Some of the most frequent questions asked by teachers embarking on a career in an international school is about school dress codes, not least because a move to another country presents a packing nightmare!
First off, there is no one standard accepted code of dress for an international school and just as all international schools differ, so too do their ideas of professional dress. Dress codes are usually distilled down from the norms and values that the school will try to embody, in line with the norms and values of the host country. So you would expect a British international school in the foothills of the Alps to expect their staff to dress in line with European norms on professional dress. In other words a business formal dress code, with shirt, tie and slacks for men; skirt/trousers, and blouse for women. An international school in Southeast Asia however, may align their dress expectations to local norms, where the climate may be a factor in how people dress. In Indonesia for example, ties are rare, and men rarely wear suits, where the local business style of a Batak shirt and khaki trousers is seen as professional. The hot, wet and humid climate in countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore mean that a lot of schools take this into account for their dress codes, and a more casual style is the order of the day.
In the Middle East, although the heat can be incredibly oppressive during the summer months, a formal style is generally preferred over the more smart casual look. This may be because this style is easier to adhere to conservative norms. Female staff are expected to dress modestly, ensuring that shoulders are covered and skirts are at least knee length, Additionally, tight form fitting clothes should be avoided, as well as spaghetti strap tops and clothes that expose the midriff. For men, the usual business dress code applies so no getting away from the tie situation- although some schools are taking a leaf out of the corporate world and bringing in a casual day at the end of the week.
Many professional roles allow tattoos in the workplace, and in general, international schools are ok with them, just as long as they are in line with school/cultural expectations. Celebrities, footballers, movie stars, and singers have made tattoos more mainstream, however it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider your tattoos when looking to go overseas. If your tattoos are in discrete areas or they can be covered up, and are not offensive, you should be fine. However, I was once recruiting at a job fair and was approached by a teacher who had tattoos covering his neck. This was off putting from a recruiter point of view as I could already foresee complaints coming in from some of the more close minded parents at the school. Of course, it all depends again on the part of the world you are and in parts of the world such as Asia where there is a culture of tattoos, schools will be more receptive. Similarly, facial and body piercings (other than earrings) should be considered, and its always a good idea to ensure that they can be taken out just in case the school requires it.
In general, international schools will have a business or smart casual dress code so you should aim to dress in line with this. If in doubt, get on the website and see how staff dress; reach out to a staff member; check out the staff handbook, and speak up with the leadership so that you clear about the expectations. Nobody wants to show up to their new school in a pair of cut off jeans and flip flops because they weren’t sure how to dress and if in doubt, err on the side of caution. You can always discard that tie…