The best tips for what to wear to a conference
It’s finally spring and there are a lot of conferences that many of us will be attending. But with today’s fashions seeming kind of all over the place, how do you choose outfits that make you feel confident and stylish and send the message you want to send?
As a woman in business it can be particularly hard to know what to wear to male dominated events like tech conferences.
“It’s a fact,” says lookingGLASS founder, Lana Rowder. “Women in business often face challenges that their male counterparts don’t, like gender bias. What a woman chooses to wear, unfortunately, comes with much higher stakes due to that bias.”
Rowder believes one of the smartest ways to help level the playing field is to join forces with supportive women’s business organizations. From female founders groups to various women’s business associations within your specific industry, these groups can be invaluable resources for advice, mentoring and mutual support. Nothing boosts your confidence like knowing you are staying plugged in to cutting edge developments, information and skills in your industry, constantly growing your expertise and influence.
Being able to tap the knowledge of someone who has gone before you is invaluable. We asked few women who are conference pros to share their best advice for attending a business conference with style and comfort in mind.
The PRO Take
First of all, what is the message you want to send—competent, confident, professional, relaxed, savvy enough to know how to dress appropriately for the conference you’re attending? You’re there to network, to make connections. Sure, you want to express your personal style and you want to stand out—just not for all the wrong reasons!
In this post, our lookingGLASS fashion stylists will give you a quick guide that will help you put together the right outfits for you to feel confident, comfortable and stylish! Whether you’re attending your first conference or you’re a seasoned pro, these tips will help you look and feel your best.
There are a few things you’ll want to consider when putting together your outfit before the conference. First, although tech conferences tend to be on the casual side, check to see whether your conference has a dress code. “For tech conferences, smart casual is your best bet,” says Lana. Think of smart casual as a less formal extension of business casual.
- Consider the temperatures you’ll likely encounter, both inside the venue as well as outdoors, which may vary from on the chilly side to hot. Lighter fabrics and relaxed cuts will help keep you comfortable during long days of sitting in sessions and walking around the conference center.
- Think about the activities you’ll be participating in during the conference and what your role will be. Will you be giving a presentation or attending a panel discussion or breakout session? Dress with those activities in mind. If you’re giving a presentation, you might consider a well-tailored blazer or pantsuit that signals confidence and authority.
“And by all means,” adds Lana, “make comfortable footwear a priority. Nothing can spoil a conference experience like blisters on your feet from those gorgeous shoes you bought for the occasion. Remember, you need to be thinking on your feet—not about your feet. Break in your shoes beforehand. Consider a great pair of insoles or gel inserts for keeping those tootsies in tip-top shape.
USING STYLE TO MAKE A LASTING IMPRESSION
It can be tricky to strike just the right balance between professionalism and flair with smart casual style for women. Think of it as combining comfort with class. Take a couple of basic items, just the right jewelry or accessory, and a few style tips and you’re on your way. As for makeup, if you wear it, go with fresh and understated. But don’t be afraid to go with bold red lips. It’s a great way to add a little pop, especially if your outfit is more low-key. “Bottom line,” says Lana, “I try to imagine what first impression I would get if I were meeting me at a tech conference for the first time.”
Nothing says smart casual like an elegant black and white long sleeve, double breasted blazer in a nubby (hints of a Chanel tweed) easy-care fabric. This blazer is unlined, which means it will work great in warmer weather when attending an indoor conference where the temperatures can get a little chilly.
If jeans feel a little too casual for your conference, opt for these extra-high rise drape pants from Everlane. The color choices, sandstone, tan (ash brown), and khaki and black checked, are conference-perfect, and the breathable, lightweight fabric will assure all-day comfort.
For more upscale styling with a casual kick, check out this luxe lounge set from Silk and Salt with thumbhole cut-outs. If you’re looking to make a statement, this outfit has lots of possibilities you can play with, and it comes in a number of neutral and statement colors. This rust set looks great paired with the cream loafers. Add a statement belt for polish.
We love this sleeveless top for smart casual. The standout turtleneck that can be worn folded in half for soft gathers at the neckline or pulled up and dropped for a free-form volume look. This look is like the little black dress concept, except in pants. Great for just about any business casual occasion, especially in transitional weather, and the opportunities for accessorizing are almost endless. A great staple piece.
What is not to love about this paperbag waist skirt from Banana Republic, featuring a button placket and angled patch pockets in black or new British khaki. Add a statement necklace or bangle and step out in confidence to any smart casual event.
Here’s another look loaded with smart casual style! This long sleeve with button cuffs point-collar blouse in Lazuli Blue checks so many boxes, we’re thinking it’s a staple piece for sure. Gorgeous with just about anything! Elevate the look here with one of the fantastic commuter bags featured below.
THE POWER OF THE RIGHT ACCESSORIES
Choose jewelry and accessories that make an impression and, at the same time, are in keeping with your conference. “Simpler jewelry for classic polish will probably work best and will not distract,” says Lana. You can’t go wrong with timeless bangles or loop earrings, but don’t miss the opportunity to elevate a low-key look with some well-incorporated statement pieces, especially if it makes sense with your business industry.
Like footwear, just the right bag is essential for a good conference experience. These affordable commuter bags are gorgeous and practical. There’s room for your laptop and all the little things you’ll need to help make your day go smoothly. And, the shoulder strap will leave your hands free when greeting people and passing out business cards or chatting and enjoying refreshments.
Conference style cheat sheet
- In a pinch, stick with staples for smart casual style (think blouses/button down shirts, cardigans, blazers, dress pants, wrap dresses and pencil or A-line skirts)
- Lean toward neutral colors and simple patterns
- For more color, opt for accent pieces in classic shades like red, blue or dark green
- Minimal accessories, simple and classic, or minimized statement piece for a pop
- Leave the shorts and distressed jeans at home
- Think about what makes you feel professional, relaxed and confident
- Be in the know before you go. Surround yourself with smart, supportive women by joining a local business women’s group.
Business beyond the STYLE
“I can’t say enough about how valuable professional women’s groups have been in developing lookingGLASS,” says Lana. “It takes time to develop confidence as a female founder. I had the vision, the passion and the drive. But it has been the incredible mentoring and support from the female founder and women’s groups that I am a member of that has allowed me to fast track that vision and turn it into a growing business.”
Even if you’re not an entrepreneur, don’t let that stop you from making these valuable, supportive connections.
Why female founder and business groups are important
- Networking and Support
Female founder groups provide a supportive community where women can connect with professionals and gain valuable insights, advice, and support. This can be especially beneficial for women who may not have a lot of experience in the business world or who may feel like they are the only ones facing certain challenges.
Many female founder and business groups have mentorship programs that connect members who are experienced in their fields with newer members. This can be a valuable way for women to gain knowledge and skills from those who have been successful in their field.
- Access to Resources
Female founder groups often have access to resources such as funding, business training, and networking opportunities that can be difficult for individuals to find on their own.
Having female founder and business groups is important to increase representation of women in the business world. “Women are underrepresented in the startup ecosystem,” says entrepreneur Rowder. “These groups can help to bridge that gap by providing a platform for women to start and grow their businesses.”
Seeing other women successfully starting and growing their own businesses can be incredibly inspiring and motivating for other women who are thinking about starting their own business or who are growing their careers.
“Exploring what groups in your area might be right for you is as easy as a quick online search,” Lana assures. “Just enter women’s business associations in my area, and you’ll likely see a number of options. Believe me, it will be worth your time.
“I live in Austin, Texas, which is an amazing city for entrepreneurs,” says Rowder. “As an example of female business groups you might find in your area, here are some that I have found invaluable in my journey as founder of lookingGLASS.”
- Austin Business Woman
- Texas Women in Business
- Ladies Who Launch
- Women & Wine
“Austin Business Woman is the group I am most involved in,” says Rowder. “I serve on the advisory board and make attending networking events a high priority. It’s been a great place for making connections that have been important to growing my business.
“In February, Austin Business Woman hosted The Access Conference, a two-day professional development and educational conference to empower participants. It was a one-of-a-kind event and featured the best subject matter experts in the areas of business strategy, finance, marketing and sales,” says Rowder. “The learning and networking opportunities were amazing!”
The lookingGLASS founder also highly recommends searching out podcasts for women in business and checking out your local chambers of commerce.
SKIP TO THE BOTTOM? WE GET IT, YOU’RE A BUSY LADY!
- Does the conference have a dress code? Look online for event photos from previous years, or don’t be afraid to call or email to ask.
- Wear comfortable shoes!
- Don’t wear strong fragrance (other attendees might be allergic or sensitive to strong perfumes and colognes).
- Choose breathable fabrics like cotton, linen, silk and lightweight merino wool. Some synthetics tend to retain odor and don’t absorb moisture. Stay away from light colors if you tend to sweat.
- Layer for the temperatures inside and outside the venue.
OTHER ITEMS TO BRING
- Hand sanitizer
- Business cards
- Cough drops
- Notebook and pen
- Laptop and charger
- Phone, cable, portable charger