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How to Choose the Dress Code for your Conference

By Jeffry Farman, director CountryPlace Conference Centre

When it comes to corporate training and business conference events we have seen it all. Almost 30 years of providing the venue and hospitality for these events has taught us a few things about dress code. We gladly share this experience with you in the hope you will find it useful. 

In preparing for a conference or business event it is more than useful to provide some guidance to attendees as to what is the appropriate dress code.

Strict or relaxed dress code

Sometimes participants are required to have informal and formal for different sessions. If the managing director is making a special trip to the Gala Dinner, at the end of the conference, more dressy attire may be appropriate. While during the day casual clothes could be the go.

I recall, many years ago, attendees being rather unsure a week-long manager’s training event. The MD of this very large public company, after a long work day, was coming to share dinner with his executives. Prior to dinner they all went to their rooms to spruce up for the MD’s imminent arrival. Business suit (collar and tie) was the chosen attire. Anxiously waiting for the boss’s arrival, not a hair out of place.

They were astonished to watch as he got out of his chauffer driven vehicle, removed his jacket and tie and donned his old golf pullover.

Women's Entrepreneurship Day is one of the most highly regarded conferences in the world. On November 19th, at the United Nations building in New York City, thousands of men and women, dressed in professional clothing, will discuss ways to empower the 4 billion women worldwide. It is a widely regarded international event, which will likely be covered fairly extensively by the media.

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So, what do you wear to a conference?

Setting the conference dress code

One of the more important questions that a conference organiser must ask is what type of dress code they want attendees to follow. For some conferences this might not be that imperative, but for others -- particularly conferences in which professionals expect to network with one another -- it can be a crucial component of the event.

Every conference organiser should first ask him or herself what dress code the typical attendee would wear to work (if it's an industry conference) or in their leisure time (if it's more of a hobby or recreational conference). Once that is determined, it is simply a matter of deciding if the dress code should be strictly enforced or simply provided as a general guideline that attendees can choose on their own.

A strict dress code can help ensure that an event has a specific "vibe", or ambiance, but can potentially make some attendees uncomfortable or even a little resentful -- especially if they are kicked out for wearing jeans.

A relaxed dress code can make attendees more comfortable, but might take some of the legitimacy away from the event.

What do you wear to a conference?

Most often, the dress code for conference participants is different from what you might wear for a job interview which requires business professional attire. When you think conferences, think business casual. Remember, this is a business event and the way you present yourself will make an impression (good or bad).

Here are some general guidelines, for men and for women, to consider for business casual dress.

What should men wear to a conference?

If smart casual is the way to go, consider:

  • Shirts: Long-sleeved shirts will be dressier than short-sleeved and are appropriate even in summer. Choosing white or light blue solid, or conservative stripes is your safest bet. Polo shirts are acceptable in more casual situations, particularly in summer when it’s hot.
  • Pants: Slacks (clean and well pressed) are acceptable. Well-presented jeans can also be acceptable. Torn and scruffy jeans will send a message that some may find unacceptable.
  • Footwear: Shoes in good condition should be worn. Sandals, flip flops, athletic shoes or hiking boots are generally considered undesirable.

Dress to represent yourself in the way you want to be seen. Conferences often bring new people together. People you have not met. Coming face to face with someone for the first time gives you an opportunity to make a good first impression.

What should women wear to a conference?

Getting the right outfit together to make a good impression will be important. It will take some planning.

If smart casual is the way to go, consider:

  • Pants/Skirts:  For the most businesslike appearance, pants should be tailored. A knee-length skirt is preferable although a long skirt may be more desirable. This is worth considering as some situations in a conference setting will benefit from a level of modesty.
  • Shirt/Sweaters/Jackets:  A tailored shirt, blouse or knit sweater is an appropriate business casual choice for women. A tailored jacket can be a good choice. Hosiery should be considered with skirts.
  • Footwear: Comfortable closed-toe shoes and dressy sandals are appropriate. Regardless of what is in style, avoid extremes. Make certain you can walk comfortably in your shoes.

Keep your focus in professional looking attire.

What not to wear to a conference

Keep in mind that the way you present yourself will have an influence on the way your colleagues see you. And management sees you. So here are a few things to be avoided when the conference is in session. 

  • tennis shoes,
  • shorts,
  • t-shirts,
  • tank tops,
  • workout clothes,
  • yoga pants,
  • flip-flops,
  • ripped or torn denim. 

Some of the above items will be more appropriate if the event takes you outdoors for activities.

Don't be the guy whose personal presentation and social skills are so poor, he has colleagues second-guessing their previously positive opinion of him. 

How can I dress more professionally?

Your clothing and attire will reflect your style and personality. Never lose sight of the fact this is a business event and you have an opportunity to say something positive about yourself. Sell yourself.

When you’re thinking of your outfits for an event, consider your role at the event. If you’re an attendee, a little more casual may be the way to go. If you’re in a leadership position have a leadership mindset and show leadership in the way you present yourself.

Also consider who else is attending. If clients are present you will be representing your organisation. Do it in style. Above all, be sure you're dressed the way you want to be perceived.

A good tip: if you are unsure, seek out photos of past events to see what others have worn.

Remember looking sharp is your passport to looking worthwhile.

What do I wear to the business gala dinner?

These occasions will be the special part of an event. Usually more formal. An opportunity to step out in style. Dress to impress.

Try to convey a sense of presence and style. Even authority. Polished shoes, a smart tie and for ladies elegant evening attire with matching accessories. Most colleagues will make an effort. Don’t be the one who looks like they could not be bothered. Or did not know how.

At CountryPlace we have a reputation, built over 30 years of conference specialisation, for providing assistance to clients to complete successful business events. We hope you find this article on conference dress code useful. Another service to clients is the offer of our



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