Snappy Casual: A Story of How Memphis Changed My Wardrobe

Author: Sam Moseley | MTR Camp Staff ’14 | Blog Post via “The Secondary Source

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“I like your shirt” she said to me.  “You might not be able to get away with that if you were in the residency program, but for summer camp it’s great”.

I was wearing a short sleeve button up shirt and khaki shorts. The shirt was a few different colors and maybe it didn’t have a “traditional” pattern, but I thought it was appropriate. After all, the dress code on our schedule read “snappy casual”. I figured that meant somewhere in between gym shorts and a t-shirt and khaki pants and a polo. My idea of snappy casual was more than casual but less than business casual. Seems fair right?

This episode happened at the opening dinner for the camp I taught reading at last summer in Memphis. While nobody slapped me on the wrist for my choice of clothing, I found out later that the program I was working for had a different idea of snappy casual than I did. I figured this out through interacting with the program’s teaching residents.

Our camp staff had lunch with the residents one day and I asked a girl, “Do y’all have to dress this way everyday?”

All of the gentlemen were in button down shirts and ties, some of them with jackets. The ladies all wore dresses or professional looking skirts and blouses. She kind of laughed.

“Yeah, they like us to dress snappy casual”.

“Wait… this is snappy casual?” I thought in my mind. What about business casual? Did it just get pushed aside? Is it not a thing anymore? If ties mean snappy casual, what is business professional? At this point, I realized that my idea of standard teaching clothes was different than this organization’s idea that hired me. Throughout my six and a half weeks in Memphis I pondered the standard of snappy casual. Here are my reflections on the dress code:

·      Creating a new norm The organization I was working for is creating a new norm for their residents. They are redefining their teachers’ concepts of an acceptable wardrobe. Consequently, when residents leave the program, wearing ties to work everyday will be second nature, almost like breathing (well… maybe not quite that natural, but close).

·      Setting a personal standard of professionalism This program is personally raising the bar for its residents. Sure, some teachers might wear ties or dresses to work already, but this year there are upwards of 75 new teachers in Memphis schools promoting snappy casual. Memphis is seeing a personal standard of professionalism that considers teaching as something to “dress up” for everyday.

·      Showing students they are worth it One of the messages that snappy casual is sending is that students are worth these teachers’ time. How a people dresses is in part a reflection of the value they place on the context they are in. If businessmen are going to a conference meeting, they dress accordingly because they have predetermined the value of the meeting. Snappy casual is giving value to students and indirectly telling them “You are worth getting up for and putting on this tie. You are important”.

If you knew me before this year, you have probably noticed a change in my wardrobe since last year. I wear more bow ties. I wear slacks to class. Many people ask me why I am dressed up. They ask if I am going to a meeting or if I have been at a school. Sometimes I have been in one or both of these scenarios that day. Other times, I am simply going to class. Junior year Sam would have been content going to class in a backwards cap and a hoody. I don’t think wearing casual clothes to class is wrong; I just have personally assigned a different value to how my classes contribute to my professional development than I did before. Next time you see me in Bailey or Palko, you will know that Memphis is largely responsible for the bow ties I wear.

Next year, by God’s grace, I’ll be teaching English at a local high school. I consider this year as preparation for my vocation. Part of that preparation includes figuring out what I want my wardrobe to look like. I have decided to adopt the theme of snappy casual, because I want to create a new norm for myself. I want to create a personal standard of professionalism that conveys to students they are worth my time.

Read more on “The Second Source” from Texas Christian University Education Majors.

Read more about Sam’s vision for teaching on TCU’s website here. (photo credit)