Attending a professional conference can be daunting, especially if it’s your first one. Beyond the stress of planning and traveling, there’s professionalism to contend with, and it can be a headache trying to look your best while living out of a suitcase. But work conference attire doesn’t have to be daunting.
Let’s break down what to wear to work conferences.
How to Dress for a Work Conference
There is no set standard for business conference attire because no two business conferences are the same. Some may be more casual, encouraging their participants to wear blue jeans and casual tops. Others may be stricter, with expectations of suits, ties, and patent leather pumps. No matter what the backdrop, there are some basic guidelines to ensure you look your best and most professional on any work-related trip.
Basic Tips for Professional Conference Attire
Follow these basic rules of thumb for work conference attire and feel confident all trip long!
Dress for your industry
A teaching conference will look a lot different than a medical conference, and both will look nothing like a social media conference. These all come with their own unique set of expectations for both attendees and speakers, so make sure to consider your industry’s typical dress code. If you work for an industry or company with more formal expectations, leave the jeans at home and break out the suits. If, however, you work for a laid-back company in a more relaxed industry, jeans might be perfectly acceptable. Consider your usual work attire and use this as a spring board.
Dress for your age
In a similar vein, make sure to dress age appropriately. If you’ve been in the workforce for as long as your intern’s been alive, don’t try to keep up with trends that might be unflattering. Go classic or contemporary, as long as it feels authentic and is tastefully flattering.
Dress like the rest
This doesn’t mean stifle your individuality, but instead see what the dress codes for previous years have been. A good way to gauge what you should pack is by seeing what conference-goers have worn in previous years. You can do this by looking through conference hashtags, finding social media accounts pertaining to the conference, or visiting the conference’s website galleries.
Dress to your comfort level
Most importantly, dress in a way that empowers you. If you feel stiff and awkward in a blazer, this discomfort will likely reflect in the way you carry yourself and interact with others. Wear pieces that make you feel your best, so you can take this confidence in your looks and project it into your career.
If your trip includes airline travel, a comfortable outfit (or two!) is a must. But try to maintain an air of professionalism even in comfort. Leave the couch-potato sweatpants at home and go for something a little more put together, like dark leggings or loose slacks and a business-casual top.
If you’re planning on heading right from the plane to the conference, you might get delayed and not have time to change, so it should be something you’re comfortable representing your company in.
If you’re flying in early, still dress to impress – you never know who you might meet at the airport!
At Blue Summit Supplies, we support every individual’s right to dress the way they find most comfortable. We don’t conform to the ‘women in skirts all day every day’ ideology at our office, and we don’t expect you to, either!
If you’re a trouser-loving lady, embrace the power of pants. If you’re a bold guy, slip into some power heels a la Jonathan Van Ness.
But for the sake of this article, we’re going to break down work conference attire options into ‘for women’ and ‘for men,’ though these are suggestions rather than hard and fast rules.
Remember, so much of confidence is feeling good in your own skin – dress the way that makes you feel best, while also looking professional.
Conference Attire for Men
When it comes to men’s conference attire, business casual is often best.
Unless you know your conference will require suit-and-tie chic every evening, go for a more laid-back look. Bring along a suit and tie (just in case!) but use the bulk of your packing space on nice dress shirts, professional slacks, and one pair each of black and brown shoes.
Make sure you have a coordinating belt (or belts), too, and don’t forget socks. It’s always safest to wear socks in a similar color to your pants, though if you’re one to let your personality show through zany patterns or eye-catching colors, go for it! The key here isn’t to stifle your personality. But you do want to project professionalism.
If you’re unsure of how to dress or just want to play it safe, here are a few suggested business casual work outfits.
Sources: Traditional | Contemporary | Bold
Conference Attire for Women
As for their conference attire, women have a much larger host of options – and a much larger potential for headache. But don’t let the endless scroll of outfit inspiration on Pinterest intimidate you; instead, grab a few staples, some complementary accessories, and build an on-the-go wardrobe that best represents your company and yourself.
Travel Capsule Wardrobes
Capsule wardrobes have become very trendy in the last couple of years, since they embrace the minimalist way of living. A capsule wardrobe consists of several key pieces that can be mixed and matched to create a wide range of outfits. While this might seem like an extreme overhaul for your wardrobe at home, it’s a great way to make the most of your carry-on space during a work trip.
To create a travel capsule wardrobe, you’ll need some basic pieces. We suggest a pair of nice slacks or jeans (depending on the conference), a simple black dress, a blazer or cute jacket (think denim), and a blouse. Throw in two pairs of shoes: flats, and heels.
With these items, you can create several different looks. For dressier events, wear the black dress and the heels. For a more dressed-down look, wear the blouse and the pants with flats. Mix it up by wearing the pants, blouse, and jacket with heels. Or layer the blouse over the dress with the flats, giving the impression of a skirt and a whole new outfit.
Don’t limit yourself to just these suggestions. Create a travel capsule wardrobe that fits your style and make the most of each piece of clothing. Rewearing pieces gives you more space in your carry-on and saves you from the headache of packing.
Err on the side of caution and keep it professional. Work conference outfits don’t have to be drab – we’re not suggesting frumpy pantsuits all day every day – but they should be tasteful and flattering without being ostentatious. Incorporate some of your personality into your dress; be bold if you’re bold, go for interesting colors or a tasteful pattern. Here are some suggestions for conference attire for women.
Sources: Traditional | Contemporary | Bold
To heel or not to heel?
That is the question.
If you’re comfortable in heels and feel best when rocking a pair, throw some into your luggage. Some resources insist you don’t want to go higher than a ‘low heel’ or a kitten heel, but we disagree. Wear what you feel best in! High heels have their place in conferences and can create a sleek, professional silhouette.
But be aware you’ll be on your feet a lot – networking and moving from session to session can take a toll. If your heels aren’t the most comfortable, consider some silicone gel inserts. These gel pads go under the balls of your feet to create some much-needed cushion to give your feet a rest.
However, if you’re heel-averse, don’t despair. Cute, professional flats are a great choice for dressing up (or down!) any outfit, depending on the style. Pack a pair that speaks to you and spend the week in easy comfort.
Plus Size Workwear for Conferences
When it comes to traveling for conferences as a plus-size professional, workwear selections that feel comfortable yet professional are key. Cut down on the stress of getting ready each day by building your own plus size travel capsule wardrobe, focusing on pieces that accommodate layers and fit your body.
And remember: looking put-together doesn’t mean being uncomfortable, and don’t shy away from your curves! Wearing nothing but oversized, flowy pieces does nothing to command your presence as a career professional and can leave you feeling extra disheveled and sloppy at the end of long days of conference sessions and networking. Instead, try pairing more structured, fitted pieces with more relaxed items; for instance, a blazer made out of stretch material layered over a comfortable knit top can help you look chic without feeling suffocated or exposed.
That said, it’s hard to find professional plus-size attire that fits. You may only have a few great pieces to take along on your work trip. If you’re feeling “blah” about your professional wear, don’t forget the power of accessorizing. Building on “boring” staples just means you get to have a little more fun when it comes to accessories – for instance, punch up a monotone look with a statement necklace, a bright scarf, or a pair of killer red flats to take your basic black workwear to a more modern level.
Sources: Traditional | Contemporary | Bold
When traveling, there are always little extras you didn’t think to pack – only to find when you need them, you really need them. These emergency on-the-go necessities are easy to throw in your bag, and could save you time and headaches (literally) in the future.
- Pain relievers (like Advil or Zantac)
- Band-aids for blisters from walking all day
- Hand sanitizer
- Travel tissues
- Anti-chafe stick (we recommend Megababe’s travel-size stick)
Downloadable Work Trip Packing List
This short-trip packing list will help you when you’re trying to figure out how to pack for a work trip. We’ve planned it out according to how to pack for a 3-day business trip, though feel free to add outfits and extras until you’ve made it your own.
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