Does Clothing Count?

We had an incident at school this week that returned me to a puzzling question:  Does clothing count?

Apparently one of our young men (yes the ones who still chase each other around to tackle them, bring cars, and play with tech deck finger skateboards) cat-called one of our teachers.  I named the teacher I thought would be cat called and it was affirmed.

Now I’m going to state right off that she was covered collar bone to carpet.  She was wearing two shirts (light t’s), wide legged trouser jeans, and her “morning” shoes.  I know because I was in the office when she discussed her “morning shoes” (shoes you can walk in, not the heels she wears).  At the time I was thinking to myself, “She has a REALLY cute figure.”  She does.  She’s just got this great presence.  Yes, I would call her sexy. However, I doubt that was her intent.  If you took the outfit and put it on me, you wouldn’t have the same affect.  If you hung the clothing up, you wouldn’t buy it as sexy.  It was just the right combination, but again, not deliberate (she teaches KIDS.  She’s not weird.  She DOES NOT want them.  Trust me.).

When one of the cohorts was talked to about this, an example was brought up using another teacher.  That teacher approached me yesterday not-so-happy because, as she points out, she doesn’t dress that way.  It’s true; she doesn’t.  She lives in layers (cold room) and work clothes that match what she’s teaching.  However, she did point out that maybe some teachers should be talked to about “the way they dress.”  She has definite attitudes about dress.  I understand because I do to.  It’s something that has always divided me from most feminists.  I think that clothing is part of our non-verbal communication with the world.

I know that we, as a society, truly think it counts.  We have shows dedicated to it: What Not to Wear, Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style, something new with British chicks telling us what to wear (French I’d get.  The British are now style matrons?), style sections on TV magazine and talk shows, and MAGAZINES devoted to clothing.  This has to count.  Why else would you (or others) worry about dressing like a hoochie mama, matronly, dumpy, frumpy, or boring?

The question really is: how MUCH does it count?  Should a teacher be talked to because her figure is cute enough to get boys to react?  If we took the clothes and returned them to hangers, would our judgment be the same?  Does intent count?  Which side should really be talked to, the boys for acting stupid; or the teacher for dressing in a way that would make Stacy and Clinton proud?

We’ve come full circle.  Does clothing count?


3 thoughts on “Does Clothing Count?

  1. ubuntucat says:

    I don’t really think that divides you from most feminists. Most feminists would definitely agree clothing communicates a message, but they don’t agree that women are to blame if they get cat-called or harassed or raped for how they dress.

    Perhaps instead of saying “Teachers shouldn’t dress this way,” the school should say “Students shouldn’t cat-call teachers.”

  2. Morocco says:

    I’ve thought about this question often over the years as a teacher. When I first began I was 22 years-old. I was more liberal in my professional clothing taste then, in part because I didn’t have an extensive classroom wardrobe or the funds to get one.

    But I also felt like I was there to teach and not to worry about meeting some phantom standard of “teacher” dress. Old muumuus and polyester pantsuits are not the makings of a professional either! What does a modern day teacher “look” like anyhow I wondered? When I was a student, most of my teachers dressed “professional.” I don’t think I ever saw one of them in jeans.

    Flashforward to now and I absolutely CRINGE at some of the stuff I wore to school! While I rarely wore jeans, some of my clothes were just too fitting and trendy. I am petite but curvy. And no, it wasn’t my intention to entice any of my students, but I am sure that I did, much to my shame! You know what they say about intentions…Some of my other younger colleagues would wear raggedy jeans, sweatshirts, and flip-flops. Now, I thought this dress was way too casual for me.

    I think I realized this once I observed how some of the girls dressed at school. They definitely distracted the boys! I didn’t want to be a distraction to them as well! Plus, the older teachers were full of commentary about the way the younger teachers dress. And I don’t want to be “talked” about in this manner.

    Now I am more conservative in my dress. If I have any doubt about an item, I just don’t wear it. My husband was also VERY helpful in this aspect. He was good at gently reminding me that I was working around a lot of easily “excitable” young men (I teach 12th grade). So every outfit was ran through his radar.

    Even when I am not at school I am conscious about what I choose to put on. I don’t want to see a student out and be dressed in a questionable outfit. But about three years ago, my husband and I ran into a student at the mall. I had on a shirt with a keyhole back. He looked shocked that I was showing such a modest portion of skin. When I returned to school on Monday, he was running around telling kids “I saw Mrs. C. and her husband at the mall and she had on a back-out shirt!” I thought it was hilarious! Thankfully the kids figured he was exaggerating!

  3. Suzanne says:


    I don’t actually totally agree that women shouldn’t get “attention” for dress. I think that some women dress for attention and then “protest” too much. I have issue with that. Own it if you’re going to wear it. If you don’t want attention, well…

    I do agree with the rape part. No clothing says violate me and pull your power trip on me. Then again, rape is not about sex. It never has been. This is why clothing should never be admitted into evidence.

    BTW, our school policy IS to get the boys to learn to be adults and not cat-call. This is why the school administrator talked to the BOYS and not to the teacher. It was another teacher who felt the teachers should be talked to about their dress. My point is, this teacher was not dressed in a provocative manner. She’s just curvy.

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