By CELA on 27 May, 2021

What we wear to work can have a considerable impact on how we feel about our day, as well as how we function in our role. Whether you call them leggings, jeggings or active wear, discussion around wearing clingy, stretchy pants to work continues to divide opinion in ECEC forums.

Does anyone have the right to judge what we wear to work? How does our choice of clothing relate to professionalism and how we do our job? This week Amplify looks at the great legging debate – the pros, the cons, and whether what you wear relates to professionalism.

There’s no doubt that our sector requires a high degree of physical activity. Many hours may be spent sitting and interacting with children, which can also require a degree of flexibility. Leggings, tights or jeggings may either be your perfect partner, or your most hated item of clothing. There doesn’t seem to be much feeling in between.

Should we have the right to wear whatever we want to work in our sector, or should there be boundaries?

“The only place leggings should be seen is at a gym!,”
was the response we got from Children’s Services Officer Emma Hatton, when asked about whether they were appropriate attire in an ECEC setting.


“I am so sick of leggings masquerading as real clothing,” she continued. “My disgust is further heightened when I observe those leggings that have become slightly see-through over time and educators choose to couple these sheer tights with a g-string! The only thing worse than this is when the elastic threads wear out and snap around the buttock area, leaving one with the image reminiscent of threadworms.”

Oooh, what an image… we can safely agree that Emma is NOT a fan and are sorry she has had to view such atrocities.

“There are so many options for stylish yet comfortable clothing,” concludes Emma. “Many educators choose to wear jeans in the winter months. Plain pants or knee length shorts are also appropriate.”

Personal and corporate stylist Amanda Curren agrees, saying:

“There are a wide variety of pants that function as they need to for the tasks of staff working in early education that do not cross the line that leggings often do. So, leggings would be a hard no from me.”

With the surge in popularity of ‘active wear’ at the moment, the quality and look of leggings and tights have come a long way, so perhaps a better quality pair could overcome negative judgement? And what about our sector’s focus on inclusiveness and acceptance of difference? Should that extend to fashion and clothing?

Early educator Natalie Raddoff, who has worked in the sector for around 6 years, relishes the fact that her employers have allowed her to wear what she wants within reason.

“I’ve really enjoyed being able to show my individuality and flare because I prefer to wear overalls and an oversized tee with denim shorts, or flared yoga pants in winter with a hoodie. This allows me full movement and also to show me for who I really am. I have about eight tattoos, most of which are visible, and a pierced nose. I haven’t worked anywhere that doesn’t accept this. All my tattoos are tasteful. I think it’s important to be accepting this day and age.”

Asked specifically about leggings and tights, Natalie believes that they should be allowed ‘so long as they are not see-through and are tasteful in design’.

Ella de la Motte, Director at The Rumpus Room says that allowing educators to wear what they want aligns with their centre philosophy.

“We believe in a trust culture, where we trust the team to wear clothing that helps us to lift the professional standards,” says Ella. “It benefits the children as they have educators and teachers who feel comfortable first of all in their chosen clothes and they also feel like they are lifting the professional standards of this profession.”

Most commentators agreed that no matter the style of clothing, anything that is tattered, worn or too revealing may not be appropriate for an ECEC setting. It may also come down to ‘tastefulness’… the challenge is that many people have very differing views on what is ‘tasteful’.

What does being a ‘professional’ really mean? And does what we wear have an impact?

According to the Professional Standards Council:

  • A profession is a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards. This group positions itself as possessing special knowledge and skills. A profession is also prepared to apply this knowledge and skills in the interest of others.
  • Professionals are governed by codes of ethics and other professional standards.
  • Professionalism comprises the personally held beliefs about one’s own conduct as a professional.
  • Professionalisation is the pattern of how a profession develops.

So these are the definitions, but what does it really mean and how can you apply these concepts in your day-to-day work? In broad terms, the first thing that defines us as a ‘professional’ within a profession is mastery; mastery of knowledge, expertise and skills.

Early Education sector expert and CELA trainer Kerrie Maguire shares the following views on professionalism:

How professionalism sounds:

  • Accountability – you deliver on the promises you make and ensure you can do what you say you can do.
  • Communication – you communicate clearly and effectively.
  • Integrity – you hold yourself accountable for your thoughts, words and actions, especially when you’ve made a mistake.
  • Respect – you are polite and respectful to work colleagues.

How professionalism feels:

  • Professional identity – you know yourself, understand your motivations and can articulate your passions.
  • Emotional intelligence – you can regulate how you feel and act in a calm and professional way; you know how to respond not react.
  • Objectivity – you can look at a situation objectively, recognise what’s happening and understand how it impacts everybody involved. You are aware that sometimes you need to be bigger than the situation.
  • Dedication – you dedicate yourself and consider what you can do to contribute to your profession and workplace.
  • Inspiration – you inspire others through your actions and words.

How professionalism looks:

  • Passion – you are passionate and enthusiastic about your work and recognise that this approach can be contagious and create a positive professional culture in your service.
  • Ethics – you obey the law including regulations that apply to your profession, and you do not cooperate with people who seek to act in an unethical or unlawful way.
  • Behaviour – you maintain your poise when facing difficult situations, for example, if a co-worker acts in a challenging manner, you don’t resort to the same type of behaviour.
  • Positive image – you project a positive image which starts with attire, but also includes body language such as eye contact and posture.

‘Taste’ can be open to interpretation – centre policies on dress code should provide clarification

The concept of ‘taste’ refers to a person’s individual personal, cultural, and aesthetic patterns of choice and preference. How we measure what is ‘tasteful’ can differ wildly depending on many factors.

For that reason, it is worth drawing up a policy or guideline on work wear/attire for your centre so that nobody is in doubt about where they stand on the matter.

Things to think about:

  • Why not include input from the entire team, families, and children, to ensure that everyone’s opinion is taken into consideration, including the service community?
  • Consider how the dress code ties into the service philosophy and values.
  • Ensure that your centre’s thoughts on attire are communicated clearly to existing team members and to new employees during onboarding.
  • Be familiar with anti-discrimination and equal opportunity guides such as those found at The Australian Human Rights Commission.
  • How does your clothing policy or dress code take into account health and safety and enterprise agreements?

Where to include your centre’s dress code:

  • Workplace agreements
  • Employment inductions
  • Code of conduct
  • Sun safety policy
  • Work health and safety policies

What are your thoughts on this topic? Does what we wear impact our professionalism and if so, how? Share your thoughts in the comments section or on social media.

Have you seen our live webinar training calendar?

Many sessions to choose from, including many of our most popular training topics, redesigned for webinar format. Topics are delivered in a variety of 2- 3 hour sessions or 2 part series. Every course provides a practical, hands-on approach to professional development.

CELA has been supporting the professional needs of the early and middle childhood sector for over 40 years. We trained over 7,000 early education professionals across 2020 through the calendar and customised sessions with a focus on developing quality practice for the benefit of children.


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About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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