We were only allowed to wear jeans on Fridays or during field trips, but formal wear doesn't always mean heels and dresses. I taught elementary so I was on the floor a lot. I wore a lot of slacks and flats and even the occasional tennis shoe. Most of my clothes came from Target -- they were cheap and I didn't mind getting dirty in them, even if they were 'professional.'
I was always really opposed to formal wear in elementary schools, but one of my college professors made a good point. He said that school is a special place, and we need to communicate that to students. They wear uniforms a certain way (shirt tucked in, etc.) because it's a special place where people dress professionally, like church. A teacher's clothing can often communicate this better than his/her words or actions.
Being an AV dealer, I visit many schools. The dress code varies from "slob" to business casual. I asked a Middle School principal, a fellow Rotarian about dress codes. She explained that the Principal sets the code.
I can tell you from my point of view as a visitor. The sweat suit teachers do not inspire confidence or respect on my part.
One may claim that "dress" does not make a better teacher, but I am not so sure about that!
Clothing gives an impression. It says something about you, it defines you.
"Dress like a slob, be treated like a slob", I quess my Mom was right.
We wear jeans on Fridays at our school. We call it "Casual Because We Care" with a big sign at the front door explaining the program. Staff memebers who want to wear jeans put a dollar in a jar and the money is saved and used when a special situation comes up. The family of a student or a teacher going through hard times is usually the reason we spend it, but it could also be a service project in the community. I do believe that we as teachers need to present ourselves as professionals, especially in the current political climate. During the week, our principal expects us to dress professionally, but I would even if she didn't.
In today's society, teachers are becoming less and less respected~ by students and parents. I can't tell you how many times I've heard comments about getting summers off, and being able to 'play with kids all day'. If we want the community that we work in to view us as professionals, we have to dress like professionals. If you don't have the funds to buy nice clothes, try Target. It's really affordable and the clothes are really cute! New York and Company is also a great store for slacks and blouses, and gives teachers a 10% discount (maybe 20, can't remember) when you show your school id. Finally, this best fasion advice i could give is to spend 70% on accessories and only 30% on clothes. This will help stretch your wardrobe a lot further!