Carrying on from my post about what I brought to Japan, in this post I’m going to specifically talk about workwear – or more accurately, what I actually wear.
I’ll also just be talking about my experience as a female ALT, but a few of these tips should be useful for guys, too!
Also note that my experience is exclusively as an ALT in public schools: if you work as an English teacher eikaiwa such as AEON or ECC then you’ll most likely have to wear a suit every day single day.
Prior to your arrival in Japan, you’ll be advised on the official dress code which is Japanese business wear: a suit, shirt (and tie if you’re a guy), pants (or skirt if you’re a girl) and dress shoes.
However on my very first day at school, I was told I didn’t have to wear a suit and could dress down a little. This is somewhere between ‘smart-casual’ and ‘business casual.’
To keep things simple, my work wardrobe is ‘capsule-style’ which basically means that every item can be worn with another. I keep the colour palette very neutral – sticking mostly to monochromes with a little navy blue, grey and baby pink in there.
Some more tips:
- No matter what you wear: get clothes that are breathable and that you can move in, especially in elementary school where you’ll be more animated.
- Avoid pure polyester, nylon and linen fabrics. I personally prefer a poly/cotton blend as it’s breathable and doesn’t crease easily.
- If there’s something you especially love, buy a few of the same piece.
- NOTHING form-fitting or low cut. (Neckline should be above the collarbone. Absolutely NO cleavage.)
- Khakis are OK but absolutely no jeans.
- Teachers can switch to “cool biz” clothes in the summer: While still pretty conservative, you can wear short sleeves and capri/ankle grazer pants. Men don’t have to wear a tie or their suit jacket. As always, this depends from school to school so check with your tantou or vice principal.
- Avoid wearing ALL black, it can be seen as a little intimidating.
- I personally don’t like skirts and none of my Japanese teachers wear skirts on a day-to-day basis.
- Dresses should be fine, but stick to neutral colours, keep the length well below the knee and wear tights/pantyhose.
- Skin-tone bras are best as you can wear them under everything. Sports bras are great, too!
- No sleeveless shirts – or wear a cardigan on top. Sleeves should be at least halfway down the top of your arm unless it’s “cool biz” season in summer.
- Make sure your underwear isn’t too tight and you’re not showing a panty-line.
- If you are able, try to invest a little in your work wardrobe. While of course you’ll top it up while you’re in Japan either by shopping locally or buying online it’s one less thing to worry about your first months in Japan.
- While you’ll often see Japanese teachers dressed VERY casually – especially in summer: leisurewear, tracksuits, t-shirts, sports shorts etc. this is TOO casual for you and you’ll be expected to dress up more.
- Japanese people don’t tend to wear bright, colourful clothes. Try to keep to more neutral, muted colours.
- Avoid loud patterns and clothes with text.
- Clothes can be VERY expensive in Japan even for basics, so be sure to check out thrift stores. (Thrifting blog coming soon!)
Here’s my capsule wardrobe:
FORMAL 1: (Opening ceremony, closing ceremony, graduation ceremony)
Black blazer, slim-fit black trousers, white shirt, dress shoes.
FORMAL 2: (Other formal events: music concert, company training, open school day etc.)
Grey blazer, straight grey trousers, white shirt, dress shoes.
3 x white spot blouses.
3 x black spot shirts.
1 x pink cardigan
1 x grey cardigan
Grey jumper (Autumn/winter)
Thick navy jumper (Winter)
Comfy slip on shoes. (Honestly I know they’re really uncool, but I can’t recommend Sketchers enough!)
White trainers/sneakers for walking to school.
3 x long-sleeved black and white striped tops
3 x skin-toned vest-tops/singlets (for wearing under tops in winter)
Christmas jumper (for December!)
Thick winter coat with a scarf
Also regarding makeup: it depends from school to school.
I know a fellow ALT who wears a full-paint every day – foundation, powder, eyeliner, lip tint. But my schools are a little more conservative and teachers wear very minimal makeup.
I usually wear a little beige/bronze eyeshadow, mascara, filled brows (overplucking in the early 00s meaning I have like three eyebrow hairs…) and some bb cream/concealer if I have a zit.
Hair must be kept neat and tidy, and if it’s long you’ll have to tie it back into a bun or ponytail. Natural colours only, and should be nearest to your natural shade. (I.e if you have dark hair like me, it’ll be very frowned upon to rock up one day with a new bleached blonde do, and you’ll likely be asked to dye it back.)
Piercings shouldn’t be worn – though some schools are cool with little stud earrings.
Jewellery-wise: keep it conservative, but it’s noted that most Japanese teachers won’t wear any jewellery except a watch and perhaps a wedding ring.
Tattoos are incredibly frowned upon in Japan as they have historically been linked to the yakuza. You’ll have to keep them covered up at all times at school, and it’s encouraged if you’ll be anywhere you might bump into your students.
OK, I think that’s covered everything. Pun not intended.
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