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Conference attire requires forethought and practiced care to ensure that you make an impactful first impression. Networking, speeches, and watching presentations are all on the horizon and you have to look sharp for the occasion. Not only that, but many conferences involve dinner, drinks, and lots of walking - something you keep in mind as you think about outfit ideas for your next conference. Yes, comfortable shoes are a must.
Do your homework before attending your conference to see what you should be prepared for in the wardrobe department and plan, though you don't need to know the hottest fashion trends to dress properly. Understand why your outfit choices matter and what the do’s and don’ts are for conference attire, and you will feel confident and ready to build your network.
Why Attire Matters
First impressions matter whether you are attending a video conference or a face-to-face business conference. First impressions can be the difference between a key stakeholder thinking you are sloppy because your shirt is loose and unbuttoned or holding the opinion that you are suave and intelligent because of your slick glasses and fashionable slim tie.
All it takes is a minute for someone to form an opinion.
Let’s emphasize the importance of a professional conference here. Attending a conference usually means that you are mingling with other important industry professionals. Many conferences strongly encourage networking and give you ample opportunity to do so.
Speeches and presentations require that you appear well-dressed and put together in order to be taken seriously. It is unfortunate, of course, that our society is so shallow. However, that is the world at this time and if you want to make it ahead at one of these events, you have to dress the part.
Not only do you want to look your best while attending one of these events, but you want to feel your best. Wearing a sharp suit will fill you with an air of confidence not capable of a typical business casual wear such as a khaki and polo outfit. And yes you want to avoid dark jeans. It might be okay if you're a student, but if you're going to a professional conference or business conference you should be wearing slacks.
In a room full of people wanting to make an impression upon one another, you need to stand out. A sharp-dressed man who exudes confidence may just have that step above the others to ensure that his business card is placed a bit higher than others.
A Guide on What to Wear for a Conference
Every conference is different, so you will need to tailor your attire to your specific event. You want to inspire the respect that you deserve, so creating the right impression is key. Focus on what the dress code and environment are for your event and go from there. A good piece of advice to follow: Take your normal daily wear and make it smarter.
Keep it Clean
This should be obvious but you should clean yourself up. Clean under your nails, make sure your eyebrows are not unruly, get a haircut and a shave beforehand, and do not go overboard on the cologne.
Whether your conference is business casual or wants you to wear a full suit, you will likely not go wrong with a button-up dress shirt. If you are going the business casual attire route, you can always stash a tie and a jacket in your car or hotel room just in case you end up feeling underdressed.
The plus side to these shirts is that you can find affordable products that are well-made in a variety of colors, like these slim fit dress shirts from Nimble Made.
Consider the Temperature
You should always consider the temperature of the venue and the weather outside, especially if you are travelling somewhere unfamiliar. Showing up to a conference in a winter suit when the weather outside is sunny and warm could be a disaster in waiting if you are a heavy sweater. Do the smart thing – plan.
While we all love our technological gadgets, now is the time to put away the smartwatch and put on that luxury wristwatch. A wristwatch is a statement piece in a world that rarely wears them, and this will help you stand out from the crowd.
Cufflinks, tie clips, socks, and pocket squares are also fun accessories that you can experiment with to pull your outfit together. Play with color, different textures, and materials (such as leather accessories) to see what works best with your look. Distinguished men know fashion accessories can make or break or an outfit.
A tie seems like such an obvious piece to conference attire, but it requires mentioning. If your event is less formal, perhaps bring one along just in case you end up feeling a bit underdressed. As for most other conferences, a tie is going to be a key part of your ensemble.
Make sure that your tie is professional. Networking events are not the time to wear that cutesy dolphin tie your child got you for Father’s Day. You want to look sharp and distinguished.
Fashionable ties, like these Nimble Made slim ties, are the perfect thing to bring the whole suit together. The slim appearance of the tie leaves more of the undershirt visible and allows for the whole look to pop as opposed to the jacket and tie being the showrunners.
Black tie events are easy enough to manage – they call for black tuxedo with a black tie. If you want to jazz yours up a bit, try adding a crisp pocket square.
Now is the time to bring out your favorite leather shoes or boots. Even for more casual conferences, you are going to want to aim for something like boat shoes, brogues, or chukkas. However, you can never go wrong with a sleek pair of oxfords, derby, loafers, or monks, all of which are great options.
Shoes take you places – in more ways than literally. A clean pair of luxurious shoes can change first impressions, they can make first impressions.
Styles to Avoid
Conference style don’ts are perhaps not as intuitive as the do’s. There are certain fashion faux pas that you should avoid while at one of these professional events.
Leave the sneakers at home. Even if your conference is casual and khaki friendly, a nice pair of leather dress shoes will tie your outfit together for that professional look.
Do not extremely mix patterns or colors. While testing the boundaries of fashion is, in itself, fashionable at times. Conference is not the time to be testing those boundaries; especially not clashing colors and patterns that never go well together. Black suit and brown shoes or belt are a no-go. Hawaiian designs should also be left at home for these events.
Sloppy or Loose Fit
The last thing you want is for people to assume you are sloppy or dumpy because your suit is ill-fitting. Dress shirts that go past your jacket sleeves should be avoided. Shirts should be tucked in and should not look wrinkled or baggy. If you are able to get even one outfit tailored, we highly recommend that for your go-to professional outfit.
Now that you understand the importance of dressing sharp for conferences, you can strut into your next event with the confidence needed to hand out your business card to all the necessary clients and business partners. Whether your conference is casual or strictly business, anxiety over first impressions won’t bog you down while you are out there getting work done.