How to Dress for a Conference

By Sarah Vrba

Conferences serve as professional platforms where potential business partners, collaborators, or employers and employees gather. Some meetings demand more creative style choices, while formal business conferences call for classic, neutral business wear. Do some research and choose a wardrobe to meet the style standards of the gathering. Smart basics provide comfort for long days of walking, sitting and networking.

Multi-ethnic businesspeople in conference room
credit: Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty Images
Choose wardrobe pieces that fit comfortably and resist wrinkling.

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Back to Basics

Start with neutral basics when building your conference wardrobe. Black pencil skirts, trousers, knee-length dresses or tailored blazers give women a blank slate for looks that are formal and authoritative. Women should avoid skirts that are shorter than an inch above the knee and low-cut tops for most professional conferences. Other neutrals, such as gray, dark brown, cream and olive, match with other patterns and fabrics for men and women. Tailored slacks and blazers in dark colors that pair with dress shirts and sweaters look classic on men, and pair with a variety of other colors and patterns.

One of a Kind

More stunning pieces of clothing make you stand out in the crowd, so that potential employers or audience members can take note. Women may wear a jewel-toned or geometric-design blouse with an eye-catching ribbon or tie detail, along with slacks or a pencil skirt. Wear a memorable lapel pin on your blazer or a colorful, light scarf or statement necklace to bring attention to your face. A man might wear an eye-catching lavender, sage green or lemon yellow tie to grab attention and add color to a suit. Shirts in soft blues and lavenders and subtle tweed jackets are eye-catching.

Smart Fabrics

Avoid fabrics that wrinkle easily, such as linen and thin cotton. These may look less then professional after you've been sat through an hourlong presentation. Choose wool or cashmere for natural wrinkle resistance. Alternatively, blended fabrics, such as cotton jersey knits and spandex cotton knits, breathe easily and reset after long bouts of sitting. Seasoned presenters know to wear dark colors, which are less likely to show stains or wrinkles during a long day. Iron dress shirts and cotton garments before you wear them to convey the most professional appearance.

Layer It On

Wear layers that you can add and remove, such as blazers and cardigans, to combat the often unpredictable climate in conference venues. Warm layers keep the chill away when the air conditioning kicks on high. An elegant pashmina can keep female attendees warm and fashionable. Be prepared, too, for when the air conditioning conks out. Wear dress shirts or dresses that can be worn without a layer, such as a dress with sleeves and a conservative neckline. Men might want to come prepared with an ironed, clean dress shirt that can be worn on its own without a jacket.

Shoe Shine

Shoes can make or break even the most professional outfit, and conferences demand comfort for those hours you spend on your feet. Women's pumps with stacked or kitten heels give support and are easier to stand in for long periods of time. Conservative black or nude close-toed shoes pair with anything at conservative events. A splash of cobalt, purple or green adds attitude for more fashion-forward conferences. Polished dress shoes in dark brown, gray or black pair with all business clothing for men. Wear shoes you know you can stand and walk in for extended periods of time.