an honest observation between the two since I have the privilege of direct comparison.

I do wear makeup every day and keep some lotion on hand at school  for the dry and cracked hands that are a product of washing your hands and washing out brushes over and over and over.

So do you hear the sirens of the fashion police coming near?

Whether this post totally bored you or interested you, lets all agree that we think about and put a lot of energy our appearance every day, as much as we don’t want to admit it, it does define us, so lets talk…What is your idea of professionalism at work? Any hints for all of us? And do tell- can you manage heels all day? Stains on your clothing? What’s the Scoop?

38 Responses to “Why Art Teachers and Stilettos Don’t Mix”

  1. laurann65 February 4, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    I totally agree! I don’t know how people teach in heels! I have the opposite foot problem – wide, flat feet. If I don’t wear GOOD shoes, my feet and legs hurt. My go-to shoes are Keens. Love them! I feel like if the gym teacher wears a sweat suit & gym shoes, I should be wearing clothes to do art in. I love the thrift store idea for shopping, I don’t have a good one near me, but I do buy most of my clothes on the sale rack at Walmart or Target – so when I do get paint on them I am not annoyed. I enjoy your posts.:)

    • Hannah February 4, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

      The two schools I travel to represent a WIDE sense of fashion between the teachers. I see some rockin’ sneakers with their dress attire every day, and others that are VERY trendy. As for me, I’m just personally a very “safe” and practical teacher- lots of neutral colors and sensible tops and pants… partly because we get messy! and two, women’s trends come and go, it’s annoying to keep up! I do, however, try to sass it up with some fun accessories, whether it’s a pop of color with jewelry, scarves, even some funky colored shoes. Making the salaries that we do, spending a lot of it on our own supplies, I just don’t have money to spare on a new wardrobe every year.

    • Vivian February 4, 2012 at 6:50 pm #

      My thought the same…How do women teach in heels?. I’ve seen stilletto’s worn all day! I could never do it. My feet wouldn’t allow it!
      Clogs don’t work for me either though. Comfort for me comes more through Keens as well as I have a wide foot as well. Love them! Though I wish they continued some of their former styles of shoes.

  2. Clare February 4, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    Jessia I am with you all the way on this one! I don’t spead a lot on work clothes but I finally bit the bullet in the shoe department. About a year ago I bought my first pair of Dansko clogs……Love them! I see som of my co workers wearing thelr cute outfits with their knee high boots…..I don’t know how they do it!

  3. Katie February 4, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

    Sometimes I get home, look in the mirror and wonder what happened at school because my hair is a mess! Like Annie lol! But you nailed it, our jobs are just different:) I have long straight to wavy hair and it always ends up in a braid by the end of the day.

  4. Mrs. Euken's Art Mooseum February 4, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    YES!!! You are SO right Jessica!!! I taught kindergarten for years and was on my feet all day, so that’s not really the difference for me, but my feet hurt so much worse now because my regular ed classroom had carpeting and my art room has concrete floors. Not even linoleum! I guess when they built it about 10 years ago, they thought clean-up would be easier. I too LOVE shopping at the Goodwill. I’m in SW Iowa so we frequent Omaha, Ne. They have some GREAT Goodwill stores to check out if you are ever down in the area.
    I have several pieces of jewelry I have made, also scarves I have crochetted, woven or knit myself. I like to wear these to school quite a bit. It’s a good way to get my students interested in making things for themself too.

    While we are on the subject, do any other art teachers suffer from planter fasciitis? I need som shoe suggestions. I was going to check out Danskins like you said Jessica, but they say they arent the greatest for PF. Thanks jessica!

    • Kathy Olson February 4, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

      I have plantar fasciatis and the best shoes (not stylish) are the new balance 1123 or the higher numbers. I also wear orthotics. The couldn’t stand all day if I didn’t have on a pair of new balance. Check the different styles at onlineshoes.com

    • Jessica Balsley February 4, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

      My mom has planter fasciitis! She has luck with new balance shoes for that, (and now I just scrolled below see that Kathy says the same thing!) I am trying to remember what she does for it, I think a tennis ball on the bottom of her feet? She also goes to the chiropractor and alignment helps the pressure on her feet. Oh the things we deal with as art teachers. I will have to Goodwill in Omaha when the AEI conferences is there in October, if I have time!

    • Chris Lincoln February 4, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

      I now have chronic planter fasciitis after battling it off and on for 5 years. I too have concrete floors, ouch! Above the ankles I wear a lot of ponte knit pants/slacks (sort of spongy, doesn’t show undergarment lines, and very washable) with classic long sleeve tee shirts and some times a fun vest over the tee. I don’t think I have worn a dress in the last 5 years mostly because of the shoes I need to wear. Below the ankle I have tried, New Balance, Clark’s unstructured, Dansko, and Rockport shoes. I mostly wear tie shoes for that extra support. My feet are just awful and in pain a lot of the time. I have developed a system using 2 inserts at the same time. The first one I put in the shoe is firm and designed for a strong arch support and heel cup. The second insert is a much softer “cushy” layer stolen from one of my older New Balance shoes. This system is working for me at the moment. None of my shoes retail for under $100 but I usually find them new and in the box on ebay for under $50.
      Thanks Jessica for your wonderful blog, I always look forward to it.

  5. Tisha Burke February 4, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    I have slacks in every color – Old Navy ones are best – I very RARELY wear any kind of skirt or dress – too much on the floor or kneeling for that. I do always try to have some funky jewelry and also wear scarves I have crocheted. I have a few pais of Danskos but I usually always wear my sneakers. I like flair bottom pants so it is usually not noticable what is on my feet. But you said it we are up and moving more than classroom teachers.
    Thanks Jessica for always coming up with a topic that gets us hopping!

    • Jessica Balsley February 4, 2012 at 5:32 pm #

      It applies to everyone, huh! We all have to 1. get dressed, and 2. put in a lot of hard work!:)

  6. s February 4, 2012 at 3:55 pm #

    There are several classroom teachers in my school who have planter fasciitis and they all wear and swear by Dansko’s after their podiatrist recommended them.

    Grew up classic/prep so I wear wool pants, linen, cashmere, silk scarves, Lilly brights, pearls, monograms and after 9 years have never had a problem. If anything splash’s on me I rinse it out immediately. No stains.

    I would not change my clothing style for a teaching job, and at 40, I just wear a preppy apron for all of my messy projects!

    There are only a few teacher who dress nicely in my district. Most wear clean, simple, easy move knit stuff or cotton blouses and simple knit or cotton pants.

    • Jessica Balsley February 4, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

      Good trick on rinsing out immediately! I have used Tide to Go in a pinch, as well!

  7. Tracy February 4, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

    I do not think I could teach if I did not have my danskos. My feet are so darn big, I have to buy men’s, no cute purple ones for me. My go to staple for cold weather, cords in all colors, long sleeve t’s, and cardigans. Because I am tall I have found I cannot buy cheap pants, but I rarely spend more than 10 dollars on a shirt. When things get messy I have my trusted denim apron, and we roll up the sleeves!

  8. Cathy February 4, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    I read your posts and feel like I wrote them myself. I too don’t want to dress like every other teacher. I always feel like I can try funky things because if people don’t like it, they just say”oh she’s the art teacher, she can get away with it.”. But I tend to create my styles using Goodwill and thrift stores. Since styles come and go so fast I tend to get things on sale at Old Navy, I like their pants. I’m ALL about comfort. I spend my money on good shoes. I recently started wearing dansko clogs, WOW. I think I could be a spokesperson for them. I also have two pair of low heeled boots, one black pair and one brown pair. Both of them are just about as comfortable as the dansko clogs. But you do pay a “good” price for them. In the fall I bought a few skorts from Athleta. Solid colors and very comfortable, You can dress them up a bit or be more. Thanks Jessica for the posts. As much as we art teachers want to be individuals it’s nice to know there are people out there just like me. :).

    • Jessica Balsley February 4, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

      You are welcome! I got an Athleta catalog in the mail once and thought the stuff looked nice, I’ll have to revisit now that I am not pregnant. Oh and maybe I shouldn’t even MENTION trying to dress when you are postpartum (in between sizes) – Kind of interesting. I am trying to get by for now.

  9. s February 4, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

    Our district does not allow teachers to wear sneakers or flip-flops to school. So Dansko’s are the shoe of choice for panters foot pain.

  10. Vivian February 4, 2012 at 6:46 pm #

    Hi there! Yes, I too like to go to the thrift store, and it makes me feel good to spend less and not be concerned about getting things dirty. Jessica, I know what you mean about the chemically smells and such and clothes being broken in. I’ve gotten a lot of clothes through clothing swaps too which is a fun way to get new accessories, shoes, coats, shirts, and make a fun time with girlfriends out of it too, also a way to get some items for free! I love Keens as I have a wider foot and like the support and structure of them. I have a low cut boot that I love for comfort, I sometimes wear sneakers, and also cheaper shoes that are more like a slipper that are comfortable yet a casual dressy that I can wear with anything. I’ve gotten less concerned about dressing up and am enjoying more casual attire with a fancy head scarf and or accessories. Our jobs are physically demanding and it feels good to just be more casual, yet still feel colorful.

  11. Laura @ Painted Paper February 4, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

    Yep! You are preaching to the choir sista! My feet are really messed up! planter all the way. I wear the dansko’s and wear skirts alot with leggings. I dressed differently then all of my teachers. I tend to wear scarfs and nice cotton pullover shirts. I prefer scandinavian attire, fun sweaters, patterns, and aprons!:)

  12. Ronda February 4, 2012 at 8:59 pm #

    Yep to plantar fasciitis…and shoes or inserts of choice are Berks, and if I go one day without….OUCH!

    Stains….I swear by “Kiss Off” stain remover stick, and I have a number on hand at all times. Kids from all over the school (MS/HS) who have had class with me will still come to the art room if a stain crisis arises. It will even get acrylic paint out. (…and no paid endorsement.) Look for them at the NAEA convention. They are always there.

  13. krngriffith February 4, 2012 at 11:38 pm #

    Krud Kutter best product for getting stains out of clothing. Biodegradable and non toxic:)

  14. Nic Hahn February 5, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    I do wear high heels… I limit myself to 3 days a week. Now that I have made the move to the middle school and I’m not sitting ‘cris-cross apples sause’ everyday, I like to dress up, skirts, and dresses. I only wear professional cloths at school. On great occasion I will wear a spirit shirt of the schools mascot but for the most part I dress up. I have LOTS of aprons that I wear everyday (they also match my outfits). But high heals are my favorite. I will probably pay for it later in my life but for right now, I get my leg workout all day long running from student to student assisting, running down to get copies and over to the teachers lounge. I also love the traditional ‘art teacher’ look… but I too, would consider myself ‘different’.

  15. Sabrina February 5, 2012 at 10:31 pm #

    I do wear heels and I teach elementary (K-5). I may have sturdy feet from running around barefoot all the time… I suppose? My trick is to leave the ballet flat Crocs in my classroom and change shoes.

    However, the first 2 weeks of school I wear heels, super professional clothes, and do a lot of stomping around so I’m not mistaken for a student as that happens frequently. I feel that students take you seriously if you dress seriously.

  16. Carol February 6, 2012 at 4:24 am #

    I hate dealing with work clothes! I tried when I first started teaching…. But now I am down to about 15 black Gap t-shirts and 10 black easy fit slacks from Walmart, funky converse (the kind with eyelets but no laces so I can argue that they are loafers – not tennis shoes), and different funky jewelry every day ( I keep etsy artists employed). The black tee and slacks are literally the exact same every day…. But I dress it up or down with jewelry, jackets and shoes. Since its all black, I don’t have to worry about stains!

  17. Novak February 6, 2012 at 7:54 am #

    HAHA! I love all the comments on here!
    1) First off, all of you that claim you “NEED SUPPORT” in your shoes need to do a little research into feet mechanics. Now, some of you will probably need something – but more and more research is saying that the more you ‘support’ your feet the ‘worse’ they will get. It makes sense – the whole reason that arches are strong in architecture is because they bare weight from the top – the more weight, the stronger the arch. Your feet are NO different – they are meant to bare weight from you body. Supporting an arch either your foot or a car bridge undermines the structure and causes it to be weak. Going barefoot takes some time – I’d wait till summer – but I haven’t worn shoes with arches in over 2 years and my back, legs, hips NEVER hurt and like you all, I stand on hard concrete/linoleum floors all day!

    2) Second, I agree in the above statements – all the other teachers seem to be far more put together and trendy than I. I have given up on having paint free clothing – just doesn’t happen. I also always wear a paint filled apron or paint shirt during the day — it’s just easier to wipe my hands on that then washing them again. Ha – and lets face it – I prefer to sleep than to put on make-up. I never wear make up and most days I have to ‘wrinkle release’ my clothing.

    • Ronda February 6, 2012 at 8:00 am #

      I was prescribed “support” by a podiatrist…I would hope a trained professional would know my foot needs. I was born with flat feet (yep…my foot print is a bulge out at the pool). I guess we aren’t all cut from the same mold.:)

      • Novak February 6, 2012 at 8:38 am #

        I didn’t mean it for everyone – just a suggestion for some people who still have feet and back pain or dread buy expensive shoes/insoles. It’s been great for me. I use to go home with tired legs and aching back.

  18. Cassidy February 6, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    I really loved this post for a number of reasons. Since I went to college with you, I had to laugh out loud when you said you had a Legally Blond moment while walking into art seminar. I don’t know if we had seminar together or not, but I could picture myself being in the room with you! I sometimes feel as though I don’t fit the art teacher impression my students have of me. Just last week a sixth grader came into my classroom on the third day of class. She said “When I saw you, I didn’t think you were the art teacher.” I replied, “Oh yeah, why didn’t you think I was the art teacher?” She looked me up and down and said, “Art teachers are supposed to dress funky and you dress so nice.” I had to chuckle when she said this to me. Little did she know I was “dressed so nice” because we had parent teacher conferences in the evening. Her comment did have me thinking about my art teach wardrobe.
    I find myself dressing more professionally and “nice” now that I teach middle school. I feel like I have to dress a little nicer because if I don’t, then I get confused for a student. Plus, I think they show a little more respect when I appear to dress more professionally. Of course my favorite shoes for any day in the art room are also Dansko clogs.
    I am OBSESSED with any Dansko shoes, and I wish they DID pay me for saying that. I literally have over ten pairs. They are hands down the best shoes EVER. My husband even wears them for work now. We are a Dansko loving family. Everyone should buy a pair. In Iowa we have a store called Von Maur. They often discount clogs at the end of each season. I have also gotten a couple pairs at Nordstrom Rack. Oh, and Sanita is the same company so they’re just as good.
    I also am a huge ebay, craigslist, thrift store and goodwill shopper. We art teachers we recycle daily in our classrooms. Why not recycle in our personal lives… purchasing gently used clothes are the best way to recycle- that and baby/kids items.
    Jessica, I think we need to go shopping together!

    • Jessica Balsley February 8, 2012 at 7:37 pm #

      Cassidy! I can picture you in your clogs traipsing around Europe with me! Oh don’t you wish we could go back? I was also curious what you were up to these days and now I see teaching middle school art. Are you teaching in Cedar Rapids? I love Von Maur. Let me know if you see clogs on the sale rack and YES we must shop together sometime. I am looking forward to the summer garage sale season to find some cute new things for Nora!:) Keep in touch, my friend!

  19. Angie February 6, 2012 at 9:11 pm #

    Ok, now I have to try dansko shoes. My feet are narrow, so it is hard to find anything that fits. Also, my feet and legs hurt! I had to laugh that you were so dressed up for any college class. Except for when I was observing in a classroom or my internship, I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I don’t remember anyone dressing up, except freshman.

  20. kari February 7, 2012 at 9:46 am #

    What I wear usually depends on how tired I am in the morning (or the night before) but a solution I found online for the art teacher stains is:
    bring a large pot of water (half full) to boil on the stove. Add a scoop of OxiClean and a squirt of liquid dish detergent. Add clothes, turn off heat, and leave covered overnight. Wring out and wash as usual.

    Works for every stain every time! I have the instructions typed up on little sheets of paper to send home with kids and I have had kids spill entire bottles of acrylic paint on them, then come in to school the next week wearing the same clothes, looking as though nothing had ever happened. Since I’m so messy, I usually wait until I have a few stained outfits I can work my stain magic on at once.

  21. artprojectgirl February 8, 2012 at 6:54 pm #

    I dream of having what not to wear take me away for a weekend. . . if nothing else to sleep alone in a hotel room, have a t.v. all to myself and a shower to myself. I think I’ll start dressing a lot worse in hopes that they come steal me away for a weekend of bliss!!!! Hope you are doing well getting back in the swing. It gets easier everyday promise! Especially when they start sleeping really well!

    • Jessica Balsley February 8, 2012 at 7:38 pm #

      It’s gradually getting better, but sure is a new pace of life. She is a good sleeper already, sleeps 9 hours a night at 3 months, believe it or not- from 9pm – 6am! I know, I know I am lucky. I had her on a schedule from the start and that helps. She is so happy the sitter just loves her, too.

  22. Deb H. February 9, 2012 at 7:16 am #

    I love that we all share so many aspects of fashion and teaching art! Two things really spoke to me in this entry; 1) I love thrift shopping and now find many cool ways to alter and repurpose/remodel clothing. It also provides an interesting and useful outlet for my creative impulses! 2) I also rarely sit down all day. With the thin layer of linoleum over concrete, I too have succumbed to planter fasciitis! I loved cute flats prior to this era, but have found fun colored-keens and danskos help a lot. This year I have even painted a few of my shoes- I made an owl pair to go with a project on owls, a Monet pair and a Klimt pair!!!

  23. suitemusik February 19, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    I’ve had one pair of Dansko’s (the teal ones like your brown ones). Unfortunately I found that as the music teacher the Dansko’s were too heavy. For me, I prefer Earth shoes. I bought my first pair during my last semester of college. They were still my favorite pair of shoes until I got rid of them at the end of last school year (they were 5 years old!). They typically run around $100 but I got mine at the Von Maur clearance room for about $50. I got lucky this year and found replacement loafers for about $47 a piece (did brown and black). I recently read through our contract and it says attire should be appropriate for the job assignment, so I don’t feel so bad about not being as dressed up as other teachers. During the warmer months my go-to footwear are Chaco sandals (I have a plain black pair that I try to dress up) and a pair of brown leather Teva sandals too, but the Chaco’s are my favorite.

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