What to Wear to a Conference

Attending professional conferences in person is refreshing after so many virtual or hybrid conferences over the past couple of years. But dressing for a professional event does require some thought. So what do you wear to a conference?

Who This Advice is For

If you’re going to a conference with other professionals you’ve worked with extensively, this advice is not for you. Wear what you want knowing that your professional reputation is already set.

This post is for folks who are attending a particular conference for the first time or who are in the early stages of their careers. You’re still trying to make a good impression on your new professional network.

What To Wear to a Conference

What’s the Speaker Wearing?

I like to take my wardrobe cues from the speakers. If they dress casually, then you can dress casually too. But if your speakers wear formal suits, you need to elevate your style. That doesn’t mean you need to wear a full suit. It might mean a button-front shirt or blouse with a pair of jeans, or maybe a polo and cotton slacks. You’ll look great in the perfect, easy uniform. But it definitely doesn’t mean sweatpants or workout clothes.

Consider how much networking occurs at a conference. Might you go out to eat with a speaker or other peers who might generate business for you? Are you dressed appropriately to go out to a restaurant for a meeting with other professionals?

Dressing for Comfort

Some people run hot, and others run cold. As one of the latter, I never attend a meeting without a sweater or blazer—sometimes even a scarf—to pop on in case the conference room is too cold. Alternatively, it’s easy to take off an extra layer if the AC isn’t working or there are too many people in the room. I can pay better attention to a presentation if I’m physically at a comfortable temperature. If the weather outside vastly differs from the room temperature, it’s nice to wear with the right layers when leaving for the day or for lunch.

Wear comfortable shoes that you can walk in. Unlike going straight from your car into your office on a work day, you might be on your feet longer than expected. Be ready to walk to lunch or stand during an after-conference reception.

Don’t Forget These Conference Essentials

Bring a bag big enough for swag, meeting notes, and the like. Maybe that’s your regular work bag, or maybe you keep a folding tote in your bag for these items.

If you forget a notepad or pen, a vendor or a peer may have extras. If you’re like me, you prefer to take your notes electronically anyway. Be prepared, keep your workbag stocked with the essentials, including an extra cord or battery pack for your laptop.

Remember to bring business cards! You’re there to network, and you might just win a prize with a vendor—hint, hint!—if you can pass along your card. I know you’ve got a big box of them sitting in your office collecting dust. Grab a handful and keep them in your workbag.

Don’t forget to have fun! Conferences are a time to reconnect with people you may not have seen in a while.

That’s not so hard, is it? Choosing what to wear to a conference doesn’t have to be any more complicated than dressing for a casual workday, with a few extras necessary for networking. Share your worst conference experiences in the comments!