For someone who doesn’t technically work outside of my home, it’s amazing how many professional conferences I’ve been to in recent years. I’ve attended conferences for writers, speakers, women’s ministry leaders, bloggers and ministry wives, just to name a few. And those are just the professional conferences. A little surprisingly to me, many of these and similar conferences are held in the summer months.
My bet is that many of you either have attended or will go to various professional conferences in the summer as well. And I’m using the term professional loosely here. I’m not necessarily talking about just business conferences, but also those that influencers, ministry leaders, educators, entrepreneurs and even volunteers attend. For instance, I know friends who will attend the Mary Kay Seminar, the Premier Designs Jewelry Rally, home school curriculum fairs, church music conferences and the She Speaks Conference this summer. Are you participating in a professional conference of some sort this summer?
What do you wear to a professional conference?
I don’t know about you, but these are the sorts of events that sometimes leave me stumped as to what to wear. As a woman who writes from a home office most days, I don’t frequently attend such conferences. And anytime we participate in something out of the ordinary we have to put a little extra thought into our wardrobe.
So today I’m offering several ensembles that might be appropriate for a women’s professional conference. Keep in mind that every conference we are collectively envisioning in our minds is different. So no, every outfit that I’ve assembled will not necessarily suit the environment or schedule of your particular conference. But maybe these collections will at least spark some imaginative thought and help you to begin planning your wardrobe so you’re not caught off guard as you begin to pack the day before.
I’m offering suggestions for what to wear to:
- a meet & greet event – This might be a cocktail hour, a dessert and coffee bar, an early dinner or a book signing and meet the author event depending on the conference.
- workshops – These are listen and learn events and may include interactive sessions with smaller groups. This is the bulk of most conferences.
- convention dinner – Here I’m thinking about the “big event.” Not all conferences include this special event.
- one-on-one appointment – Think publisher appointment if you’re a writer. Also, many conferences offer one-on-one consultations with an expert at an added cost. Whatever the case, a one-on-one appointment deserves special wardrobe consideration.
How to Determine What to Wear
When selecting what I’ll wear to a women’s professional conference I consider these factors:
- Who am I representing? – Even if I’m not representing a church, a nonprofit organization, a business or a group – and I may be! – I am representing someone. I’m representing the very best me! I’ll be making first impressions and leaving lasting impressions. What I wear and how I present myself matters. At the same time, I don’t need to “be” someone besides who I really am. I need to translate my personal style through the filter of the remaining questions.
- Where am I going? – The conference location matters. Is it a retreat center, a hotel, a convention center, a lodge? Our surroundings, not just the room temperature, tends to dictate what clothes look most appropriate. For instance, I’d dress a little differently if my conference were held in a lodge in Wyoming than I would if it were situated in a Dallas hotel. Will there be outdoor events, and if so, what will the climate be?
- Why am I there? – Am I presenting, negotiating, networking, learning, engaging, selling, buying, pitching? I need to dress accordingly.
- How is my time to be structured? – Will I be walking much, sitting a lot, interacting with others, taking copious notes, browsing an exhibit area, attending a banquet, standing at an exhibit hall booth?
- What do I hope to gain? – Am I trying to take in information, build new relationships, land a book contract, secure potential clients, meet influencers, enlist mentors, begin profitable collaborations, invest in products for my business or hobby? I have to keep the potential gain in mind as I plan my attire. I need to dress to accomplish my personal goals more than I dress to fit in.
- When am I going? – What season is it? In this post we’re looking at clothes to wear to a summer conference, but of course you need to consider the time of year.
If I’ve considered these factors and chosen my wardrobe accordingly, I can go to my conference with confidence, focusing on my objectives and the people around me rather than obsessing over myself. And even when I notice that others are dressed differently (because they will be – people will be wearing the full spectrum of clothing, don’t you know), I can be confident that I’ve made clothing choices based on the right questions for me.
What to wear to a meet & greet event
A meet & greet event could be anything from a cocktail hour on a patio, an early dinner of sandwiches or an evening dessert and coffee time. You’ll have to scour the conference information for as many details as you can to surmise what would be the best attire. But you do want to remember that this is potentially an event when you can make an impression (and that is a legitimate goal in these scenarios), meet new people, network with potential clients/customers/collaborators and simply begin to feel at ease. So what you wear matters.
I chose the outfit above in various shades of nude and white because we’re thinking about a summer event. I think it looks fresh, contemporary, but also relaxed. The bell sleeve open cardigan is an item I’ve been watching all summer at Ann Taylor, and it’s marked down considerably. I saw an older sales associate wearing it the last time I was in the store, and it made her look pretty and inviting, friendly. But also chic!
I like these ankle pants with heels, and nude shoes will extend the length of the leg. I’ve chosen these nude pumps from Target because they’re fairly inexpensive, but also because they actually come in a range of “nude” colors from coffee bean to caramel to honey beige and several other tones in between. So depending on your skin color, you can actually get your nude shoe. I love that.
Remember we’re talking about a singular event at the conference that may last an hour or two tops. But if you hesitate to wear heels to a conference where you’ll be standing a lot, you can easily substitute with a lower heel shoe such as this one by the same brand.
Honestly, you may not even need a purse, but if you want something for your room key, your business cards, a lipstick and your phone, this little nude and white clutch would be perfect. You can carry it as a clutch or attach the chain and put it over your shoulder, which might be nice if you’re balancing a drink and trying to shake hands, too. I would resist carrying a large shoulder bag or carrying a satchel bag to an event such as a meet & greet. Those would just be too bulky and obtrusive when you’re trying to connect with people.
I like keeping the jewelry for such an affair simple and elegant. And I’m loving these stackable slider bracelets.
What to Wear to Workshops
I’m going to switch lanes a little here. For the “meet & greet” I went with a chic but casual ensemble, assuming the event may be along the lines of a cocktail party. But for the workshop outfit, I’m going to assume you may feel comfortable wearing a striking colored jeans combination. I’ve recommended olive green jeans, but I’ve often worn nice, dark wash jeans to the workshop portions of conferences. I’ve found that attendees at such conferences go for comfort during the long day (or days) of workshops and browsing the exhibit area.
The key to pulling off wearing comfortable jeans at such events is to create a sophisticated combination with neutral colors, layers and classy accessories. So yes, I’ve even recommended wearing a simple v-neck tee, but that’s because a white tee looks remarkably chic with a black cardigan and leopard print mules and gold accessories.
Don’t forget to carry an ample tote such as this black and brown reversible one. Save the gimme bag for holding all the gimmes back in your hotel room. I like to have my own classic tote for my notebook, phone, lipstick and breath mints.
What to Wear to a Convention Dinner
I’ve realized that I haven’t really included any color in these outfits so far, but I thought this would be a good place for a big splash. Of course, not every conference includes a dress-up event. But this ensemble of basic black dress with kimono and gold accessories would really be suitable for just a dinner or evening session, especially if you traded out the gold clutch for a nude or black one.
I have this azura topper from Soft Surroundings and styled it in this previous post. But I think it would be gorgeous with a solid black dress. It’s a truly luxurious silk and very sheer.
Instead of black heels, which would shorten the appearance of the leg, I chose nude heeled sandals. I think these sandals have a lovely silhouette, but I’ve also included some gold options in the shopping widget below.
What to Wear to a One-on-One Appointment
When I go to professional conferences I often have one-on-one appointments with editors or publishers. The writer and speaker conferences I’ve attended have always left the dress code for such appointments up to the attendees, encouraging us to be professional but comfortable. I think that’s good advice when you’re meeting with someone with whom you’re hoping to engage in business. But I also think it’s wise to dress in a way that is somewhat memorable (not necessarily flashy or loud, mind you), that “feels” like you and that says a little something about who you are. In other words, be you…but be the best you.
That’s why I steered clear of loud or fussy prints, but chose a brilliant (memorable) cobalt blue silk popover for the statement piece in this outfit. I think it’s both elegant and professional, but also comfortable and feminine. And anyone who sees you in this bright, beautiful color is sure to remember you.
I’ve just found these melange bi-stretch pull-on skinny ankle pants from Talbots. I haven’t tried them on yet, but they look beautiful, understated and even comfortable to me. One of the best features is that they have a flat front, so the silk popover would lay pretty over them, without the fuss and muss of a front fasten. They also come in curvy fit and that’s probably what I would order, just to be on the safe side with the light fabric and slender fit.
I wouldn’t overdo the accessories with this outfit. The top really is the star. But I think adding the blue suede mules and some delicate earrings with various shades of blue would tie the ensemble together and make you look like you know what you’re doing. I wouldn’t wear a necklace but a simple gold bangle or two on the wrist would be fine. Finally, don’t forget your black tote! This one’s just $25.90 during Nordstrom’s Anniversary Sale. And if you have to wear reading glasses, you might as well wear pretty ones that compliment your outfit rather than detract from it.
4 thoughts on “What to Wear to a Professional Conference this Summer”
HI Kay, I love these suggestions. I especially like the shoe choices. I attend professional conferences a few times a year and I have found that I really like a bottom piece (pants, skirt) with pockets. That way I can maneuver the meet and greet without a purse or satchel. A medium sized pocket can hold my keys and some business cards.
Great tip Becky. Thanks!
Wonderful post! I am in the process of making plans to attend a conference in the fall. I loved your suggestion of the outfits and will purchase some of the pieces in your post!
Great. I hope what you liked is available. I noticed that inventory is low on several of the items I linked to.