We may earn a small commission from product links. Blog posts at Nimble Made are written to provide value and advice for our readers—any product(s) we recommend are items readers use and love.
Updated by Wesley Kang
Conference attire requires forethought and practiced care to ensure that you make an impactful first impression at professional events and conventions. Networking, speeches, and watching presentations are all on the horizon and you have to look sharp for the occasion and know what to wear to a conference.
Not only that, but many conference outfits need to withstand dinner, drinks, and lots of walking - something you keep in mind as you think about conference outfit ideas for your next convention. Yes, comfortable shoes are a must when it comes to what to wear to to convention.
Do your homework to understand what the conference dress code may be. Conference dress code may depend on the convention category. Is it a conference for professional networking events or services? Most of these will constitute a conference dress code that is semi-formal attire. Understand why your conference 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.
Mass gatherings in recent years have been sparse due to the pandemic but, with safety protocols in place, conferences in this new normal are filling up people's calendars.
Why Conference Attire and Dress Code Matter
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 which makes deciding what to wear to a conference an important decision.
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. Because we're talking about professional conventions, conference attire and dress code should be taken seriously. They often sit in the realm of business professional or business casual.
Speeches and presentations require that you appear well-dressed in your conference outfit and put together in order to be taken seriously. If you want to make it ahead at one of these events, you have to make sure what you wear to a conference fits the dress code.
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 with a crisp white dress shirt will fill you with an air of confidence. Dark jeans might fly depending on the conference dress code but, when in doubt, go for more formal dress pants. 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 to fit the conference attire.
In a room full of people wanting to make an impression upon one another, standing out and dressing the part when it comes to your conference attire will give you a leg up on the competition.
A Guide on What to Wear to a Conference
Every conference dress code 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 and that means making sure your conference attire hits the mark. Focus on what the conference 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 for conference outfits.
Dress Shirts for Conference Attire
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.
Pants for Conference Dress Code
When in doubt, put on slacks. Jeans can run too casual depending on the conference dress code. So when deciding what to wear to a conference, always go more formal than less. Keep a variety of different colored slacks or dress pants so you can switch up your conference outfits, especially at conventions that are a few days long.
Add a tie to your conference 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. Fashionable ties, like these Nimble Made slim ties, are the perfect thing to bring the whole conference dress code together.
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 when contemplating what to wear to a conference.
Choose the right shoes for a convention
Now is the time to bring out your favorite leather shoes or boots to wrap up your conference outfit. For more formal events, learn the differences between a derby vs oxford shoe. 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 when deciding what to wear to a conference.
Shoes take you places – in more ways than literally. A clean pair of luxurious shoes can change first impressions, they can make first impressions.
What to Wear to a Conference for Women
For women's attire, the same general rules apply, but here's a comprehensive guide on what to wear to a conference, covering tops, bottoms, and shoes.
Blouses, Button-Ups and Dresses: Opt for classic blouses or button-up shirts in solid colors or subtle patterns. There are also business professional dresses that are worn as a single piece. The intention is to allow staple wardrobe pieces to convey a polished and put-together look. Choose fabrics like cotton or silk for comfort and breathability. Staple colors in professional women's attire include white, black, blue, or off-white.
Graphic/Photo Credits to Merricksart.com
Blazers: If your top feels too business casual, consider elevating your outfit with a well-fitted blazer. Whether paired with a blouse or a simple top, a blazer adds a touch of sophistication and instantly transforms your ensemble into business-ready attire.
Pants: Opt for tailored trousers or wide-leg pants in a solid color or subtle pattern. A well-fitted pair of pants enhances your overall look, projecting a sense of professionalism. Avoid overly casual styles like jeans unless the conference has a more relaxed dress code.
Skirts: A knee-length pencil skirt is a versatile choice for a conference. It's both stylish and professional. Pair it with a blouse or a tucked-in top to maintain a polished appearance.
Dresses: Dresses are a convenient one-piece option. Choose a knee-length or slightly longer dress in a conservative style and color. Ensure that the neckline and hemline are appropriate for a professional setting.
Closed-Toe Flats or Low Heels: Comfort is key when attending a conference, as you may be on your feet for extended periods. Opt for closed-toe flats or low heels that are both stylish and provide support. Neutral colors like black, nude, or tan are safe choices that match a variety of outfits.
Classic Pumps: If you prefer heels, choose classic pumps with a moderate heel height. Again, stick to neutral colors for versatility. Make sure your shoes are well-maintained and polished to complete your professional look.
Comfortable Loafers: Loafers are a stylish and comfortable alternative, especially if the conference involves a fair amount of walking. Choose a polished pair in leather or suede for a sophisticated touch.
Remember, the key is to strike a balance between professionalism and comfort. Tailoring and accessorizing can also play a significant role in refining your conference attire. By carefully selecting tops, bottoms, and shoes that align with the event's dress code, you'll exude confidence and make a positive impression on fellow attendees.
Tips when putting your conference outfits together
Consider Season and Temperature
You should always consider the temperature of the venue and the weather outside, especially if you are traveling to a less familiar city. Showing up in a conference attire that's better suited for the winter will have you running hot as you're moving from workshop to workshop. Do the smart thing and plan what to wear to a convention before you get there and make sure to take the temperature into account.
Keep Conference Outfits Clean and Ironed
This should be obvious but make sure you have access to a hotel iron or bring your own steamer. Wrinkled clothes are not the best way to represent your conference attire. 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.
Conference Attire Accessories
While we all love our technological gadgets, now is the time to put away the smartwatch and put on that nicer 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 conference outfits together. Play with color, different textures, and materials (such as leather accessories) to see what works best with your conference attire. These accessories can make or break or an outfit.
For the women, accessories can have a bit more variety:
While keeping accessories understated is generally a good rule for conferences, a tasteful piece of statement jewelry can add a touch of elegance to your business formal look. Consider a pair of classic earrings or a statement necklace that complements your outfit without overpowering it.
A well-organized and structured handbag is a must for any conference. Choose a classic tote or a medium-sized bag that can accommodate your essentials, such as a notepad, business cards, and personal items. Opt for neutral colors like black, brown, or navy for versatility.
Professional Dress Watch
A sleek and sophisticated watch is a subtle accessory that adds a professional touch to your ensemble. Stick to classic designs with metal or leather bands in colors that coordinate with your overall look.
If your outfit includes pants or a skirt, a classic belt can tie everything together and enhance your silhouette. Choose a simple, well-crafted belt in a color that complements your attire.
A silk or chiffon scarf can be a chic addition to your business formal outfit. Opt for subtle patterns or solid colors that complement your overall look. You can drape it over your shoulders or tie it around your handbag for a polished touch.
If you choose to wear a skirt or dress, consider wearing sheer or opaque hosiery in a neutral shade. This adds a finishing touch to your look and provides a polished appearance.
Subdued Hair Accessories
Keep hair accessories minimal and sophisticated. Choose clips, pins, or headbands in neutral tones that complement your hair color and outfit. Avoid overly decorative or casual accessories.
Remember, the key to successful business formal accessorizing is moderation. Each accessory should enhance your overall look without drawing too much attention. By incorporating these refined accessories into your conference attire, you'll project a polished and professional image that aligns with the formality of the event.
Conference Attire 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:
No casual shoe or sneakers. 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.
Avoid intricate or funky patterns. 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 prints or resort wear should also be left at home for these events.
- Ditch the sloppy and loose fits: The last thing you want is for people to assume you are sloppy or dumpy because your suit is ill-fitting. Dress shirt sleeves that go way past your jacket sleeve should be avoided. Shirts should be tucked in and should not look wrinkled or baggy for proper conference attire. If you are able to get even one outfit tailored, we highly recommend that for your go-to professional outfit when choosing what to wear to a conference.
What to Wear to a Conference Conclusion
Now that you understand the importance of dressing sharp to match your conference dress codes, 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. Here's our recap what do's and don'ts of what to wear to a conference:
|What to wear to a conference||Do's||Dont's|
|Shirts||White or light colored dress shirt that is steamed or ironed||Avoid patterns or intricate prints on your shirts|
|Pants||Ironed dress pants or slacks to match shirt||Avoid jeans or casual pants|
|Shoes||Comfortable yet professional dress socks or boots||Avoid sneakers or flip flops|
|Accessories||Ties and watch||Avoid over-accessorizing|
Frequently Asked Questions about What to Wear to a Conference
1. What is the dress code for a conference?
Business casual (smart casual, including high-quality jeans and a blazer), or formal clothing (i.e. a suit and tie) will almost certainly be determined by the dress code.
2. Can I wear jeans to a conference?
Always err on the side of formality if you are uncertain about the type of meeting you are about to enter. You can wear jeans or remove your jacket if you are attending a business casual meeting. No matter how formal your appointment is, you should wear a suit and collared shirt.
3. Can you wear jeans to a conference?
An aircraft outfit can be made up of dark jeans or casual trousers, as well as a sweater or blouse. It is always a good idea to maintain a polished and professional appearance, even if you are not attending conference events. You never know who you will meet in the elevator or coffee shop.
Author: Tanya Zhang