I get a lot of emails from young female professionals and grad students asking about what they should wear to attend or present at professional conferences. So I thought I would share some of my go-to looks.
We can all agree that the politics of dressing for women in academia (and in general) means that you have to put a lot of thought into what you wear and the persona you are giving off. I vacillate between wanting to stand up against misogynist assumptions about women who dress “too” feminine or fashionable and not wanting to distract from my academic integrity. It is a constant battle, not just at a conference.
Because of this I tend to dress more conservatively (conservative for me at least) when presenting or even attending conferences. I still contend, however, that toning down your look doesn’t equal dressing frumpy or wearing a dated pantsuit.
Generally, I stick to dresses, skirts, and slim-leg trousers (these look so much more polished and modern than wide-leg trousers) paired with a structured blazer. I try to avoid a full suit, since on a grad student it looks a bit try-hard. I am sure in some fields suits are unavoidable, for history, however, this is not the case.
I prefer blazers to cardigans because I think the structure of the blazer looks more put together and professional, and adds an air of authority. I don’t shy away from color, I just make sure that it isn’t distracting. For example, I try to avoid neons and loud patterns, but embrace blues and more muted patterns like a great black watch plaid. And don’t forget you can transform your favorite dress by adding a blazer!