Last Updated on December 18, 2021 by Liza Hawkins
Over the years I’ve been to my fair share of marketing and advertising conferences. They’re a great way to freshen up your knowledge, connect with colleagues, hear expert speakers, and catch up with friends in the industry.
Leading up to the conference, it’s easy to spend hours pouring over the lengthy and detailed agendas. They’re typically chock full of digital and social offerings, tracks dedicated to content marketing and community management, photography and video tutorials, and PLENTY of networking opportunities with fellow attendees and brands.
Then, at some point a week or so before it’s time to leave, the question of how to dress for a conference inevitably comes up: What should I pack?
How To Dress for a Conference
Well, friends, I’m here to tell you a secret. One that’s garnered a chuckle from my co-workers … truly.
I have a standard “conference outfit” I usually wear.
It’s not, like, the same outfit everyday. (That would be weird.) Or even the same clothes at every conference. (Not as weird, but still no.)
Rather, I have the same outfit components that make up what I pack and what I wear each day — a conference outfit “recipe,” if you will. It makes conference life a breeze!
If you’ve never worked in a large building or attended any sort of hotel-based event, then this may come as a shock to you: The heating and cooling will be unpredictable, and more times than not, it’s FREEZING instead of sweltering.
My outfits typically consist of jeans as a base (even in the summer, and even in San Diego), followed by a tank, a loose and flowy shirt, a lightweight cardigan, and a jacket. The pieces themselves are light enough that you don’t feel like a bulky monster walking around, and they’re thin enough that if you need to peel off a layer it’ll likely fit into your practical bag (see #5).
Chances are the ballroom where your conference is being held is REALLY far from your hotel room — assuming your room is even in the same hotel to begin with — which means you’re not gonna be able to run back and forth to grab a layer or drop one off. You’ll thank yourself more than a few times for wearing a logical, and fashionable, assortment of clothes.
2. Sensible Shoes
You know what’s the worst? Blisters after 10 minutes of wearing a cute pair of shoes. Conferences are not the time to show off five-inch heels, nor are they the time to break in new flats. You want to be comfortable and stylish, and luckily there are lots of options available that do both!
My go-to shoes are typically riding boots, Toms, or strappy flat sandals. Going with sandals can be a bit of a risk (see #1 and potential for freezing ballroom temps), but I find that as long as I’m layered properly elsewhere, my feet don’t turn to ice cubes. Lack of a heel means I can stand for long periods of time, run from one session to another, and not feel like I need to slip my shoes off under the table.
3. Mix and Match Pieces
I usually pack two pairs of jeans, no matter if I’m going to a two day conference or a week long one. They go with everything, and my jeans don’t have bling or fancy stitching that would alert anyone to the fact that I’m wearing them multiple times during the trip. Then, I pick a neutral cardigan in gray or black, several neutral tanks in white or gray, and a few loose boho style tops. Along with those I throw in my signature necklace and scarves (see #4).
If the conference is a little less casual, then a pair of black dress pants get thrown in the mix. I also have a few dresses that don’t wrinkle and take up next to no space in my suitcase — they can be a nice way to change things up wardrobe-wise, and still stay comfy.
Between all the different pieces, I have easy outfit combos for day, and I can also dress up an outfit for dinner on the town by swapping accessories or shedding the cardigan. No need to bring extra evening wear outfits, in my book!
I’m a bit of a scarf hoarder. I think at last count I was up to 18 different scarves, all in different fabrics, textures and patterns. In my mind, a scarf goes with anything — except, maybe, workout gear. Although I’m SURE there’s a terrycloth scarf somewhere that I could make work with yoga pants and a hoodie!
I always pack a few different scarves for a conference. They dress up an outfit, and also help keep you warm if you end up in a refrigerated ballroom. Plus, they take up next to no space in your carry-on bag. Scarves, FTW!
5. Practical Bag
The last thing you need to be doing is hauling around multiple bags. Pick one great bag (or backpack, even), and use it for everything, including to hold your purse if you need to have a separate one.
I prefer bags that I can wear cross-body, that zip at the top, and that can hold everything from a laptop and a notebook, to all the other conference swag they hand out. Remember, your room’s faaaaaaaaar away, and you’re not going to want to schlep all those papers, handouts, and other goodies around in your arms for hours on end. Choose wisely; this bag also makes a great “second” for your plane’s per person carry-on allotment.
The last thing I’ll add is this: PACK LIGHT*. Seriously. I won’t go into all the details of why, because I already did that over here.
*Pro Tip: The exception to my “pack light” rule is if you’re attending a conference that’s notorious for giving away a ton of awesome, big stuff. I once left a conference with a programmable slow cooker and a convection oven. Thank goodness I drove to that one and could load up my car. But, if you have to fly, use a big piece of luggage and leave it half-empty on purpose so that you have extra room to hold the swag. Then check that sucker.
Disclosure: At the time of this post I was an Aventura Clothing ambassador, which means that throughout the year they sent me seasonal clothing and accessories to add to my wardrobe. All the thoughts are my own!