Before moving to Japan I worked in the head office of a fashion-focused fabric company. The women I worked with all had incredible style and even in their casual wear could easily rock up to any fashion week and be street style snapped. There weren’t really any rules or expectations so you could just about wear anything… As long as you looked presentable of course!
After getting a job as a JET Programme ALT in Japan I thought I’d have to go out and buy (or make) a whole new work wardrobe. Surprisingly though, my work wardrobe has hardly changed. I realised that I had nothing to worry about and you shouldn’t either!
One of my biggest worries was that I wouldn’t be able to wear any of my printed or colorful handmade pieces. I quickly found that it was easy to incorporate them into my work looks if I had a couple of versatile basics like a white cotton blouse and some black wide-leg pants. So, if you are worried about your wardrobe being too loud or bright don’t stress! You probably already own a couple of pieces that you can wear and if you have gaps, you can do some shopping one you arrive (in-store or online) after you have a chance to see what is suitable and appropriate at your school.
Now, there are already a bunch of great blog posts and Youtube videos here here here and here sharing great examples, suggestions, and advice on what to wear to school. However, every school will have different expectations or standards of dress and everyone has different personal style. So, in this post, I will share what I wear to work and advice based on my experience.
As I said in my post about what to wear to orientation, These are all my own personal thoughts, opinions and suggestions. To be absolutely safe, you should stick with a black blazer (which you can take off because COOL BIZ), black suit pants or on/below the knee pencil skirt, a white or black shirt/blouse and simple neutral slip-on shoes for indoor wear.
What I wear
I work at a public high school in central Tokyo and as I have become more comfortable and confident at school I have become more colourful in my outfit choices. I am absolutely someone who expresses their personality with clothing so for me, the best way I can represent myself is by wearing clothes I’ve made. For you, it may be wearing a fun scarf or crazy printed socks.
The female teachers at my school wear jeans or chino style pants with cute tops, turtlenecks, and sweaters. Some wear floral printed or bold coloured skirts with hoodies or collared blouses. My school seems pretty relaxed but on ceremony days everyone wears a blazer or a suit.
On my very first day, it was SO HOT so I ditched my blazer and just wore a white cotton blouse and a handmade cotton midi length skirt. On the opening ceremony day, I had to give my intro speech to the school and wore a white collared blouse under my black blazer with a black handmade linen midi length skirt. I brought a pair of super cheap black slides to wear at school and they are still going strong 8 months later. These first photos are from my first 2 weeks at school. It was extremely hot and I was still keeping my looks pretty simple… FOR ME.
As the months went by and I got myself a sewing machine I was able to start making some new pieces. Now, when I make new things, I always make sure they are suitable for both work and play to ensure they get lots of wear.
These two outfits I wore to a professional development day and a speech contest day. As you can probably see, I wear a lot of high waisted bottoms with oversized tops and sweaters. I sometimes wear a hat to school but I always take it off when I get inside.
Here’s two more outfits modeled in a supermarket and a conbini because sometimes I go out to grab lunch. My co-jet is the best and snaps all of these photos for me! (I do not wear my yellow bag like this at school)
- Give yourself a few hours before you leave (your home country) to try on and create (and make a mental note) a bunch of different work wear looks using just a couple of pieces. This will help you figure out if you have any gaps in your wardrobe.
- If you do need to fill some gaps, shop 2nd hand first! Hold a clothing swap or ask your friends and family if they have any pieces they no longer need that might work for you.
- When shopping for pieces to wear to school, try and buy things that you can wear with layers too. For those who wear skirts, midi length or long skirts and dresses are great because they are flowy and airy in the warmer months and then you can wear leggings and tights under in the cooler months. Same goes for pants! I often wear a pair of heattech leggings under culottes or wide leg pants in winter for extra warmth.
- If you are bigger, taller or have larger feet than what is considered standard in Japan you may need to consider getting indoor shoes, tights/stockings, Spanx or bike shorts, and clothing before you leave.
- Pack versatile clothing items that can be worn for a number of different occasions or be dressed up and down. Think a classic white button up shirt or a pair of simple black culottes.
- Talk to your predecessor! Find out what they are wearing to school. Mine was amazing and sent me lots of photos of what she wore.
- For your first few days to a week, dress as you would to orientation. Then you can slowly start to transition into less formal looks as you find out what other teachers are wearing to school.
- Keep your blazer in your locker in case you need it for a special event. Opening and closing ceremony days are usually days when you will have to dress a little more formal (like what you wore to orientation). Sometimes however there will be surprise events so its super handy if its already at school.
- Dress modestly. Keep skirt and pant lengths below the knee and keep your shoulders covered. Also, ensure your necklines are high enough to cover cleavage and not gape if you bend forward. If you are going to wear a skirt any shorter than knee length, wear tights or stockings…Even in summer!
- Dress practically and comfortably. Whether you are teaching a class or desk warming, you want to make sure you have a pocket or two and are able to move about easily.
- Be consistently well groomed. You never know when a parent or a representative from the BOE will visit the school so you always want to make sure you’re looking decent. You are representing the school and your country.
- Wear decent quality socks with no holes. Socks can also be a fun convo starter with other teachers and students.
- Wear comfy and sturdy indoor shoes that pair well with any outfit. Birkenstock type sandals or sneakers that are easy to slip on are great.
- Wear Spanx or bike shorts. The summer chafe can be real but I also love wearing bike shorts under my skirts in winter for extra comfort and security.
- Avoid wearing clothing that has holes, rips, and stains.
- Don’t worry about buying winter layers too much before you leave. Japan sells great winter warmers everywhere in the months leading up.
Ok! So that’s what I have been wearing for the last couple of months. Obviously it totally dependent on your personal style but hopefully this post can give you a little bit of workwear inspiration and help you get ready for your big move to JAPAN! I really don’t think it is necessary to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe so please try and work with what you already have before going shopping. Good luck and if you have any questions or feedback please let me know.