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How to Dress for Substitute Teaching

Substitute teaching is an endless string of first impressions. Not only do you meet new students with every assignment, but you’re often introduced to other teachers and administrators as well. What you wear can quickly define how you’re perceived.

This is important for several reasons. Your job requires you to step into a classroom and take control, and wearing appropriate attire can help you command respect right away. It can also clearly distinguish you from your students, which is especially helpful if you look young or if you’re teaching an adult class. Schools are looking for substitute teachers that are professional, reliable, and competent. Dressing the part will help you establish that reputation and make career-building connections at every school district you visit. 

You don’t have to figure this out on your own, though. Many schools provide a dress code for substitute teachers, so check with your administrative point of contact first to see if they have any guidance. Otherwise, it’s best to keep it conservative and dress to impress. Here are a few rules to follow for how to dress when substitute teaching. 

Match the Standard Set by Other Teachers

At the very least, you should dress to fit in with the majority of full-time teachers at your new school. This will most likely be a mix of business casual and business professional, i.e., tailored dress pants, knee-length skirts and dresses, jackets, and tops, including collared shirts and blouses. Your clothes should be fitted but not tight or revealing. Avoid any open-toed shoes (no flip-flops!) and instead go with nice dress shoes, flats, or boots. Make sure that you’re not wearing anything that can be interpreted as offensive or derogatory, including anything with religious or political symbolism. 

While others might wear jeans on casual Fridays or “school spirit” days, substitute teachers should avoid denim altogether. Muted colors — like black, white, gray, and blue — are always a safe choice, but feel free to sneak in pops of color if it fits your classroom, student age group, and personality. 

Choose Simple, Conservative Jewelry.  

When it comes to accessories, make sure all the elements of your appearance create a mature, polished look. Pass on any brightly colored or big and bold pieces and opt for smaller, more subtle earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. Any prominent tattoos or body/facial piercings should be covered or removed before going to work. Remember, facilitating the educational process is your top priority, so minimizing any distractions will help students focus.  

But Make Sure You’re Comfortable!

No matter what you’re wearing, you still have to do your job. Substitute teachers spend a lot of time on their feet and moving about the classroom, so you don’t want to spend eight hours a day in high heels. Make sure you feel comfortable and confident by choosing outfits that are functional, appropriate, and specific to your role. For example, if you’ll be subbing for a kindergarten class, wear clothing that can get messy and that allows you to crouch and sit on the floor comfortably. Loose-fitting activewear such as sweatpants, t-shirts, and sneakers are acceptable if you’re filling in for a gym teacher. What you wear influences both how others see you and how you perform on the job. 


Now that you know how to dress for success, are you ready to find your first substitute teaching assignment in the U.S.? Register with Teaching Nomad and gain access to thousands of substitute teaching jobs in public school districts, charters, and private schools across the country. Our team of placement consultants will walk you through the entire application process, including the necessary background checks and qualifications. Sign up today!

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