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Dress professionally, but still express yourself: A student teacher’s fashion week

Shaffer experimented with business casual fashion while staying true to her own sense of style.
Shaffer experimented with business casual fashion while staying true to her own sense of style.

Nothing strikes fear into the hearts of college students more than the words “business casual.” 

Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but that specific dress code is certainly one that can be a place of stress for 20-something-year-olds. We are used to walking around campus in our oversized sweatshirts, UGG slippers and yoga pants.

There’s nothing wrong with a comfier approach to fashion, but as a senior, I’ve started thinking more about how my fashion is going to evolve as I go out into the “real world” post-college. Since I’m an education major, my entire spring semester is student-teaching in a high school English classroom, which is the perfect practice for trying my hand at the business casual dress code. 

School districts vary in terms of what they require teachers to wear – in fact, I know a few schools expect men to wear ties every day, but my school isn’t super strict about the dress code. In general, I have to wear business casual attire (leaning slightly more casual than business) from Monday through Thursday, and jeans are allowed on Fridays.

As an artistic person who loves fashion, I was excited for the opportunity to try wearing clothes that I typically don’t gravitate toward. I enjoyed the challenge of blending the creativity of a youthful college mind with the professionalism expected of a teacher. 


Photo by Ava Shaffer | The Miami Student
Shaffer shows off her literature-themed outfit on Monday.

I came out of the Literature Nerd Gates swinging with my first teaching outfit on Monday. I wore my “It’s no use, Jo!” shirt which is a quote from Louise May Alcott’s “Little Women.” I wanted my students to know that I care a lot about reading, and what better way to show that than wearing a quote from one of my favorite books on my shirt? I paired it with a nice pair of black slacks and a striped cardigan to keep an air of professionalism.

For all of my outfits this week (and to be honest, probably for the rest of the school year), I wear my trusty pair of Mary Jane Doc Martens. They are not only stylish and professional, but also add a bit of personality to my outfits. I usually wear them with a pair of frilly white socks. 

Photo by Ava Shaffer | The Miami Student
Shaffer usually wears her favorite pair of shoes: black Mary Jane Doc Martens.


Photo by Ava Shaffer | The Miami Student
Shaffer puts on neutral colors for her Tuesday look.

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On Tuesday, it was a bit warmer in my class, so I wore a fun patterned top and brown slacks. I love this blouse and rarely get a chance to wear it (what college event warrants a button-up with frilly lace?), so it was exciting to put it on now for student-teaching. 

This blouse has a floral pattern with a unique neckline and lace surrounding the sleeves and collar. 


Photo by Ava Shaffer | The Miami Student
Shaffer pops some color on Wednesday.

A saving grace for me in terms of my teacher outfits has been having what I call a “go-to uniform.” My student teaching go-to uniform is a nice pair of slacks, a white top and a fun cardigan. Since I rolled out of bed a little later than I intended to (at 5:45 a.m. instead of 5:30 a.m.! The horror!), I depended on my trusty uniform to get me out the door on time. 

On this Wednesday, I chose a fun green cardigan patterned with smiley-faced daisies. I’m a positive person, and I want to convey that to my students, so this bright cardigan was a way for me to express that.


Photo by Ava Shaffer | The Miami Student
Shaffer wears layers on Thursday.

I’m a big fan of a pop of color, so for Thursday I chose a white turtleneck, a vibrant orange jacket and black slacks. I paired this look with some gold accessories – my trusty gold hoop earrings and a layered tarot card necklace. 

After teaching for almost a week, I learned the importance of wearing layers. Depending on the time of day, it’s either freezing or boiling in my room, so having the option to put on or take off a jacket has been a lifesaver. 


Photo by Ava Shaffer | The Miami Student
Shaffer poses in jeans on her final day of the week.

For my final outfit of the week, I took the school up on its offer of letting teachers wear jeans on Fridays. I chose a pair of blue jeans that didn’t have any fraying or holes in them and wore a yellow chunky knit sweater with it. 

I love the color of this sweater and how cozy it is. I thought the high neckline kept this outfit professional, even with the jeans.

After reflecting upon my first week of teaching and the outfits I created, I found that they have been a great way to connect with my students. Some students who are typically more shy in class would come up to my desk to compliment my cardigans or ask about the quote from my shirt on Monday.

This warmed my heart and reminded me that clothing can transcend social barriers, allowing connection and conversation starters between people who are just starting to get to know each other. 

This practice of combining my personal lively and colorful style with the business casual dress code has definitely helped prepare me for life after college. I’ve learned that we as young people don’t have to lose our creativity or our personality when we enter the workforce — we just have to find ways to express ourselves in these new, more mature scenarios.