Are you secretly afraid that you’re going to show up at your next academic conference and find yourself entirely over, or under, dressed? Are you acutely aware that your clothes will be judged by others as a statement of your competence?
You’re not alone.
“How should women dress for an academic conference” is a question we’re often asked. Starting today we’re going to answer it with this, the first in a series of posts to address your concerns from every angle.
No matter your style, being conscious of how you dress reaches beyond a desire to be fashion forward or on trend. Your clothing is a tool just like anything else, and thoughtful planning will help you feel confident in how you look so you can focus on what really matters to you.
The challenges that women face in STEM fields are not a secret, and committed organizations are doing inspiring work to combat these issues. If we can study it, we can change it, and that puts us squarely in a position of progress.
If your style falls into the sphere of feminine and you’ve struggled with deciding whether to play down who you are to appease others, we’re with you, and you’re part of the inspiration for what we do:
From our Mission Statement:
Fashion is no minor matter––it helps define us, reflects what we value, and displays how we wish to appear. Fashion statements send influential messages and Shenova wishes to send a strong one; a message of empowerment.
Our purpose is to enable women to dress in a way that promotes their achievements, while also allowing them to present themselves in a dignified way.
Whether it’s an academic conference, industry conference, professional conference, or corporate event, we’re here to help you take the guesswork out of academic dress codes for women.
If you’re headed to a conference you’ve never attended before, you’ve probably already read the event’s FAQ section more than once. Once you find guidance on the dress code, a reasonable next step would be to seek out a consistent definition of that dress code online. If that search led you here, welcome! Please join us.
If you didn’t find dress code guidelines in the FAQ, don’t panic. We’ve done some digging for you and put together a plan to help take the stress out of this whole affair. Whether you’re an attendee or a presenter, dining at an awards ceremony or dishing at an after-party, we’ve got you covered:
There are some tried and true rules you can faithfully abide to help you navigate unfamiliar waters and any gray areas.
Now it’s time to develop strong opinions about capsule wardrobes!
Strong opinions not really required. There are enough of them on this topic already. Gauntlets have been thrown and answered. This is, to put it mildly, not something I want to put a lot of energy into arguing.
A capsule wardrobe, trimmed down to its purpose, is a wardrobe curated to reflect your personal style, composed of a set number of high quality coordinating staples and statement pieces. Those who have curated their own capsule wardrobe cite motivations related to minimalism, reducing the environmental impact of disposable fashion, saving time, saving money, reducing stress, establishing a personal style, and plenty of other worthy purposes that seem to be at odds with arguing about who is doing it right. We’re going to refrain from throwing ourselves on that particular sword and focus on purpose over process.
Should you choose to explore capsule wardrobes further and create one for yourself, I would suggest that you:
If you have no interest in ever having a capsule wardrobe, or if it doesn’t suit your lifestyle, not to worry. We’re just using some of the guiding principles to inform our outfit choices in this post.
Here are the questions that guided me when creating my own capsule wardrobe.
Now that we’ve nailed down the concept let’s create a one-suitcase capsule to pack for a conference. In order to get everything in a single carry-on suitcase (stay tuned for more on this in a future post), everything you pack will need to be appropriate for the weather and the dress code in addition to meeting the criteria in the questions above.
You’ll also want to be mindful that, while you may be arriving before the conference begins, other presenters and attendees will likely be descending upon the airport and hotel at the same time. It’s best to assume that your first impression is made as soon as you arrive at your departing airport, and suppress the urge to fly in your sweatpants and Frankie Says Relax tee-shirt.
For our purposes, we’re going to look at how we can leverage a few core pieces to meet the needs of dress codes from casual to cocktail.
While you’ll find links below to the exact items pictured, this capsule is only an example of what is possible with a few thoughtfully combined pieces. When you assess your closet or shop locally for new items, keep in mind the function each item serves and the versatility it provides.
These are not affiliate links, nor has this post been sponsored by any of the mentioned brands.
A statement piece serves as a conversation starter, and choosing the right one will net you not only a host of compliments but new professional contacts, too. We’re choosing the Double Helix DNA Dress for this capsule, but you can find a design from your field of study in Shenova’s Women in STEM Collection.
Since we’re packing for both fashion and function, you’ll also want to consider how to transition your outfits from day to night and to style them for multiple wears (and temperatures -- conference centers are reliably frigid until you show up packed only for freezing temperatures.)
Another key but easy-to-forget need is a place to attach your name tag each day. You want everyone you meet to be able to quickly identify you, so a black blazer similar to this one will do double duty by keeping you warm and giving you a lapel to which your nametag can be clipped.
We’re also going to add two additional tops and bottoms to our suitcase. Even if your conference lasts only 2-3 days, you’ll want to prepare for anything and have a backup on hand, so you’re not stuck without options if you spill red wine on your day three shirt while enjoying your night one dinner. Here’s what we put together:
Socks, undergarments, and sleepwear aren’t counted in the number of garments that make up your capsule, but naturally, they are items you’ll need to pack, along with any necessary hosiery. For our purposes, we need black opaque tights (5) and nude pantyhose. (6)
Feel free to make your own decisions about shapewear. As someone who has, at separate times, been stuck in shapewear in a fitting room and required help from the flustered attendant, and who has also cut herself out of a pair of Spanx in the middle of a workday, I have some feelings about them. But these Luxe Leg Blackout tights from Spanx DO deliver a perfect opaque effect.
The outfit you wear on the plane is also going to be in rotation with the items you pack in your suitcase, so while you’ll dress in more casual attire while traveling, you’ll want to coordinate with your packed items.
Our favorite STEM Inspired Jewelry Makers
Consider your comfort. Even the most comfortable pair of shoes can cause pain after daily wear. To avoid constant pressure in the same place, pack two pairs of shoes and rotate them.
When packing, the most compact pair of shoes you bring should go in your suitcase, while the pair that takes up more space should be worn while you travel. This is a good test for how comfortable your shoes will be while you’re at the conference, as well. If you don’t want to wear them in the airport or on the plane, you probably won’t be comfortable in them throughout the conference. Some suggestions:
This is easily the most fun part of the whole process. Now we get to start coordinating the different outfits that are possible with the handful of items we’ve packed.
When doing this for yourself, you’ll integrate this part into your decision making to ensure that you’re bringing the most versatile pieces. It’s also helpful to take pictures of each pairing so you can easily recreate them again.
The possibilities aren’t necessarily endless, but they are vast. And for extra fun (and planning) check out the Stylebook app for your phone. While it’s not QUITE as cool as Cher’s closet in Clueless, it’s close enough and includes lots of fun little features.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, or so they say. We’ll cover this topic more in depth in our upcoming post on surviving your first (or tenth) conference. For now, here are some quick tips that will help you handle anything that comes your way:
And there you have it. A versatile wardrobe and contingency plan all in one suitcase, with enough options to transition from day to night and remain fashionable and comfortable every step of the way. What do you wish you had known when you attended your first academic conference? Let us know in the comments so we can share it with the rest of our readers in an upcoming post.
Do you have a conference coming up and need some help? What else do you want to know to make your first or next conference more comfortable and stress-free?
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