Eight Tips for Dressing the Part at a Conference
Professional and academic conferences are a great way to network and learn about your industry or field of study. But, if you are new to the business world, you may feel confused about how to dress for a conference. After all, there is no fixed conference dress code to follow.
Properly dressing for a conference involves understanding your industry, your itinerary and professional norms. No need to worry — whether you are an intern or an executive, these tips can help you plan your outfits.
Wear Business Casual Dress — Or Clothing Appropriate for Your Industry
Most professionals should stick to business casual clothing when they attend a conference. A business casual outfit can give an air of professionalism without making you look overdressed. Plus, business casual clothing can make longer conference days more comfortable than more formal attire.
However, many folks throw around the term “business casual” without offering a solid definition. While the concept can vary by workplace or industry, staple items for business casual dress include:
- A clean, pressed pair of khaki pants. Make sure that they fit you properly. Anyone can pair these kinds of pants with a dressy top to build a business casual outfit.
- A long-sleeved, button-up and solid-colored shirt. You should especially make sure to press these shirts since they can wrinkle easily.
- A polo shirt. If you are attending a conference outdoors or in a more casual environment, you can also wear a polo top. Tuck it in to your pants for a more polished look.
- A knee-length, non-stretchy skirt or dress. You can wear a skirt for a more feminine outfit, but make sure it leans toward the dressy side of things. While you do not have to wear an ankle-length black pencil skirt, do not wear a tight bodycon skirt, either.
- A comfortable pair of shoes in excellent condition. Loafers, oxfords and flats can work well — think shoes you can walk around in that are more formal than sneakers or flip-flops.
- A jacket, cardigan or sweater. Wearing a tailored blazer can step up an otherwise casual outfit. Cardigans and sweaters can also keep you warm in chillier environments.
However, the standard norms for business casual might not work for folks in some industries. For instance, think about these sectors with less typical dress codes:
- People who work in more creative industries like advertising and design should still stick to a business casual dress code, but they can experiment a bit more with accessories and colors.
- Professionals in the business and law industries should wear full business attire. Think full suits, with stockings and heels for the ladies.
- Fashion industry employees can buck all these trends. Attendees may wear more professional clothes, but they have the liberty to go all out with cutting-edge prints and accessories.
Stick to Your Office Dress Code
When you go to a conference, you often get a name tag featuring your name and workplace or university. If you have a presentation to make, your entry in the agenda will also list your organization. So, even though you are not going to work, you still have to represent your company the way that they want you to. By making sure you follow the rules in your employee handbook, you do not have to worry about coworkers seeing you break them in photos or videos.
If you work for yourself, you should still dress appropriately for your area of expertise. Contractors and the self-employed can tap into their network to get a better idea of what to wear. Find somebody with a job similar to yours and ask them what they typically wear to conferences. When in doubt, search the web for pictures showing what past conference attendees wore.
Students can consult faculty members in their department about the proper dress code for conferences. Academic conferences usually require standard business casual outfits, but some disciplines might ask you to dress up or dress down.
Bring Clothes to Dress Up or Dress Down
While packing for your conference trip, keep in mind you probably will not just attend the conference. You have to travel there, which may involve a long train or airplane ride. Plus, the conference might take place in a city you would like to explore. Or, at the very least, you might walk a block or two after the event to find somewhere to eat dinner. But at the same time, you obviously do not want to bring your entire wardrobe with you.
If you go to a conference with a business casual dress code, you have the flexibility to combine your conference clothes with more comfortable garments outside the event. For example, you can switch to more comfortable shoes if you wear heels during the day. If you wore a polo shirt during the day, you could change to cargo shorts in the evening if it is hot outside.
Conference attendees who must wear full professional outfits may have to pack more extra clothes than attendees of business casual conferences. To reduce the number of clothes in your luggage, you can plan casual outfits featuring versatile items you can wear more than once. Jeans work as a great staple. Keep all the clothes you pack in similar color categories so you can mix and match however you please.
Alternatively, you can think about your outfit planning the other way around — bring items to dress up more casual clothes. A blazer or pair of heels can add polish to a more relaxed coordinate. Or, wear a tie during the day and take it off when you have the chance to dress down. The more comfortable you get with your industry’s dress norms, the more you can confidently experiment.
Wear an Appropriate Outfit for Every Situation
Adding to the previous point, you should bring clothes for every situation you will come across. Some conferences hold special events that require a different dress code than the rest of the conference. Or, you might have coworkers who have plans to go to a nice restaurant afterward. More adventurous folks might want to bring outfits for exploring the area where the conference happens.
Whatever happens during your conference trip, you should wear the proper clothing for every circumstance. Having the right outfit for the occasion helps you feel comfortable, look polished and stay prepared. If you have access to a conference schedule while you pack, use it to help you plan your outfits. Ask any travel companions if they have individual plans outside of the conference you might want to join in on. People who want to make their own plans should check out attractions in the area they may want to visit.
Only Wear Your Nicer Clothes to the Conference
Even though you should pack casual clothes with you for your conference trip, you still should bring your highest-quality clothing. Try to plan your outfits so they include clothing in good condition, especially the outfits you will wear at the conference. A clothing item in good condition has no stains, rips or tears. Check the stitching on your clothes for loose threads or broken stitches.
Good quality clothing also has thick enough material to keep your outfit modest. See-through clothing is not appropriate for any professional setting. Unfortunately, women’s clothing tends to have thinner material than men’s clothing, so mainly women have to worry about this issue. When in doubt, put on the outfit you have in mind and ask a friend if they can see any undergarment lines or colors.
If you have the means, you should tailor your suits and pants, especially if you are shorter or taller than average. Excessively long sleeves and pant legs can get in your way and make you feel self-conscious. Having professional clothes that fit well makes you look more put together with little effort on your part.
Dress Nicely Whether You Are Presenting or Not
When you go to a conference, you must keep your appearance in mind whether you have a presentation or not. You are attending the conference as a professional, so treat it like an important work meeting, not a vacation. Acting this way will let you establish a professional reputation with anyone you meet during the event.
If you are a younger professional, you may wonder — why do you need to focus so hard on appearances if you may never see the other attendees again? Even if you do not have a job search to conduct, you should always network at professional events like a conference. In fact, one of a professional conference’s primary purposes is to help attendees network with other people in their industry.
Even if you go to a conference just to attend events, make sure to dress appropriately. You never know if you will sit next to someone who will serve as a valuable contact down the road. Conferences also have networking events specially meant to give you the chance to connect with other attendees and trade business cards. If you already have an appropriate outfit on, you can stop by between seminars and workshops.
Wear Layers for Comfort and Versatility
To plan your outfits efficiently, you should consider the weather and temperatures you will deal with during the conference. The weather can change dramatically from day to day, especially in spring and autumn. Some buildings have unusually cold or warm air temperatures — sometimes, separate rooms in the same building can have different air conditioning units.
Consider bringing clothing items like:
- A Blazer: Blazers can help you change the formality of your outfit and keep you warm without looking too casual. If you do not already have to wear a suit, a blazer gives you another layer without dressing you down.
- A Sweater or Cardigan: Sweaters and cardigans are easy to carry with you when you have a conference in a building with varying temperatures. If you get cold, you can pull it on to feel warmer.
- A Professional Coat or Jacket: During winter conferences, you still must travel to places like your hotel and campus buildings. Instead of wearing a puffy down coat, consider wearing a more professional coat to put the finishing touch on your outfit.
- An Umbrella: While not necessarily a piece of clothing, an umbrella will keep you dry when it rains or snows. Consider investing in a compact umbrella that easily fits in your bag or briefcase.
The clothing you bring for layering can also depend on your field or industry. For example, a tech startup conference with a very laid-back dress code might have many attendees who wear hoodies. An environmental science conference might have attendees wearing their outdoor gear coats outside. Just like any other aspect of dressing for a conference, ask a trusted colleague if you are unsure.
Look Professional, But Stay Comfortable
You want to dress to impress when you go to a conference, but you do not want to feel miserable by the end of the day. Conferences can often last longer than the typical workday. Not to mention, they involve a lot more socialization and concentration. You want to stay comfortable so you can face the day head-on. Try some of the following tips:
- Bring a larger bag so you can carry useful items like a water bottle, snacks, a sweater or an umbrella. Women can try a sophisticated tote bag, and men can use a briefcase or laptop bag with extra pockets.
- If possible, wear the most comfortable professional shoes you own. While women in some industries are expected to wear high heels, they can keep flats in their bag or hotel room to wear outside the conference. Your feet will thank you at the end of the day.
- Make sure your clothes fit comfortably. For example, if the most professional pair of pants you own feels tight and uncomfortable, buy yourself a new pair you can breathe in.
Planning Your Own Conference?
Do you or a colleague have plans to host your own conference? You need to find the perfect venue, and Dover Downs Hotel & Casino® could fit the bill. Your conference attendees will learn and network in luxury, whether you have five or 500 of them. Our facility features include:
- Over 40,000 square feet of space for functions and events
- Various meeting rooms ranging from breakout rooms to a conference room
- Our 18,000-square-foot ballroom, The Rollins Center® — sub-dividable into three separate rooms
- Wi-Fi and AV capabilities
- Discounted rates for our hotel rooms
- Large selection of restaurants located in the facility
- Extra accommodations by request
Dover Downs Hotel & Casino is within travel distance of Washington D.C., New York, Philadelphia and other nearby metro areas. People from inside and outside the United States can easily access our facilities by plane, train or automobile. Our numerous amenities make trip planning easy by providing places to stay, eat and have fun.
Plan your next conference at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino today by filling out a request for proposal. We cannot wait to hear from you!