I went to a talk at an academic conference last week. Immediately after I sat down and looked around I had my usual thought, "why God, why?" First let me say, unless you are a personal trainer or something like that, there are to be NO running shoes at work. And let's get this straight, repeat after me: conferences are work events and I need to dress accordingly.
There. Phew. But I am not done. I have been to conferences in the humanities and social sciences and it never fails, some people dress really well but most look like they were never taught that appearance matters. In my extensive experience in academia I do think that some people think it's silly, frivolous or even makes them seem less intelligent to think about their appearance. I say that is one dumb idea.
We get one chance to make a first impression, and in any work environment, appearance matters. Of course the bar is set pretty low in the academic world, so much so that wearing clean pressed clothes that match more or less can make you the best dressed in the bunch, while in other fields that bar might be (a girl can hope) set much higher.
At the conference I attended briefly last week the major problem that was repeated by grad students, professors and some professionals over and over - is wearing running shoes and a backpack with nicer business-y clothes. I don't care how comfortable they are, come to grips with the fact that you are an adult and wear real shoes and buy a plain black computer bag, those will make ALL the difference.
For both men and women my simple conference advice is this:
bring a wheeled suitcase that can be carried on, pack one basic suit (that fits you well) and enough separates to mix and match with it and then all you need is 1 or 2 prs of shoes and that computer bag and you will always look great.
the separates should be:
for men - a clean and PRESSED button down shirt for each day of the meeting, a pair of chinos (for when you aren't giving a paper) plus a couple of ties and 2 sweaters or a sweater and a sweater vest. Does that sound hard? I didn't think so.
For women the separates can be more or less the same - just remember hotels are always cold so your suit jacket and sweater will come in handy! With your suit (for women 3 pieces, a jacket, pants AND a skirt) you can pack a sweater set, and wear it as a set one day, and wear the shell (the sleeveless bottom part) as a sweater vest over a button down shirt - I love this look. Then you can wear the cardigan over a different top another day - the permutations are endless. For your one casual bottom you can bring high (or mid-) waisted wide leg jeans, they look like dress pants if in dark denim. But again - NO SNEAKERS. Bring some comfortable flats, and 1 pair of heels if you are giving a paper, they will give you a confident swagger!
And voila, it is that easy to never look like a shlub again.
hear are some suggestions-
This Jcrew vest is adorable!
Also a good look is a button-down shirt, a tie and a v-neck sweater, like this Jcrew cashmere example:
And Don't forget your Kenneth Cole computer bag from eBags:
This Ann Taylor Loft shirt would look sharp under a suit (with a bold necklace) or under this cardigan:
or this adorable sweater from Target:
The colors are really pretty and if you get it a little loose, it looks fantastic over a white button down. Just make sure if you go this route you go easy on the accessories.
You can wear those combinations with any dark wide-legged jeans (check out my previous post on these) or with your suit pants or skirt.
Now do me a favor - go to your conferences and look so good that everyone else feels compelled to do the same.