Conference season is upon us, and it’s important to make a good impression on your colleagues and peers. If you’re an early career researcher looking to upgrade your wardrobe for professional events, these tips are a must-have: mix and match your outfits, bring casual wear for evening events and daytime activities, choose comfortable shoes for all the walking, utilize simple and clean color scheme, and accessorize with ties and pocket squares for men and statement jewelry or scarves for women.
Follow these tips and create a budget-friendly conference wardrobe that showcases your personal brand.
With several social media and blogging conferences on the calendar in the next few weeks, I’ve been fielding the “what should I wear???” questions often the last two weeks.
Be you: Look for “networking-chic” clothing
Yes, I probably just created a new fashion genre, but this is key. A large portion of what you’ll be doing at conferences is networking–you’ll meet potential new clients and employers and other bloggers and social media professionals who will want to learn about you and what you have to offer. Yes, ladies, this is about first impressions. This is not a job interview, so you’ll be overdressed in a suit, but you do want to look professional–professional you, whoever that is. Jeans are fine (and you’ll see lots of them), as are t-shirts, as long as they represent you.
Think of it this way: if a large corporation sends a member of its team to scope out the right future spokesperson, you need to make sure you’re putting your best, most professional foot forward so that you’ll be remembered that way. You need to look at the look and represent yourself and your brand that way.
So if your brand is art and splatter-painted, by all means, wear splatter paint. If you’re glittery, wear glitter. If you’re all about natural, eco-green, then it would not be okay to wear something synthetic. Be you. Be your brand.
At every conference, you’ll be blinded with bulbs. With that in mind, make sure you pack only clothing you’ll want to be in when you’re featured on websites, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Twitter, etc. I try to remember to do the picture test before I pack: try on each outfit and take 2 selfies: one full-length in the mirror and one silly close-up. Make sure there are no overdoing it cleavage spots or anything showing that you don’t want.
Then, ask a friend, partner, spouse, kid, or person at the bus stop… to take a full-length picture of you hugging or buddy-shotting with another person (and by buddy shot, I mean put your arms around each other and pose. Not body shot, people! That would require totally different clothes.)
Keep this in mind while packing pajamas: At my very first conference, a group of us gathered late-night in someone’s room for a crafting party. Many of us were already in PJs, and yes, there were pictures. I almost always run to Target before a conference and get a new set of pjs.
Keep your shoes focused on a theme
While people are packing for the conference, it’s inevitable you’ll see at least 4 Instagram shots of all the shoes people bring. I’ll share a little secret: I usually bring 3 pairs–maybe 4, tops. This post on packing light shares how I get away with only 3 pairs for most of my trips. It’s all about coordinating your outfits around your shoes.
For cold-weather trips, skip the flip-flops and bring slippers.
If you don’t listen to any of my other advice, then please, pay attention here. Many conferences this fall are in hot-weather towns like Atlanta and New Orleans. Ladies, please. Please, please, please prepare for the heat and humidity that you’ll face outside, but don’t forget that these conference centers and hotels keep their air conditioning running, often on high. And no amount of coffee will keep you warm enough.
And when you’re not warm, you don’t focus, and BAM! You just missed an entire session because you’re shivering.
Pack a jacket or a sweater. Just one. you can wear it every day (no one will mind or even care.) A denim jacket works with almost everything. So does a navy, cream, or gray cardigan or jacket. Last week I featured cardigans and jackets that will be perfect for fall conferences.
Along those lines, even though it’s hot, you may find that you’ll be better off wearing pants or a maxi dress. Check the schedule. If there’s a day that you won’t be outside at all, make that your long-bottoms day.
Do the comfort test
Yes, there is a test. But luckily, you can do this from your own home, and there’s really no studying involved. When you’re trying on everything to take pictures (above), make sure you sit in each outfit at your desk or at a table. Because you’ll be sitting a lot at the different sessions, and some clothing sags or pulls when you sit. Or stretches. Or whatever. Just like you don’t want to be cold and distracted, you also don’t want to be distracted pulling your shirt down in the back or pulling up your suddenly-too-low v-neck.
For example, pencil skirts, which look lovely and professional while standing, aren’t always so easy to sit in. Make sure to sit in your pencils before packing them to be sure you’ll like to stay seated for at least an hour.
Conferences are so much about learning and so little focused on what you’re actually wearing, but you need to make sure that what you are wearing allows you to feel comfortable enough to be able to learn. That’s a huge key we all should have learned in middle school. Heh.
What to Wear to a Conference
As conference season approaches, many early career researchers may find themselves wondering how to transition their wardrobe from the usual student attire to something more appropriate for networking and professional events. To help with this transition, we have compiled a list of 15 conference wardrobe tips and a bonus packing list.
First and foremost, it is important to mix and match your outfits. Wearing the same base piece, such as a pair of slacks or a skirt, more than once during a conference can save money and allow for last-minute changes in case of spills or accidents. Simply switch up the tops and jackets you pair with the base piece to create different looks.
In addition to formal conference attire, it is also important to bring some casual wear for any relaxed evening events or daytime team-building activities that may come up. Dark jeans or casual slacks and a sweater or top make for good core items that can also serve as your airplane outfit. Even when not attending conference events, it is best to maintain a polished and professional appearance, as you never know who you may meet in the elevator or coffee shop. However, it is important to note that casual wear is not suitable for conference attendees, presenters, or speakers. If you are unsure about the dress code for a particular conference, it is always a good idea to ask around for additional insights or to check photos from prior years to calibrate. It is better to be noticed for being slightly overdressed than to stand out because you wore lab clothes when everyone else was in a suit.
Comfortable shoes are also a must for the conference season. Don’t feel pressured to wear dress shoes or styles that you typically wouldn’t, and don’t be tempted to break in new ones. With all of the walking that often takes place at large conference venues, it is important to choose comfort over style. Many brands and styles offer a classic look but with more support and cushion, though these may be shinier than the comfortable shoes you wear in the lab. It is important to avoid wearing Crocs or lookalikes at conferences.
When it comes to colors, white or lightly-patterned, mostly-white dress shirts make it easy for men to match any color of jacket and trousers. Black is always a classic base for women’s outfits, and it is simple to accent with nearly any color or patterned top. Gray trousers work well with almost any outfit for anyone, and navy blazers are a classic choice. A simple and clean color scheme helps with mix-and-matching and allows for easy updates to your wardrobe as you progress in your career.
Accessories, such as ties and pocket squares for men and statement jewelry or scarves for women, can also be used to customize your conference look. These smaller pieces can add a personal touch to your outfit and can even serve as a shoulder wrap for over-air-conditioned conference rooms.
- Wear the same base piece more than once during a conference to save money and allow for last-minute changes.
- Bring casual wear for evening events and daytime activities, but maintain a polished and professional appearance.
- Check the dress code and err on the side of being slightly overdressed.
- Choose comfortable shoes for walking at large conference venues.
- Use white or lightly-patterned, mostly-white dress shirts for men to match any color jacket and trousers.
- Black is a classic base for women’s outfits and can be accented with almost any color or patterned top.
- Gray trousers work well for anyone, and navy blazers are classic.
- Use a simple and clean color scheme for mix-and-matching and easy updates to your wardrobe.
- Use smaller pieces and accents like ties and pocket squares to customize a look for men.
- Women can use creative statement jewelry or scarves as a personalized accent and shoulder wrap.
- Wear comfortable shoes.
- The dress code may vary by group and research discipline, so ask around or check prior photos.
- Maintain a polished and professional appearance.
- Use a simple and clean color scheme for mix-and-matching and easy updates to your wardrobe.
- Use accessories to customize your look.
In summary, conference season is a great opportunity to showcase your personal brand and make a good impression on your colleagues and peers. By following these tips and packing a mix of formal and casual attire, comfortable shoes, and accessories, you can create a wardrobe that is both professional and budget-friendly.