Fashion and teaching seem to be completely incompatible notions. Well, not in GSE. Women are always on heels with manicure, men are rather on skis with beards. Frankly speaking, I was favorably impressed by the way the GSE academic staff is dressed. Recently one of the classy professors started to grow a beard, making the students wonder whether it is a new GSE trend or professional need. I subscribed to the latter, before finding two contradicting volume investigations on this topic, which correspond merely in quantitative method. Rollman (1980) affirms that teacher attire explicitly affects the student perceptions, which Gorham et al. (1999) challenge referring to greater affect of the teacher’s behavior, neglecting the close connection between the teacher behavior and attire.
Inspired by the graduate student’s curiosity about the teacher attire affect on students’ perceptions, Rollman (1980) conducted a quantitative research. It is important to highlight that he was the first to investigate this topic in educational context. Six photographs of teachers of different gender and dressing style were used as an instrument. Hundred participants completed five-point likert-scale questionnaires, which included ten personal characteristics. The results showed that regardless the gender, the teacher attire has considerable impact on student perceptions: teachers dressed formally are perceived more seriously than their casually dressed colleagues. By the same token Gorham et al. (1999) conducted as many as three studies. Using the real teachers as instruments, they considered external factors as gender and age of the teacher along with dressing, during the lessons.
As schoolchildren spend “13000 hours” staring at a teacher, the attire must be one of the essential traits that influence the students, which is emphasized in both studies (Lortie, 1975). Considering the different student perceptions according to the gender of the teacher, which is disputed by Rollman (1980), Gorham et al. (1999) urge that behavior is more important than dressing. Obviously, it is important to consider gender, age and behaviour investigating this topic. It is important to study though, the connection between the behavior and attire, which is dismissed in the study by Gorham et al. (1999). It might be difficult to ascribe negative characteristics to the person dressed formally. On the other hand, the research by Gorham et al. (1999) seems more reliable, as they use real teachers instead of photographs, which added to the paper more data for analysis on other impacts on student perception. One of such aspects is “optimal homophily”, presented by McCroskey et al. (1974), but refuted by Gorham et al. (1999, p 285). The former study implied that the similarity of teacher attire to students’, regarding the quality and style, produces positive outcomes and perceptions.
Both long standing studies, despite complications, show the importance of appropriate teacher attire in formation of positive student perception. Mentioned by Gorham et al. (1999), there should be a balance between formal and informal dressing, considering other impacts. It might be useful to reconduct the studies for confirmation of validity in present circumstances.
Gorham, J., Cohen, S. & Morris, T. (1999). Fashion in the classroom III: Effects of instructor attire and immediacy in natural classroom interactions. Communication Quarterly. 47(3). 281-299.
Lortie, D. (1975) Schoolteacher: a sociological study, Chicago, IL, The University of Chicago Press.
Rollman, S. (1980). Some Effects of Teachers’ Styles of Dress. Paper presentei at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Speech Communication Association. Birmingham, AL.