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:
- the demands of the job,
- their desire to express themselves, and
- the norms about what’s appropriate to the situation.
When 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 situation
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.
Other 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.
- 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 people 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?