NEW YORK -- Back-to-school shopping doesn't have to be all kids' stuff. The wardrobe to complement that first opening bell can help set the tone for a teacher's year too.
There's nothing in the contract that requires dangling cat-character earrings or kooky bow ties. The right look can command respect while earning a little street cred.
Celebrity stylist Cristina Ehrlich, a style adviser to Coldwater Creek, remembers her first "cool teacher" in elementary school -- and Ehrlich says she never worked harder than she did for that Lauren Hutton look-alike, who wore pleated slacks, V-neck silk blouses, a thin little belt and gold hoop earrings. "Maybe it's that I wanted to impress her, or maybe she just knows how to grab your attention, but she left a lasting impression," she says.
These days, that teacher might be wearing brightly colored skinny jeans and a boyfriend sweater, or trouser jeans and a crisp button-down in a cheerful color, Ehrlich muses.
"Young kids like a little eye candy. It draws their attention," Ehrlich says. "You want authority but not stuffy."
Maybe that same second-grade teacher would even try a pair of tuxedo-inspired jeans with a black stripe down the leg and a more fitted, cropped blazer, she adds.
That might be an outfit similar to what high-schoolers are wearing -- and that's OK, says Emilia Fabricant, executive vice president of the Aeropostale brand.
Teachers can use their clothes to help bridge communication gaps with their students, she says. "The cool factor gives power."
Fabricant gives the caveat, though, that teachers might wear individual pieces differently so they're "appropriately styled": short skirts worn over leggings, tunics over tanks, and skinny jeans paired with the high front-low back cardigans that give an update to the classic silhouette.
Maybe there's a life lesson here for teens: A modern look can coexist with a respectful one.
Amazon.com fashion editor Sara Dooley imagines teachers of younger grades experimenting with prints. Florals are enjoying a fashion moment, she says, and animal prints -- leopard spots and the like -- have a little bit of edge but have been tapped for classic silhouettes. There are even some literal animal prints, such as birds, butterflies, turtles and armadillos, that have been elevated from kitsch to cool.
Prints are good conversation starters, and they can camouflage a multitude of sins, especially of the paint-glue-leftover-snack variety.
Many closet-to-classroom items are basic pieces, including a pencil skirt, fit-and-flare dress, collared shirts, blazers, jeans and sweaters, so they can make the transition between seasons and between school years. They can all be dressed up or down, and adapted to look "new" with the right belt, shoe or jewelry.