Does this outfit make me look like a teacher?

I was at the nail salon the other day and the manicurist asked me if I was a teacher. "Why?" I asked her. "You look like a teacher", she said, "and you talk like one."

Well! I was rather upset. 

I imagined that the manicurist meant a wash n' wear, offend-no-one aura of kindly neatness. A look that is not unfeminine but never interesting. And they speak in complete sentences, with attention to grammar. Is it I to whom you refer?

I have no reason to hold this stereotype.

My teacher friends are unabashed beauties, graceful goddesses, lovely family members. My teacher friend Cathy had (till retirement) the ability to undo from one to three buttons of her Thomas Pink shirts in a split second, as the occasion dictated–and anytime after 4 pm., it was three-button time. And you have met the bombshell Christine aka, the teacher Christine.

Oh god, I thought, I'm slipping into the 60ish semi-retired bog of obdurate sensibility I always dreaded. Is this like the notion that we marry our fathers, or live our parents unlived lives, or some other what-you-want-is-not-what-you-think-you-want theory?

The gateway purchase?
But I am changing. For the first time in my life, in October I read an LL Bean catalog all the way through, not just for the snow boots and adorable dog beds. I looked at the women's clothes and ordered... slippers. But can corduroy big shirt be far behind?

Flee from salon. Paw into closet, risk wreck of mani, pick funkiest pants, leather jacket for dinner at sushi bar with Le Duc. Apply sake to shaky self-image. Decide to buy red lipstick. 

Get providentially-timed e-mail from Christine, who comments that my new oxfords in black might have a "grand-maternal vibe". She may be right, but perhaps grandmother offers more scope than teacher? Have nothing against grandmothers either, but start thinking about what to wear with the oxfords.

C. reports just bought Costume National pony skin flats. Graciously responds to plea for photos, showing how she's wearing them:

Hip with red pants

Insouciant with grey tights

Tell her that in the tights, she looks like an elf on absinthe.

I substitute Christine for the teacher in my mistaken mind. Hah! Formulate plan to march her into salon on next visit and introduce my teacher friend.


I am a teacher and I actually find this post to be hysterical. There are so many people who have stereotypes of teachers...mostly because of their own teachers they had in their own lives!! I hope when people read my blog that they do not see a frumpy teacher, but hopefully someone who is a dignified, fashionable woman who just happens to teach! I guess one of my goals after 50 has been to break the mold of the stereotype...and have fun doing it!!
frugalscholar said…
Another teacher here: I would guess that you give off the aura of teacher b/c you are rather bossy and you are very ready to share what you know about all sorts of things. I'm the same.

I read the LLB catalog all the way through because I find it interesting that an enormous company manages to give off the vibe of a family business (it IS a family biz--just an enormous one). Except for boots and totes, I don't buy anything there for me. I do like the men's clothes.
Alison said…
"An elf on absinthe"...that made me guffaw. I'm 53 and can relate to your outrage. I'm getting called "m'am" in shops. My 20-something supervisor said "your a nice lady"....... Makes me wonder sometimes why I put in the time and effort to keep my face and figure looking good. Bah!

My advice is get yourself a copy of "Parisian Chic" by Ines de la Fressange. I've long admired the French woman's attitude towards ageism ie: bien sur sa peau! Be comfortable in your own skin.
Genuine Lustre said…
These comments in the salon really leave a mark, don't they? I'll never forget the day ( at least 15 yrs ago!) I escaped the small children for an afternoon at the beauty shop and the stylist said, "so you want a housewife haircut, right?" GRRRRR!!!
Not going gently into that good night...
Rubi said…
I don't think you're teacher-y at all (not that there's anything wrong with it!)...

When I was teaching at the uni, I was often praised for my style -- though maybe there's a difference between teacher and instructor!
Duchesse said…
Pam: Cheers! Teachers can be stylish and it's not just the teachers I know! I was educated by nuns, who, once they were allowed to forsake their habits, were not allowed to dress stylishly, but even some of those achieved a discreet elegance.

Frugal: I am bossy, but actually quite submissive once someone is attacking my cuticles with a sharp instrument.

Buy a lot of Bean clothes for my sons, and do I ever love that everyday free shipping.

Ali: Here in Quebec (and in France, too) a woman above her 20s is called "Madame", which I like. There is respect in that slight formality. Ma'am is of course the American contraction of Madame, and it lands differently to my ear.

Anyway, do you not like it because it results in you feeling "old"?

I reviewed Ines' book here:

Some content is useful but found a lot fluff, and some of her pronouncements downright silly.

Genuine Lustre: Oh, no! That must have hurt. And from your photo, I'd say most inaccurate!

Rubi: What surprised me is my sense of dread, when my actual life experience of teachers is that they are just as stylish as anyone else, except maybe women in the fashion and media industries.
coffeeaddict said…
First try and identify where the annoyance of being labeled as "a teacher" comes from.
I started amassing funky unusual wardrobe ranging from avant-garde to infantile all the while fearing I dressed this way because I somehow mask my lack of originality by wearing whimsical pink parka and pom pom beanies. Recognizing this insecurity changed the way I dress today. I still wear the pink parka but I also bought some very generic, very "boring" black dress pants (after 11 years!)
OH I posted an image of my new slippers and they are very much teacher style...
it's funny because the shoe fits!!!
Anonymous said…

Whatever anyone says, you are and always be my "maîtresse".

Le Duc
Being a teacher, among my tribe, is a great compliment! And one must never take the comments of others to heart - they usually reflect what's going on with THEM much more than what's going on with YOU. And L.L.Bean? Awesome cashmere, and other occasional goodies that the truly creative among us can ROCK, with high quality, free shipping, and undestroyable quality. (yes, I made that word up)
big hug,
Susan said…
I needed a good laugh this morning and you gave it to me!!! I used to be a teacher (and loved it). I think you COULD be a teacher---and the fact is quite evident that you have taught a great deal to your readers.

I do find some fashion choices to be a bit dowdy when others do not. It's all in the eye of the beholder.
Seattle-gal said…
I just received a pair of black driving moccasins yesterday and was debating whether I should keep them. Pros: comfortable, well made and classic. Cons: they could be teacher shoes (which I hadn't considered until this moment.) Verdict: they are out-a-here, back to Zappos. Thanks for allowing me to dodge that bullet.
Duchesse said…
coffee addict: see para 3, first two sentences for the answer to your request. Like you, I find it a good idea to assess the reasons behind choices, and sometimes make a departure.

hostess: Oh the sheep slippers are adorable! And you would not wear them out of the bungalow, I assume?

Le Duc: •Blushing*!

Vivienne: "Undestroyable" is a great quality and useful word. It's true we are usually a screen for the other's projection.

Susan: Now have fantasy of teachers mailing in photos of themselves in incredibly cool outfits... either that or dressed like Cameron Diaz in "Bad Teacher".
Duchesse said…
Seattle-gal: Oh dear, far be it for me to deep-six a pair of driving mocs. Perhaps it's the colour? Have you seen those J. Crew Birella patent loafers in tart colours?

And check these, black but hardly staid:
Gayle said…
Another (retired) instructor here who was asked the same question on a recent shopping trip. In my case, my bemused expression prompted the young salesperson to expand a bit more. "It's just that you talk to me like I am a person, not a servant."

That stopped me in my tracks. Maybe what gives me away is not my clothes or shoes but my way of interacting with those who are younger than me? That "aura of kindly neatness... and speaking in complete sentences, with attention to grammar" may not be such bad thing.
Duchesse said…
Gayle: I find his remark touching- and it does not speak well for how some shoppers treat young associates. I am reminded of the Samuel Johnson's adage that "the measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good."
Susan Tiner said…
Duchesse, the inept salon comment surprises me, especially in a cosmopolitan city like Montreal. None of the teachers I know, including my sweetie Martin and very chic daughter Miss R fit the stereotype you describe above. Think of Mater too. That stereotype is quite off base, although perhaps it once did ring true when more traditional social mores were norm.

To me, you are the epitome of chic.

We both own fuzzy LL Bean slippers. No it is not a gateway purchase, though reading that did make me laugh!

Le Duc's comment is so romantic.
Tiffany said…
I'm a teacher and I loved this post! Fortunately I work in a school where most of the female teachers dress well and care about how they look. There is definitely an art to dressing for the classroom - you need to be comfortable and able to move; you need to be modest/somewhat conservative; and you still want to express yourself.

In short, I agree that you shouldn't be afraid to look like a (well-dressed) teacher!
Duchesse said…
Susan Tiner; From pre-school playground through post-grad halls, "teacher" covers a lot of territory. My respect for teachers led me to post this:

Because of that range, I'd say teachers run the gamut, like many occupational groups not held to a strict dress code or uniform.

Tiffany: In the primary schools the work can be messy indeed, a physical job as well as mental- and even though university there is dust and the need to be on one's feet often.
Anonymous said…
Every word of this introspective romp was amusing--and le Duc's racy comment tied a bow on it! Here's to all the sexy, mysterious, edgy and funny schoolteachers, librarians, grandmothers, nurses and bloggers in the world.

Duchesse said…
C.: Here, here!

Tiffany: That should be "even through university..."
SewingLibrarian said…
Ha! You think teachers get a bad reputation? Try librarians! In truth I've known both good and bad dressers among my colleagues. Some of the bad dressers had other things on their minds (the woman with the adopted son with Asperger's Syndrome, for instance.) Chacune a son gout.
Araminta said…
I'm a former college prof & when I finally started to get compliments from colleagues who were born in France and Italy I felt that I had managed to transcend the "whatever feels comfortable in the class-room" image.
Duchesse said…
SewingLibrarian: Decades ago, I worked in hospitals. I used to envy the staff who could work in a uniform. Sometimes I've found choosing and maintaining a work wardrobe a real effort. Add home challenges to that and I can easily see why someone does not put much focus on attire.

Araminta: Nice to get compliments, even better if we can be comfortable st the same time.
materfamilias said…
Two great posts in a row. As humourous as these both are, there's also something interesting here that I sense about trying to sort out what we really like to do and what we do to fight off ageing (or appearing old). We don't want to be cantankerous, and yet there are some things that strike us as rude -- if we were younger we might comment, even complain, with impunity, but at our age, we worry about falling into a stereotype. Interesting terrain, isn't it?
I'm at home, tonight, in slippers, being cranky, loving it . . .
It isn't easy to find ladylike,luxurious, and long lasting slippers!
I have spent a small fortune on several pairs of Loro Piana cashmere, open heel slip in's! They must be designed for women who never walk a step?
I like to walk in my slippers; I'm kind of funny that way.

I now buy Patricia Green, open heel slip ons, or Port Of Naples, ballet slippers, with creamy pearls, and ribbon trim, that match my boudoir.
Duchesse said…
LOL: I buy Eric Bompard cashmere ballerina sippers, easy to order. Maybe I could add my own pearls :)

But here in Canada, we need heavier weapon for coldest months. Everyone in our family has a pair of Bean sheepskin slippers and I often give them as gifts.
Alison said…
Bon soir! I read your review of Parisian Chic, which you kindly posted for me. I admit I was disappointed with the shopalogue section of the book. And rather horrified at the bit about Parisian parents who dress their children like Twilight extras. I agree too that a chunk of her "advice" should already be common knowledge to the average over-40. But you'd be surprised (perhaps appalled is the better word) at some of the sights you see here in England.

But overall, it was a fun read and I'm glad I bought it.

Regarding the "madam" v "m'am" thing; your right on the money. Either term reminds me I'm rapidly approaching grand dame status. LOL!

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