Anarchy & the EYLF Pirates

Refuse. Resist. Rebuild.

Looking professional?

I was pissed off by this piece about reviewing her work wardrobe, by Danielle of Images of Learning.

Don’t get me wrong.  It is a good reflection.  She has noticed something about her working life and thought about it.  She has come to grounded conclusions.  She has developed a philosophical position.

Danielle now dresses with intent.

Good for her.

I like that Danielle is asserting her right to dress the way she chooses for work.  I like that her work-style is a product of reflection.  I like that she tells us about the work-related experience that got her thinking.

But this part worries me:

“I put my best self forward every day for the families, children and colleagues I work with. Part of doing that is making sure I look professional. We are educated women and men who care deeply for children and families. As a field we have a specialized knowledge that needs to be shared with our community. We must advocate for the practices that we believe in. We must articulate why we do what we do.  

Now imagine sharing that specialized knowledge and articulating those practices to a parent, a colleague, a community member, a politician, the media or a board member dressed in layered tank tops, an exposed bra, rolled up jogging pants and undone sneakers.”

What is this ‘looking professional’?  What does professional mean? What does it look like? Are we supposed to buy into a prejudice that people who wear their pants rolled up must have rolled their brains up in them too?

It bothers me that her ‘looking professional’  moves in the direction of strictures about appropriate dress that afflict women in work like sales or reception. Her version of professional seems to mean neat and clean and looking like you paid decent money for it and feminine.  And this look is supposed to get us listened to.

I find some pretty major flaws with her argument.

One is that looking all neat and girly doesn’t have a great track record in getting women listened to.  It has rather tended to silence us, if the truth be known.

Another is that it accepts the idea that we should be judged on appearance.  I want to be judged by what I do and what I know.  I want my knowledge and authority to come through in how I speak and write.  I don’t want to be judged on what I wear.  And I certainly don’t want to be told what I can wear.

Another is the way it seems to align with a view of educators as feminine and middle class.

I am opposed to educators being put in uniform.  I worry about the stamp of ownership this betrays.  I reckon we should have a right to dress as we choose.  Danielle should have that right for herself.  But she can back right off with the value judgements about other people who have a different sense of style, or just don’t think it matters.

Danielle says: “When I go to work it is my goal that my wardrobe says I take pride in what I do, I care about myself and your family and I am a professional.”

I say, if I choose to go to work in my pirate clothes (which are not particularly clean, and did not cost me anything because I obtained them at the point of a sword) this tells you precisely nothing about whether I care for myself or take pride in my work.  And you don’t get to use it to judge me.

© Grainne O’Malley, Anarchy and the EYLF Pirates



9 comments on “Looking professional?

  1. June
    October 21, 2013

    No one is telling you what you can wear… and ‘girly’ is not the same as feminine. Also I am not sure where you got girly from in the first place.

  2. Tina Mac
    October 21, 2013

    my professional clothes are not always the best looking. I don’t see the point of buying a “professional” outfit at a “professional” price when I will end up with paint and other things on my clothes. All of my clothes are clean, pressed, and second hand! I do like to wear the occasional skirt–I think young children need to see that women wear skirts too–and sometimes dressing up makes me feel better. And if I know I need to speak professionally, or be somewhere professional, i dress that way. Work clothes are that…work clothes.

  3. Monica
    October 21, 2013

    Living in a world where we are not judged on our appearance is a bit fanciful. I would much rather my daughter be cared for by the woman wearing jeans and a sweater than the one whose underwear (yes, bra straps are underwear) is showing. Showing lack of effort in caring for ones own presentation and appearance doesn’t instill a lot of confidence in the ability to care for others. I want my doctor clean and well dressed, my mechanic to have greasy fingernails, my carpenter to have sawdust in his boot treads. I want my child care providers and educators to appear with it enough to assemble an outfit in the morning. I am a secretary who has two wardrobes and it is expensive and inconvenient. But it is also necessary. Professional clothes do not have to be expensive. Trust me. There is a lot of room between put-together and couture.

  4. Belinda
    October 21, 2013

    Wow, someone down in Australia certainly got a little heated under her tricorn hat! May I venture to guess that there are some cultural differences between our countries. Indeed, when it comes to the work of young children, things can get messy and they should. Everyone in the group should participate and not merely stand on the sidelines, allowing the mud to land where it will. In Canada, our occupation has taken years to earn any credibility and dressing a little more “polished” may assist with the optics of our profession. Just this past week, in our local newspaper, they gave lip service to men in the tech industry in the Silicon Valley dressing “more professional”. These were computer geeks realizing that if they want to be taken seriously at the board room table, they need to step up their wardrobe game. So, if the boys are noticing that “appearance matters” then maybe we can take a page from their geeky book.

  5. Anarchy & the EYLF Pirates
    October 21, 2013

    Danielle’s original post provoked quite a lot of comment, and other responses. One of them (from Misty B at the Unpretentious Teacher) closes with:
    “early childhood educators can place their cute, little outfits in harms way and come out a-okay!”

  6. Anarchy & the EYLF Pirates
    October 21, 2013

    Here are some responses on the Images of Learning Project page from when the original post was first released:

  7. letishia
    October 21, 2013

    I think you may have missed the point, the author of ‘a tale of two wardrobes’ clearly says she doesn’t approve or want a uniform in the industry, and she also says that it doesn’t mean buying expensive clothes either/dressing in suits etc. What she is talking about is presenting ourselves as professionals – not babysitters. I enjoyed her piece, I work in ECEC and I go to work in outfits that appeal to children, my style and represent me as a professional educator. This means colourful dresses and comfortable shoes to me, or a pair of jeans, a nice shirt and a brooch or necklace. It means not just throwing on any ol’ thing and thinking “it doesn’t matter it will just get dirty/the kids don’t care what I look like etc'” because it DOES matter. The parents see you, your co-workers see you, and the wider public see you. We want them to see us as creative, caring, inspiring and professional people, surely?

  8. optimalstar
    March 11, 2014

    I dress for comfort in clothes I can afford to ruin. My style, if you can call it that, is practical. I tend not to worry what image that gives. I like to think what I’ve got to say is more important than how I look.

  9. Tallulah
    December 10, 2015

    Wow, I love this page, I am all about sharing and hearing other peoples perspectives. I have to say I agree with Grainne in that it does sound like she is advocating for a uniform of sorts even though she says she doesn’t. we have all been in centres where uniforms are expected and I have never worked at a place like this because I personally don’t believe in it and as a person and a ‘professional’ (which to me stands for a person working in a way that is at all times ethical, respectful, reflective and knowledgeable about early childhood and the sector in general) that dressing in a certain way adds to or takes away from the work that I do. In fact, I believe that if you dress one way for work and then change when you get home does that mean that you are 2 different people? Do you live a double life? Do you have something to hide? Are you really professional or is it all a farce? Our framework talks about Belonging, Being and Becoming, we discuss wellbeing each day; we plan experiences that support children to form a strong sense of identity, we don’t judge their ability to learn or to engage on the way they dress. At the end of the day parents, visitors and colleagues are going to think what they think depending on who they are; I want to be me whether I am at work, shopping with friends, at a conference and at home and so I REFUSE to have a life of 2 wardrobes, but that’s just part of what makes me who I am.

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