Work Drag

“We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.”


For years I’ve referred to the clothes I wear to work as my work drag. I’m not a drag queen, as RuPaul is. I’m a teacher. And I will say that I feel like RuPaul is using a more liberal definition of the word ‘drag,’ which doesn’t necessarily mean “dressing in clothing conventionally worn by the opposite sex.” It’s just dressing in clothes that transform us into a certain character. Thus, there are days when I feel like I’m getting into a costume in which I will perform the role of ‘Teacher’ (a male teacher).

I have always been from the school of Albert Einstein in terms of work clothes. I don’t wear the same gray suit every day, but I want to spend as little time and thought as I can making the decision about what to wear. As stated in this article from LinkedIn, many successful individuals wear the same amount every day. So maybe I come from a sister school. I have a more modified approach. Perhaps it comes from having spent so many years waiting tables. I like a uniform. It helps me remember that I’m performing a certain task.

My work outfit for years has been casual-ish pants (a standard, gently worn pair of jeans – blue, khaki or gray), a shirt (always ironed) and a cardigan sweater (although I’m moving away from that). My shoes are generally black, generally polished. It’s not the same as wearing the exact same gray T-shirt (hello, Mark Zuckerberg) or all black (hello, New York City circa 1995), but I don’t have to think about a shirt-tie combo or whether I’ll wear a suit.

Granted, I’m a man. Dressing for work is easier for men (in general). Women have so many more options. Dress, pants or skirt? Sweater or blouse? Along with all of that, there is the question of fit. How tight is too tight? How loose should it be before I look frumpy? Then there’s hair and make-up.

I love this RuPaul quote (partially because my friends were using it long before it became a song) because when each of gets us dressed every day, we really are doing something to influence the way people look at us. And some of those people for teachers are students.

If I were to show up in worn out jeans and a T-shirt with an unshaven face, it would give my students a certain impression: maybe that I’m having a rough time or maybe that I don’t care. But what effect does that have on my ability to inspire them or to motivate them?

Similarly, if I were to arrive in a suit and tie, it would give my students a certain impression. It might say that I was serious, but it might be a level of serious that I am not willing or able to live up to. And again, what effect does that have on my ability to inspire or motivate them?

I wear what I wear because I want to be taken seriously, but I know that being too formal with my students (both because they are Generation Z and because they are Dutch) wouldn’t work. I want to be the adult in the room, but I want to be somewhat relatable. (I also dress for comfort, and I like being consistent.)

The way we dress is a very personal thing. I would never comment on your work drag unless asked (and if you do, I always have an opinion), but I would encourage you to think about how you dress for work and how it works into the overall image you are trying to project.

What do you wear to work?

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