What should I wear to a conference?

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11th July, 2024 No Comments

This is advice I was desperate for in my early twenties, especially going to my first conference. It’s certainly not fashion advice, but I wanted to create something that went a bit deeper than just “wear something smart” and “wear something comfortable”.

It’s also very difficult to ask people in the workplace what they’re wearing to a conference without feeling like you’re back at school and planning your non-uniform day. 

So if you’re having a panic here’s some things I wish I’d known when I was getting started, and that are non-negotiable for me now.

1. Wear something that makes you feel powerful, AND comfortable…

Comfort is key, conferences are long days and you’re on your feet a lot (more on that later). But they’re also packed with opportunities. You might be hoping to make some introductions to potential clients or even snoop around jobs at companies you want to work for. 

I once rocked up to a media breakfast at an asset management firm in a white fuzzy jumper and blue mom-jeans. Everyone else there was in a suit and frankly the minute I walked in I couldn’t wait to leave. That one is probably on me, I should have thought that through better.

It’s not necessarily about ticking a box for ‘being smart and fitting in’, but wearing something you know is a good reflection of you, and that makes you feel confident, will help you maximise all the great things about going to an event. Wear something that you can walk up to a stranger and feel your best in.

2. The great debate: Should I ever wear heels?

A lot of people will tell you not to wear heels to an event. To a degree they’re right, it’s not for the faint of heart, but I do enjoy a heel at an event for the reasons mentioned above.

If I’m speaking on a panel, or know I have to push myself to make introductions to senior people (or god forbid a sale), heels make me feel powerful. I also wear heels quite often for dinners and nights out so I know I can trot about in them quite well for a few hours. But if you don’t wear heels as standard, I’d advise strongly against choosing them for a work event. You’ll spend more time wondering if you’re walking weirdly, or worrying your feet hurt, than enjoying the event.

In addition, most events are standing and walking occasions. You might not get a seat in every panel / keynote and therefore you will be stood up a lot. If I am doing heels for an event there is always a pair of sensible flats in my bag (and I wear them to and from the venue with a shameless change in the street). 

They’re probably a totally plain black ballet flat from newlook if you’re interested. 

3. Don’t wear something brand new:

I’ve had at least one pair of converse trainers in rotation since I was 15, and I never struggle wearing them in. So cue my surprise when a box fresh pair started shredding the back of my feet at an event that was really important to me. I had to Uber a packet of plasters to the venue. I now make it a rule that I don’t wear things if I don’t know exactly how they might behave on the day.

4. Pockets, bags, and cloakrooms:

Pockets are non-negotiable for me at least. Not all women’s clothing realises this, but they’re really helpful. You’ll likely want to grab a coffee or croissant at some point and having your phone or notebook in your hand quickly becomes a bit of a pain.

If you’re stuck with no pockets, carting your bag around with you when it’s loaded up with your laptop, charger, and various other bits and pieces can get quite heavy and annoying after a while. I’d recommend bringing a tote bag along (you don’t get given them for free at events as often these days!) so you can decant what you need into a small bag. You can then check your laptop, coat and heavy bits into the cloakroom, and go about your day. Viva la tote bag.

5. Will it be hot or cold?

You never know! That’s part of the fun of events. But as a general rule you can assume large venues are cold, and small venues are warm. So big conference centres like the O2 will likely be a bit chilly, but a corporate venue under a hotel will likely be warm. 

But I’m afraid the reality is you simply don’t know. So make sure you have layers, as your mum would say. 

And while I could complain about some of my outfit choices I’ve made over the years that have rattled me whilst at events (skirts that ride up, shirts from Zara in that silky material that could make you sweat in a fridge etc…) I’ll leave it there for now. 

And I never regret bringing a packet of mints either…

Happy eventing!

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