How to Dress for Conferences

Attending conferences and networking events have become the norm these days and regardless of gender or age, there are a few basic things to be aware of. Firstly, even before we talk about what to wear, the most important things to bring to any conference is:

1. A Positive Attitude. 

2. Your Smile. 

3. Your Confidence.

These are the essential elements for a fruitful conference attendance. That settled, we can move onto the clothes.

We want the clothes to instantly express our personalities and allow us to show up as the creative professional that we are while speaking, learning or networking with other attendees at the conference. The trick is to combine dressing authentically with dressing professionally. I suggest you incorporate at least a few fashion forward pieces into your look. Your overall outfit goal should be to visually convey your best self, so that you fully engage and share your talents and expertise at the professional event. So here are a few useful tips for a successful conference wardrobe.

1.      Stay Wrinkle Free

Its quite likely that you’ll be travelling to the conference so remember to pack clothes that work both standing up or sitting down without you being covered in creases after a few hours. Never wear linen, unless your conference is taking place on a tropical island. Bring back-up options, so if one shirt is wrinkly you can go with another. Wear dark colors – they’re universally flattering and hide wrinkles.

2.     Always Be Prepared

Pack layers. You might be in a room with air conditioner for one talk and a veritable sauna in the next, so it’s best to be ready. It’s always better to dress up than down. No matter what time of year, shorts are never a good choice, as they come across as too casual. A nice jacket or scarf can dress up a plain outfit. Be aware of your necklines. As a general rule you shouldn’t show any cleavage, as it can be distracting or even offensive, and it’s better to just err on the conservative side. Remember to bring a few extra options for surprise occasions like extra dinners, unexpected weather changes or other unforeseen circumstances.

3.     Tips for the Speaker

If you’re presenting, bear in mind that your presence is as important as your presentation. You definitely do not want your appearance to distract people you’re your message. Avoid large jewelry or busy prints, and make sure your hair is not hiding your face so that you look poised and professional. Keep your prints on small. People should only be able to tell what your print is if they are standing right in front of you, not across a huge hall. I recommend heels but make sure you’re comfortable walking and standing for an extended period of time. Conferences are not the place to break in a new pair of heels. EVER.

4.     Ask and it shall be given

If you are unsure of the dress code for a conference, don’t suffer in silence. ASK. Some networking events and conferences are more formal than others ( the rules may be industry specific), so generalities only go so far. The conference organizers should provide you with guidelines, but it’s alright to clarify if the dresscode is unclear. Moreover, don’t feel pressured to relinquish your personality in favor of a professional wardrobe. People usually come across as more confident if they are comfortable in their clothes.

5.    Colour

My best answer for what to wear for conferences in one word is COLOUR. At most conferences, most women wear neutrals, dark colours and the perennial favourite is black. My suggestion is to dare to be different, and the easiest way to be memorable and eye-catching is to wear colour. You don’t have to be in a shocking pink maxi-dress to turn heads, simply take it as far as you are comfortable, whether it is a red lipstick, a colourful necklace or a cheerful scarf. The idea is that you want to stand out, look confident, appear welcoming and  look great in all the photos you'll be snapping. A colour is the easiest, simplest way to accomplish all of that.

Business and networking is like dating and auditioning. You have to show up for the magic to happen. Now that you are all ready, bring it and have fun at your conference!