What to Wear? asks the Au Pair

by cv harquail on November 2, 2010

I know we had a conversation a while back when a host mom’s au pair was dressing link a tramp a little “inappropriately”, but I thought we could revisit that conversion from a more positive direction, thinking about what we’d recommend.

We received this email from a soon-to-be au pair:

I am a 20 year old female, currently living in Australia and next year I plan to au pair in the USA! I’d appreciate some advice about the acceptable appearances of au pairs.

In my country, we have been told that Americans are quite conservative. I’m not sure what that means for an au pair and how she might dress. I was wondering… would most host parents mind if their au pairs wore heavy make up — as in, bronzer, some mascara and foundation? nothing too over the top!

Also, what is acceptable to au pairs to wear whilst they are on the job? Are they allowed to were something like denim ‘short-shorts’ in a hotter climate, or maybe a casual old ‘hoodie’ in cooler climates?

I’d appreciate any advice about the styling of clothes, makeup and overall look that would fit American’s expectations

On behalf of Aussie Girl, I actually started to draft out what might be good general advice for au pairs with this question. I started by considering the underlying principles that would help to establish more specific advice.

Principles for Au Pair Clothing and Appearance

Au Pairs should consider:

  1. the demands of the job,
  2. their desire to express themselves, and
  3. the norms about what’s appropriate to the situation.

201010282034.jpgWhen an au pair is on duty, her or his attire should help and not hinder the physical demands of the job, be somewhat self-expressive, but not be so crazy or out of the ordinary that it leads other people to stare at you and/or wonder what or who you actually are.

Regarding actual clothing items, for the demands of the job, what seems appropriate to me are:

  • Jeans, slacks, shorts, that you can wash easily, get a little dirty, move around in comfortably, and sit on the floor in. Yoga pants that aren’t too tight, and sweat pants that aren’t torn, stained or superbaggy will also work.
  • Tights and jeggings. Okay, if they are not too see-through, and usually only if you cover your butt with a longer tunic or top.
  • Female au pairs might also be fine wearing skirts (not too short though. You need to be able to bend down without showing your underwear.)
  • Male au pairs want to make sure they wear shorts that are long enough, and/or not ‘go commando’.
  • In either pants or skirts, you should be able to sit on the floor and run around the house, depending on what host kids need.
  • Regarding tops, they should be easy to wash, not stained, not too low cut, and not too tight. Hoodies and sweaters are nice, sweatshirts that are clean are fine.

For self-expression and the cultural situation201010282034.jpg

Sure you want to look pretty, or handsome, and dress like your ‘self’. However, what looks good to you and other young adults your age might not be the right thing to wear when you’re on duty with kids. Think more library, and less nightclub. Consider the tradeoff between looking cute/hot/fashionable and looking like you’re a kindergarten teacher. When on duty, err on this side of looking more like a kindergarten teacher.

Remember, too, that the kinds of clothing that express your culture may not fit with your role here in the USA. Be ready to dress more modestly. Please do not dress like the characters on Gossip Girl. Or the designers on Project Runway.

Things that tend to raise concerns of host parents:

  • Visible undergarments. While the fashion is to allow bras & straps to “show” outside the actual top or blouse, I am personally not a big fan of this. Straps I can deal with, tops and sides of bras should stay concealed. Make sure that your underwear doesn’t show through your clothes and that the back of you whatevers doesn’t come up above the waistband of your pants.
  • Clothes that are too tight or too small.
  • Clothes that have vulgar wording, scary pictures, or the playboy logo.
  • Clothing that is immodest. Modesty is culturally grounded- what’s modest in one country is risque in another, and frumpy in a third. You need to look around at what your host mom / dad wears (outside the house, not inside the house) and then consider your age and likely better fitness. Tube tops and bare midriffs are considered immodest for women, at least during work around kids. Sleeveless gym tops tend to seem sloppy on guys.
  • Shoes that inhibit safe movement. For women, this might mean high heels as well as flimsy flip-flops that cause you to trip. For guys, this means avoiding platform sneakers.
  • Superlong fingernails.

201010282035.jpgOther items to add to your work wardrobe

  • An au pair should bring with her or him at least one “nice” outfit that could be worn to church, to dinner at a nice restaurant, or to the theater.
  • A modest swimsuit — one that covers your top and bottom, that won’t fall off if you are holding a toddler, that is not see through, and that you actually can swim in. Women, save the bikini for when you are not with kids. Men, Americans think Speedos are immodest unless you are in the Olympics.

Other tips

  • Clothing and person should look clean, smell clean, and be clean. Clean hair, clean face, clean hands Americans are very into clean. We have multimillion dollar industries built around clean.
  • Deodorant and/or anti-antiperspirants are popular in the USA. As are very minty toothpastes.     Americans do not like to smell other Americans. (I know, but that’s how it is.)
  • Perfume that you can smell from more than 2 feet away, while on duty, is a little too much.
  • Makeup— fine if you like it, not required if you don’t. Not so much makeup that you look like you’re going onstage after work. Save false eyelashes for Sarruday nights. Also, guyliner only after 7 p.m.

Even though you might be spending your work hours in the house, at the park, at the library, or in the car, it still makes a difference to pay attention to your appearance. Even when I am not at work in an office or a classroom, I always feel better when I am appropriately dressed if other peo201010282039.jpgple are around. (Okay, I admit it, I also wear really cute pajamas when I’m blogging, even though no one else is around. That’s how bloggers are supposed to dress. )

My pal Tim Gunn says that every women should have, as part of her 10 wardrobe items, a “comfortable alternative to a sweatsuit”, something you can wear when you walk the dog in a public park. I like to think of this as a casual outfit that is nice enough that if you ran into your high school boyfriend you wouldn’t be completely mortified. (Hence, I do not wear yoga pants to the supermarket.)

In spirit, your everyday, on-duty au pair attire help you feel good about how you look to others, but not so much that this concern dominates your attention.

When we dress nicely and turn ourselves out looking nice, but without spending the whole morning doing it, we tend to feel good about ourselves. Dress to create the positive feeling you want for your relationship with your host kids, for the comfortable feeling you want as part of being in the family and being at home, and for the self-expression that let’s people see who you are.

That’s my start. … What do you all want to add, as points of positive advice?

{ 44 comments }

AP2B November 2, 2010 at 3:02 pm

While interviewing families I came across some unbeliavableeeeeeee “dresscodes” some of the families required. I understand that showing cleavage, butt or midriff is a no-no but there’s no way I would wear a PLAIN turtleneck (or something similar) and jeans (not skinny, may I add…) at ALL times around the house. Of course the family has the right to require everything they want from the prospective candidates but for me it just seem silly to enforce a uniform for the AP… I really, sincerely hope they got what they were looking for, needless to say I didn’t match with them since I like to wear t-shirts and skinny jeans or tunics and leggings. Also, I don’t think they would’ve liked my two piercings either :P It would’ve been bad for us both if we would’ve matched. Fortunately I found a family that seems to like me despite all my piercings and other weird stuff haha :D

As far as the modest swim wear goes, I would *prefer* not to use a swimming suit but instead a “sturdy” bikini (no string bikini or any other flimsy apparel that might fall off while swimming, for me, EVER!) specially meant for sports. I do not feel comfortable wearing a swimsuit, but if it were to come to a point where the otherwise very nice HF asked me not to wear a bikini around the kids for reason X, I would most probably respect their wish. I would like this to be discussed in advance (before going to USA), though, so I would have enough time to find a suit I could live with.

So I guess in a nutshell this should all be discussed well before the AP arrives or even matches with the family, because I know atleast I couldn’t live a year without being able to wear the clothes I like. I also wouldn’t get rid of my piercings, but that’s not a problem because I’ve told all the families I’ve “clicked” with about them and they have been very understanding about that :) It’s just a matter of finding the right match for both the HF and the AP!

franzi November 2, 2010 at 3:30 pm

piercings are another issue but i don’t want to digress.

regarding swimsuit, i always had a bikini and tankini that was ok to wear when i went to the pool with the kids. i showed this to my hostmom when i arrived and the topic “pool” came up to make sure this was appropriate. i also had a “no kids – hello boys where are you” outfit. this was reserved for vacations and times at the pool when i was off and my kids and none of their friends was around. my hostmom knew about this. it still wasn’t skimpy though.

the general dress code of course depends on where you are placed and what your duties will be. ask questions about appropriate dress code during the matching process to detect families that prefer you walking around in long pants/long skirts and modest tops (which might be too much for you given you come from a warm climate and feel comfortable in shorts and tops). i personally do not think i would have matched if there was any forced dress code in place.

Anna November 2, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Thank you for such a thought-out and entertaining post! I love the pictures, too.

‘short-shorts’ here are not called “hotpants” because you wear them when it is hot; they are called “hotpants” because you look hot wearing them, LOL. Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.

Shana Medah November 2, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Thanks for bringing up the topic of cleanliness and smells, since it is so much easier to address it before an au pair arrives in a host family. Not only do Americans have certain expectations of what “clean” means, they also find it extremely uncomfortable, almost to the point of being painful, to tell someone that their body odor is beyond what is considered acceptable. I’ve found that often when Americans perceive that a foreign person has unpleasant body odor, it’s a case of “clothes odor” rather than a lack of showering or deordorant. “Clean” clothes means clothes that bear no smell from the wearer, and “clean” hair means hair with no visible oil. For au pairs, to make sure that your clothes meet the “clean” standard, be sure to wash them after wearing them no more than twice, and immediately wash anything that goes anywear near cigarette smoke – especially if you are the one who smokes. This may be more often than you are used to, but CV is right on when she says that Americans are really, REALLY sensitive to body smells. It may be an extreme example, but I have worked with families who decided to go into rematch due to the unacceptable body odor of their au pair.

cv harquail November 2, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Hi Shana- Thanks for putting some additional clarity around what it means (to Americans) to be “clean”. I think you’re right that more often than not, the ‘not clean’ smell I/we notice is clothes that don’t smell positively ‘fresh’. Also, though, regular and undeodorized same day body odor can be off-putting too… I think that I can put up with a lot of cultural differences, but this particular one is hard for me. Luckily (?) it’s been an issue more with non-American colleagues and students than with au pairs. With au pairs, it’s been too much perfume! Given a choice, I go with too much perfume :-)
cv

Shana Medah November 3, 2010 at 12:00 pm

It’s interesting that everyone has their own “non-negotiable” items, and it’s good that you recognize which ones are yours. Personally, I fall on the other side of the smell spectrum – I can tolerate some pretty strong body smell, but the perfume gets me every time. BTW, I didn’t mean to steal your thunder on the definition of “clean”. :-)

Aupairgal November 3, 2010 at 12:10 pm

I would have to agree. I am quite allergic to many sythetic perfumes. In my hometown it is also concidered rude. I have seen people been asked to leave particular establishments if there perfume is too offensive.

BoysMom November 14, 2010 at 6:22 pm

I had to ask our AP to please not wear perfume while working with the kids. I don’t know how she felt about it, but it wasn’t OK with me to smell her perfume on my newborn’s head instead of my baby’s smell. It’s not about controlling her, it’s about protecting my family from chemicals.

HRHM November 3, 2010 at 3:47 am

Is it me, or do other countries just not use/like/know about antiperspirant/deodorant? None of my APs has brought any from home or adopted using it while here. Now, being abroad in the Middle East, it appears that folks here don’t use it either. Is it just Americans?

Should be working November 3, 2010 at 5:05 am

I have found that while deodorant is prevalent (in Europe, never traveled elsewhere), deodorant SOAP is not. Instead people want to ‘moisturize’ in the shower, so slimy shower gels are preferred. Deo soap is not available in many places, and my Euro friends don’t understand why anyone would want it.

I agree that laundry is more often the smell-offender than the actual body of the AP. Our APs were a bit surprised, and disapproving, at how often we launder our clothes (i.e. after one complete day of wearing or two partial days). And ecologically they are correct, of course.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 3, 2010 at 8:25 pm

As a child, I had far less clothing than my son has now (a lot of it hand-me-downs) and usually wore my school outfits at least twice before putting them in the laundry basket. I changed into play clothes as soon as I got home, and generally wore that outfit every afternoon for the five weekdays. At some point (probably thanks to China) clothing became cheap enough for everyone to have a lot.

These days my son wears the same outfits to school and play, and so they take a serious beating. There is no second wearing for him.

The person who really fills my baskets though is The Camel. Unfortunately she often drools uncontrollably, and when she is soaked, is changed (her skin tends to break down when she is not).

Me, I still tend to wear dresses, skirts and pants twice, but my shirts – no way.

Shana Medah November 3, 2010 at 12:09 pm

I think that what we define as “good” and “bad” smells are part of our cultural upbringing (I think of some of the food that my students used to make and wonder how they could consider the aroma appetizing, but I digress). In some places, body odor is just a part of the human condition, and thus not something that needs special effort to be masked or gotten rid of. Additionally, in some places, being able to smell the person you are with is one of the ways you “experience” the other person – just as you can see them and hear them.

Shana Medah November 3, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Oops- I meant this reply to HRHM just above.

German Au-Pair November 29, 2011 at 3:52 am

Sorry for digging this back up, but since this post was linked to the new one, I couldn’t help but notice this discussion about clean.
Almost every German au pair I know is a little confused about the “I wear my cloths once and then they’re dirty”-attitude of the Americans but this is also something, most Germans know beforehand.
I did not adjust to this and wear my shirts more than once, my pants even more than twice as this is something very normal in Germany.
However, I make sure my cloths are still CLEAN. But to me that means, they don’t smell like anything nasty like sweat or food or smoke.

Your sub-discussion here caught my attention about the definition of “clean”. Is it really considered unclean, if you can smell that there’s a person under the fresh washed cloths?
While none of my friends at home smells and showeres every day, I could totally close my eyes and tell them apart just by smelling at them because they smell like their homes. And I’m not talking about wearing the same perfume every day or not every wearing deodorant and just smelling really bad.
Just the specific smell every person has.
Would you consider this “unclean” in the US?

Just wondering.

German Au-Pair November 29, 2011 at 3:53 am

Sorry, missunderstanding. I mean no one smells and every one showers every day :D sounded kind of weird there.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 29, 2011 at 11:23 pm

Where did you get the impression that Americans wear their clothes only once? (Although I admit – I wear the shirts that come in contact with my skin only once before washing.) In our home the adults wear trousers a couple of times, and skirts even longer. However, my daughter, who drools all over her clothes, wears 1-2 outfits a day. My son, who goes out and tumbles in the afternoon, throws them in the hamper because they’re filthy. I come home, and change out of work clothes into hug-the-kids clothes that I wear most of the week because they’re only on a couple of hours a day.

However, to get to your question, it depends on when the person showers. In my experience a lot of APs have tended to shower in the evening, as if they want to keep their sheets clean, while Americans tend to shower in the morning as if to great the day all sparkling clean and ready to roll.

Personally, I hate anything scented, so I stay away from scented deodorants, soaps, and perfumes. I guess I smell like myself. I don’t go around sniffing my APs, whose odors don’t bother me unless they’ve freshly applied perfume. I also don’t go around sniffing my friends (unless they smoke cigarettes, and then I can’t help it). Are there days I don’t shower? Sure. They’re called weekends when all I want to do is work in my garden…

dclover November 3, 2010 at 1:37 pm

In Europe deodorant is as common as in the States. There is only the difference that European people use more deodorant sprays than sticks.

HM ANON November 2, 2010 at 4:47 pm

We have had to rematch due to body odor. Our kids were picking up on it, which led to comments in poor taste on their part, and caused awkward conversations. Depending on climate and activities with your host kids, you may want to plan on showering daily as well as washing clothes after one wear when warm. We live in a hot climate and have had AP’s that refused to dress for the weather…sweaters/layers with leggings on 100+ degree days is just not good. Ask your HF about the climate and really take to heart what they suggest you pack. I mention that we really don’t need winter coats here (unless AP is also from a hot climate) and we have some that could be worn for the odd cold day. AP’s have shown up with coats, boots, sweaters – you name it!

Personally I am fine with most tank tops and any bra straps that may show so long as cleavage as well as below navel is covered, even when bending or stooping over to talk to a child and shorts about finger tip length when arms are at your sides. Shorts any shorter than that are just too revealing for caring for kids IMO and I should not be able to see down your shirt if you lean forward to talk! I think most would also say that see through tops are inappropriate as are tops where your bra can be seen through or peeking out.

By all means bring clothes to reflect your style, but also come with an open mind to learn about how others dress and how to dress for any occasion. What you might wear to a mall at home may be too provocative or more like club clothes where your HF is and it caries from one part of the US to another. We live in a very laid back city, even most executives wear flip flops to work, while other cities are more “dressed up” in general.

trina November 2, 2010 at 5:01 pm

i’d suggest that APs limit cologne use. my last 2 APs have donned a powdery-smelling cologne that i absolutely hate, and they wear it too heavily. yes, americans are sensitive to too much personal scent – good or bad! ;-)

ex aus au pair November 2, 2010 at 5:12 pm

I wore a lot of sweat pants and hoodies as it was very cold where I was. I thought as long as I was always clean and my hair was neat, this was not a problem.

I am a nanny in Australia now, I usually wear leggings and a tunic and flats, or neat sweatpants and a hoodie, or in warmer weather, shorts and a tshirt or singlet. I never wear bright coloured or stand out bras however, and my shorts (while not knee length by any means), are respectable and well fitted.

I think it is most important to be neat and tidy. Showered, fresh clothes, neat hair, minimal makeup, clean neat finger nails, light perfume etc etc

OB Mom November 2, 2010 at 5:54 pm

For AP’s of girls, remember that you are an important role model for them. Body Image issues are probably hard enough for you to go through, imagine what messages you could be sending to your young girls if you are ‘dressed to kill’ all the time. That being said, you should still have some fun clothes to go out in that express your personality. Note though that all of my AP’s have ended the year with much more than they brought (our malls are too much fun) … perhaps you can save the party clothes shopping for when you arrive … matching the styles with what you find is acceptable in your new city and new activities.

Should be working November 3, 2010 at 5:09 am

Great point about the role model for the daughters! Our first AP dressed somewhere between Elvira and Britney Spears, and I realized that my daughter was starting to try to copy her, wanted fake fingernails, etc. So I had to ask her to tone it down. It wasn’t as bad as I thought when I couched in terms of how I want my 8-yr-old to stay young and innocent (which I think rings well with APs) and not follow the societal pressure to dress like a teenager. It also was effective to point out how my daughter WORSHIPS the AP, and it was precisely for this reason that I was asking the AP to dress more modestly. That was a flattering way to do it–along with saying, “You are an attractive young woman with a beautiful body, and naturally you want to show it off; I need to ask you, however, while you are working …..” Flattery is always a good way to go when possible.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 2, 2010 at 5:57 pm

I don’t have a dress code and I don’t comment on what our APs wear. I do warn them when they come to bring old washable clothing for daytime use. The Camel is capable of launching bites of food that could ruin a brand-new outfit. Every AP we have had has understood that white is not for playing with my kids, but perfect for clubbing. I do care if they can’t run, play or lift in their outfits. Taking care of kids is not dancing in a club, but personally, I’ve never had a problem with what I consider appropriate dress.

Personally, I don’t care if the bottom of her shirt meets the waist of her jeans, as long as she can pick up my 52 lb (25.2 kg) child to diaper her, feed her or put her in her special car seat (on the other hand DH thinks all but the thinnest of women look even fatter in the short T-shirt look, but he would never tell an AP so). I don’t comment on makeup (although it doesn’t take most APs but a day to figure out it’s a waste of time if it’s just going to get smeared by the unintentional left hook). I tell APs to pack their favorite outfits for clubbing and I don’t comment on appearance (hey, I was young and half-naked once, too).

We, too, have a very different climate than that of all of our APs. The ones from closer to the equator I tell not to bring a winter coat because it couldn’t possibly be warm enough. The others I tell it’s their choice. We have kept a variety of clothing that APs have left behind – Polartec jackets, sweatshirts, rain jackets and even a down winter coat. Incoming APs pick through what they want.

HP should tell the AP candidates how they want them to appear, so there are no surprises upon arrival. And that way, young women who would never be happy looking like a stoic New Englander in a turtleneck can avoid matching with a family that insists upon it.

JBLV November 2, 2010 at 7:38 pm

I live in a city where “showing a lot of skin” is the norm, where “what happens here stays here” if you know what I mean. I don’t mind at all if our au pair dresses in a sexy way when she is out and about on the weekends – I encourage her to experience our city as the locals do. It’s important she have fun.

While the AP is “on duty” there are practical considerations to the way she should dress. I put in my handbook that the au pair should bring old, comfortable clothes because my son likes to fling food, play in the dirt, etc., and it is highly likely that AP will get dirty on a daily basis. It’s also impossible to chase after a toddler in high heals. Tight clothes and short-shorts can also be equally restricting. And if you cannot chase a toddler, then our family is probably not the family for you.

With regards to make-up, I do not mind at all if the au pair wears it. But, what’s the point in wearing expensive make-up to the Children’s museum? I also don’t want my son (and my daughter who is due on Sunday) exposed to chemicals they don’t need to be exposed to. Much of the make-up in the US cannot be sold in Europe because the US allows many more harmful chemicals in our makeup than the EU does. My son is very affectionate, and I’d prefer that he not be sucking in a bunch of phthatales, parabens, amines, lauryl sulfates, or formaldehydes while giving “kissies.” It’s just best if the AP reserves heavy make-up for evenings, weekends, time-off etc., when she can enjoy it more.

Europhile November 2, 2010 at 8:08 pm

We have never included any dress-code specific language in our interviewing, handbook, etc. It has never been necessary. If my AP dressed “slutty” for work or overused make up, I would bring it up with her, and that would be that. If that happened, I am still not sure I would bring it up in our handbook, as I wouldn’t want to make a huge deal out of it.

HMinWI November 2, 2010 at 10:06 pm

CV, I think your suggestions are great! I’ve never brought this topic with an AP, and have only had one AP who I had any issues with how she dressed. It wasn’t that she was immodest, it was just that I don’t see wearing skirts on a daily basis as appropriate for crawling around on the floor with 3 toddlers. So, the “work appropriateness” is really high on my list. I do tell my APs that Americans are more casual than other places. We don’t always “dress” for going to the store. It is perfectly acceptable here to go to the grocery store or local big box store in sweats or jeans and tennis shoes. So, I tell them to bring more comfortable clothes than “club clothes.”

Oh, and btw, my current AP actually took the advice “bring half as much stuff as you think you need and twice as much money” to heart. She arrived with one suitcase and a fistful of cash! I knew at the moment of arrival that she was a winner!

Should be working November 3, 2010 at 5:12 am

I do love that line! Need to practice following that advice myself when packing . . .

NewAPMama November 3, 2010 at 3:00 pm

No offense, but we do not wear pants in my family, only skirts. I have never had an issue (nor has my AP) chasing/crawling/jumping, etc. with our two very young girls. So I think you may be mistaken in your skirts assumption.

BoysMama November 14, 2010 at 6:30 pm

I’m sure your skirts must be longer than those of our AP then.

Talya November 3, 2010 at 4:58 am

Hi there,

Loved this post and think the suggestions are great. I think with this au pair coming from Australia, the cultural differences won’t be all that great and that she will be able to fit in just fine with her family.

I would definitely agree with wearing comfortable clothing that is appropriate while taking care of children (this is especially important if said au pair is taking care of younger children – you MUST be able to move!).

Regarding bathing suits I would also say that a two piece is more than likely ok, as long as it isn’t crazy skimpy and the host family isn’t extremely conservative. When I worked as an au pair, I did take a one and two piece, but my two piece was more than ok to wear when out with the family. So I’d say that as long as you aren’t looking like a Victoria’s Secret photo shoot you’re probably ok.

Hope this helps!

Calif Mom November 3, 2010 at 9:38 am

Our biggest issue has been sleepwear: short shorts that are no bigger than a second pair of underwear are not appropriate for wandering out at breakfast time in. If you are not going to be fully dressed for the day when you come into the kitchen in the morning, then bring or buy–and wear–a robe. Do your host mom that much of a favor. :-)

Nina November 3, 2010 at 2:02 pm

This was something I wish my HF had warned me about. Not just attire, but what I’d be expected to wear and in which climates. This may sounds silly, but coming from a mild country, I tend not to have a great variation of clothing i.e. nothing really thick, no proper winter coat because it never gets cold enough to need one. So it was a massive shock to experience a -23C winter and then a +35C summer – something which I’d never experienced before.

Also, in comparison to my host country, I came from quite a conservative dressed country (not in comparison to the USA, but for such as European countries, it was still conservative), and it was actually my HM that boosted my confidence and got me wearing skirts and a bikini. In this case, it’s also good to prepare them beforehand with how people dressed, because it was quite a shock to me to see people just walking around in the beginning of September in a skirt and bikini top!

azmom November 3, 2010 at 3:04 pm

In regard to scents – I get migraines from someone’s perfume and our outgoing AP was using a very strong smelling body lotion that had me in a 3 day migraine, which I did mention to her.

In regard to body image, we have been pretty “strict” about not using words like “pretty” around our daughter and we went over this a few times with AP yet the AP’s desire to dress up/wear super fashionable (not necessarily functional clothes for a 2 year old and a baby) now has my 2 year old saying she doesn’t like pretty if she’s not wearing certain clothes, etc. So for APs reading this, some of the “rules” aren’t to restrict you, but to protect young kiddos from feeling the pressure to “look” a certain way at a too young age. Just about any woman can probably atest to not wanting that pressure, right?

NewAPMama November 3, 2010 at 3:08 pm

I think there is nothing wrong with telling your daughter she is pretty as long as she is hearing praise about other personality/character attributes. So many teens now who suffer from poor self-esteem say that their own mothers never made them feel pretty, etc., so they sought that attention elsewhere. I personally wouldn’t ban my AP from telling my DD that she was pretty, as long as she always said things about how kids she is, smart, etc.

NewAPMama November 3, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Excuse me, I meant how kind she is. Lol

Aupairgal November 3, 2010 at 5:38 pm

I always tried to compliment my host boys when they were wearing something that they really like or were proud of. For example, Older Child wore these torn up old overalls that he called his “work pants”. I always complimented him when he picked them out because they were something he loved so much. I told him he looked really handsome in them and that he looked like a really construction worker (he was obsessed with everything construction).

MommyMia November 3, 2010 at 8:42 pm

cv – Thanks for a trip down memory lane with some of those paper doll images – I had “The Mods!”
Love everyone’s suggestions on appropriate clothing and hygiene. I remember my family’s HS foreign-exchange student who wore the same wool sweater for over a week without laundering (no deodorant – wasn’t big at that time in Europe yet, at least for teens) until my mom had to tell her she (actually it was mostly the sweater) didn’t smell very nice and show her how to soak it in Woolite and lay on a towel to dry. Then I went to univ. in Europe and discovered the body odor problem – try riding the subway on a sweltering day with your nose just at the level of everyone’s underarms! But I also cannot stand people whose cloud of perfume or cheap cologne proceed them and linger long after they’ve left.

Chev November 3, 2010 at 11:27 pm

I’m an aussie AP in the states and i don’t think there’s any difference in how Aussies dress compared to how Americans dress. I definitely don’t think that americans dress more conservatively than aussies. But this could also just be the places i’ve lived and live now. I’m from Melbourne and i live near Seattle now and other than the extra layers i put on in the winter, i dress exactly the same as i did back home and wear the same kinds of clothes as my neighbours over here :)

How you dress for work depends on the ages of your kids and the activities you’ll be doing with them. I look after toddlers and wear tracksuits when we’re hanging around the house, and jeans when we’re going out. I have nicer clothes for occasions with my HF and clubbing clothes for saturday nights. Bathing suit wise, a tankini and board shorts are always a good idea. Just because you’re comfortable in you surf bikini that you know you won’t fall out of doesn’t mean that your host kids uncle is :)

Melissa November 4, 2010 at 12:59 pm

CV – I want to print out your post and frame it!!! Great suggestions for an au pair on what to wear. I have talked with 3 of our 5 APs about dress and I absolutely DREAD the conversation and feel incredibly awkward every time! I usually wind up fretting over it for days beforehand and my husband has multiple awkward occasions of quickly averting his eyes so it doesn’t appear like he’s looking down our APs top when she bends over. And then I finally get fed up and realize I have to have a chat with her.

We don’t have strict dress requirements (or at least what I would consider strict), however, I do not want to see cleavage, belly buttons, or someone’s underwear (thongs, bras). I have two young girls and don’t really think my 5 year old needs to point to my APs purple thong and ask ‘what’s that, mommy?’ I’ve learned to tolerate the purposefully visible bra straps. Our first two APs had no dress issues, so I never gave it a thought and just assumed it was common sense to dress appropriately (like CV’s point about noticing what the HF wears – an AP certainly doesn’t need to mimic her HM’s style, but it should give a clear indication to the AP of how conservative they are regarding dress. at least you would think…).

I’ve thought about discussing dress during matching, because I so don’t want to have to deal with it once she’s here, but I worry that we’ll sound like super-conservative weirdos. I think if I was an AP applicant, I would be put off if a family that I haven’t met yet tells me how they want me to dress (however, I would also have the common sense not to wear a string bikini with my new family). What I did this year was to send my future AP, after we matched, a booklet with advice & topics that I cut and pasted from different AP and cultural travel sites, such as ‘tips on how to make the most of your year’, ‘how Americans typically see things’ AND “What to Pack”, which included the ‘bring a modest swimsuit’ tip. That way, it wasn’t coming directly from me, but did touch on the clothing topic. I think next time I’ll add some more to it, like no visible underwear, please. :-)

CT AuPAir November 4, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Is funny how you say Americans and their clean world. I am from South America, and I shower 2 times a day, first thing in the morning when I wake up and before sleep, my HM doesnt seem to understand WHY I have to shower “SOOOO” many times per day!!! I take care of a baby so by the end of the day, I feel like I smell like dirty diapers, baby food, milk, vomit, spit, so I like to go to bed “clean” and I just feel weird if I go to work without taking a shower first!!!! Hello??? Maybe she doesnt understand becasue if she doesnt need to go out the house she doesnt shower until 3pm or she takes 1 per day, and if is winter and very cold she might skip that shower! Also, I learned that make-up to take care of a baby is not required, so I dont put daily make up anymore, and I usually use sweat pants and hoodies and not make up!

Taking a Computer Lunch November 4, 2010 at 11:07 pm

Americans usually shower once a day when they first get up. If they go to the gym later, they’ll shower again. If I’m dirty from the garden, I’ll use a washcloth to wash my legs and feet, but I don’t shower. Usually, only small children bathe before getting into bed. It’s a cultural thing. My water bill was highest when I had South American APs, but even they tended to take what we call military showers – water off when lathering and back on for rinsing, as opposed to the American long hot shower. Many of my APs have preferred to shower before bed and not when getting up – I think of it as putting their best food forward for the sheets. Here, we clean up for others, but not for ourselves.

Shana Medah November 5, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Hi CT AuPair,

As you have discovered, the definition of clean varies from culture to culture, and even from person to person in the same culture. What seems like the minimum to one person may feel like too much to another person, and what is acceptable for one may be considered dirty, even disgusting, by someone else. Because “clean” is very closely related to what we consider the “right” way to do something, doing something that isn’t your normal way can bring up some pretty strong emotions – both for you – not wanting to feel dirty – and for host parents who are used to only showering once per day and feel that this is enough, and also have to pay for the water that’s used. I think the key is for each of you to try not to make a judgment about the other (that what you do is right or wrong), but rather to try to find common ground. Perhaps you already do this, but if the water bill is a concern, try showering the way the Taking a Computer Lunch suggests – water on only for getting wet and rinsing, and hopefully your host mom can understand that caring for a baby can definitely make a person feel not so fresh. I hope this helps!

mom210 November 5, 2010 at 8:01 pm

I enjoyed and appreciated the list of what au pairs should and should not wear; this is a very helpful guide for families and au pairs alike. I also think that au pairs need to consider the impression that they are making on the host children, especially if there are tweens or teens in the house. One family’s interpretation of a conservative family may be very different from that of an au pair. I remember watching au pairs try on skimpy Halloween costumes and telling me that they would wear such a dress to a wedding in their own country. Perspective is relative I guess. Thanks for the great resource of this list!

HRHM November 6, 2010 at 3:09 am

I think it also may be difficult for the AP to appreciate that increased water use may be a significant and unexpected expense for her HF. If she comes from a country where well or cistern is the primary source of water, then it’s essentially free for her family. Or if she comes from living with her parents and they never shared with her how much utilities cost, then she may not understand why her HF wants her to be more careful with water/heat/electric use.

We also send a lot of mixed messages (gripe about the frequent showers, but then wash 10 loads of laundry a week?) FWIW

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