By Guest Contributor Kate Norris

Any discussion of professorial dressing is bound to cover the ways people dress to project authority to students who view them as an unlikely authority figure (see Raena’s excellent post on the subject). I wanted to look at “dressing to teach” from the other side: how do you dress when you have to teach a class and then turn around and take a class? How do you dress to be both a teacher and a student?

When I was in grad school, I definitely knew people whose clothing made it obvious whether or not they were teaching that day—those who dressed very differently to teach than to be taught. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with that, and everyone should do whatever they please to feel comfortable in the classroom. Graduate students, especially women, often feel the need to dress especially professionally to help themselves project authority for lots of good reasons (quick take: fuck the patriarchy).

As a creative writing teacher, I felt I had more leeway to be creative in my dress, and as a super tall person who is old enough for my students not to mistake me for a fellow undergrad, I had the privilege of not worrying quite so much about projecting authority. Clothing is a large part of how I express myself, so I wanted to avoid dressing in a way that would make me feel alienated from myself as soon as class let out. Especially since, unlike a professor (at least in an ideal world…) in the course of my day on campus, I was likely to be in contact with people I wanted to want to bone me, so, you know, I wanted to look cool. My own conception of it at least.

This doesn’t mean all jeans and t-shirts though, because that’s not even going-to-the-bar me. My goals of looking slightly more polished but still creative ended up intersecting in a very specific way: mixing patterns.

Here are my “rules” for mixing patterns (although this is probably the first time I’m actually articulating them, and let’s be honest, I’m not reinventing the wheel here):

The safest way to mix patterns is to stick with patterns in the same color family, BUT you can also mix different color patterns. When mixing different color patterns it helps if the patterns have colors that have the same intensity and/or one overlapping color.

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Magenta herringbone and emerald plaid works because both patterns are jewels toned, and the plaid has some pink in it.


Not all patterns are equally pattern-y. Polka dots, plaids, and herringbone are practically neutrals in my book. Smaller patterns are easier to mix than larger ones, and when mixing a large or wild pattern, it’s easiest to mix it with a smaller or more neutral one.

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Pairing this oversized, grandma’s-throw-pillow-patterned cardigan with a polka dot.

Here are a couple pattern-mixing outfits that I would feel pretty comfy teaching in, then going to class in. I’d even feel good going out after class, despite the fact that when I asked my brother (who was kind enough to take these pics) if he could guess the theme of this post from the outfits, he said “Old lady? Old lady going out at night costume?” YES. YES, THAT IS IT EXACTLY. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Thrifted cardigan, men’s L.L.Bean flannel, Lane Bryant jeans, burgundy patent leather flats from Clark’s.

Anthropologie shades, t-shirt from Old Navy, thrifted skirt, teggings from ReDress, Alfani blazer, and Gabriella Rocha booties.

Skirt and sweater from Lane Bryant, silk shirt from Ann Taylor Loft.


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Kate Norris received her MFA in creative writing from Ohio State University in spring of 2015. She currently lives and writes in Cleveland.