Appropriate Clothing for Facilitators and Tutors

Lady Gaga says it's all about the clothes. She says she thinks about what she's going to be wearing, and then she writes the music to fit. This explains a lot.

But, should fashion be all that?

I've been thinking about clothing a bit lately. The other day, a learner saw me putting on my coat. "Black leather jacket," he said with approval. "That's nice." That same day I'd noticed some guy with really sharp shoes, and I got wishing again that I was tall enough to wear a trench coat. You know, one of those heavy wool ones like old-fashioned gangsters and such might wear. Ooo, and a briefcase.

So... Do clothes make the man?

"You're wearing a pink shirt" another learner said to me one day, real surprise in his voice.

It surprised me, too. "Pink," he said again, leaving something heavily unsaid.

This is 2010, you understand. Why was this young adult talking like Archie Bunker, like a red-neck from 1956?

No... that's not right, either. Because in 1956 they didn't think that way. There were still plenty of ex-servicemen who had proudly worn their U.S. army "pinks and greens" (pictured above) just twelve years earlier.

Did it have to do with the '60s, then? This real-men-don't-wear-pink thing? Well, not if John Wayne can be trusted for signs of manliness.

So, where did Archie Bunker get his ideas? Well, of course, Archie Bunker wasn't a real person. He was a made-up character in a made-up society named "1970s working class America." (More on that in a moment.)

The '80s saw the Sonny Crockett’s character reprise John Wayne's pinks in Miami Vice a TV series where earth-tones were outlawed - pinks, stubble, and no socks.

I'm not sure what happened after that... um... seems like everybody started wearing suits or Salvation Army clothes or both.

Anyway, in the grown-up world, I can't remember a time when people were serious about assigning pink to women (and thereby homosexuals) and blues to men (and lesbians??? I dunno). There were only the cartoons - the real ones like Red vs. Blue or The Simpsons, and the other ones like Archie Bunker and, recently, Fox News - that told us "people" think like that.

I'm explaining myself badly here. What I'm trying to say is that there was - and is - a made-up story about how "people" think. In fact, there are a lot of these stories. The power in these stories arises from our individual desires to be normal, to fit in, to not get jeered at.

For example, the oft-told story that everyone but a few weirdoes supports the war, leaves fewer of us feeling able to express our misgivings. (After lost wars, the story becomes "we all opposed the war" for a time, and then becomes "we didn't really lose.") The story that "most people" don't care about global warming, reduces the likelihood you or I will complain about a lack of government regulation. Watch which polls get reported on, which rallies or protest marches are covered, in tonight's news - that's someone telling a story that defines "normal."

The blue-is-for boys, pink-is-for-girls, real-men-wear-black-leather is a silly story that would be laughable were it not for the anti-gay undertones and the violence and discrimination that too often follows. It would also be laughable if it weren't coming out of the mouths of under-employed young males - the demographic most often recruited for politically motivated violence against gays, women, immigrants, Others.


Appropriate clothing is a topic that pops up now and again in discussions about tutor training or classroom management or employee manuals and such. The topic is usually dealt with in a commonsensical or nonsensical manner, depending on who's doing the talking.

Sometime the term "appropriate" is used as if it meant "what they wear at the bank." I recall one situation where a business lady grew alarmed at the idea of learners or facilitators wearing sweat pants. This morphed into an injunction against employees wearing sweats which, through sloppy editing, further morphed into a written rule banning sweaters from the workplace. Luckily, the enforcement was as sloppy as the editing, and everybody just got on with their lives.

More sensible approaches urge staff to stay reasonably neat and tidy, guard against too much cleavage and thigh, avoid t-shirts advertising alcohol, tobacco or religious beliefs, maybe dress up a little more for special events....

There's also, in some quarters, a notion that effective facilitators and tutors dress much like their learners. Do most learners show up in sweatshirts and jeans? Then join them. Are they wearing work-related clothing, perhaps because you are facilitating right in the workplace? Well, wear something a little more work-like. Mirroring - without mocking - your learners is one way to create a safe, comfortable learning environment.

That's something I believe, anyway. I'd like to wear a sharp suit, but I never will because I don't facilitate in discos, and it would create too much distance between me and my learners.

As for my pinks and greens... Maybe I should wear pink shirts more often. Or maybe I just need to stick some John Wayne posters up.

Do a little something, anything, to blunt that story some miserable bastard is still telling our young men about gender and clothing and "normal" and the importance of not looking gay.

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