Conference Chic

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!

I have put together a couple of conference chic looks, and you can see some of my more recent conference looks here and here.

0 thoughts on “Conference Chic”

  1. A great topic to hit on! It is definitely interesting to see what people think is professional to wear to conferences, but I think you hit the nail on the head. I agree, too, that it is ridiculous how women's outfits (or hair and makeup) can be a part of others' judgement of their professionalism.

  2. Love these outfits! I sometimes struggle with conferences and other speaking engagements – some people in our field dress very casually, and some very, almost too, professional. I have the added problem of being very petite at 5'3" and looking like I dressed in my mom's clothes when I wear suits. I've found a shift dress with a fitted blazer is my go-to, with lots of fun accessories like shoes and bag. Thanks for writing on this important (and confusing!) topic!

  3. Great advice. I also have a hard time deciding how much I should embrace my inner Elle Woods and stand up against the "norms" of acadamia and professionalism (aka embracing femininity) and how much I should conform to more traditional polished looks. It's a tough call!

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