When you are going to a conference in your field for the first time, it’s like introducing yourself to your peers. It’s important to dress for success. This post is about my experiences on what not to wear, and what to wear at a science conference meeting as a woman scientist. Read to set your best foot forward right away in your career.
- What Not to Wear at a Science Conference
- Pack with the Weather in Mind
- What to Wear at a Science Conference as a Woman?
- Styling Tips for a Science Conference
- Dress to Impress
- Wear Heels to be Seen When You Are Petite
- Why to Watch Your Posture
- No Suit over 40
- Fashion and Dressing Tips for All Conference Attendees
- What Works in Earth Sciences
Disclosure: This post has affiliate links.
What Not to Wear at a Science Conference
OMG, I was wearing a black leather skirt and a red blouse with black pumps when I gave my first presentation at a conference in Oxford at the Rutherford Laboratories as a graduate student in 1987! My adviser had told me to wear a black skirt and a blouse. The only black skirt I had was a black leather skirt and I already was not into blouses back then. Thus, that red blouse was the only one I owned.
What to Wear at a Science Conference as a Woman?
This question is a challenge for many female scientists not only for a conference, but also at work. They still report to face the perception that science and fashion don’t go together.
Recall, it’s always better to be over- than under-dressed, especially when you are a graduate student as I was when I attended my first conference as a speaker. In academia, business casual style wearing a dark, not pre-washed pair of jeans with a button-down shirt, blazer and dress shoes is totally appropriate. Guys may wear a tie, but at least in America I would always recommend to go for a bolero tie. They fit better in when everyone else wears a tie, because bolero ties are more expensive than fabric ties. They fit well in also when everyone else wears no tie at all.
No matter what season or what the climate of the conference location is, flip flops, Birkenstocks, or sneakers plus shorts and a T-shirt are never an appropriate choice. It reads, I can’t wait until I get out of this session to finally enjoy the great outdoors of this awesome conference location.
Pack with the Weather in Mind
Make yourself familiar what kind of climate your conference region has, and what is the weather forecast. Also look at the variability of the climate in the month (minima and maxima of temperature, likelihood of precipitation, etc.). Pack with this knowledge in mind. Read more on packing for a short business trip.
Styling Tips for a Science Conference
For women scientists, skirts and dresses are fine, but steer clear away from everything that is shorter than a hand width over your knees. Italian length, i.e. just hitting your knee is best. Skirts ride up when you sit down. You want to be remembered for your great talk, not your great legs. No cleavage for a similar reason 😉 , A nice blazer with dark jeans, a knitted silk top, even a high quality T-shirt with scarf are fine too when you are in the physical sciences like meteorology, geophysics, planetary sciences.
Dress to Impress
If it is the first time you are a speaker, remember the first impression can be nearly as important as your first talk. Avoid large jewelry, and busy prints. If the conference room is large, the likelihood that the speaker will be projected on screens is large too. Therefore, also avoid hounds tooth because it makes your audience dizzy. Ensure your hair is not hiding your face because it may be conceived as insecure or too flirty.
Wear Heels to be Seen When You Are Petite
When talking to colleagues, eye contact is important. Therefore, to not have to look up (and get a stiff neck), wear heels. It’s better to look down than up.
Practice walking in heels prior to the event on both carpet and pavement to look confident walking and standing in heels. A 2.5 inches (5 cm) is the best compromise between comfort and achieving a bit of height. Wedges are the easiest to walk in. When walking in heels always commit to put your weight onto the ball of your foot. This is easy when you shift your stepping hip forward.
Why to Watch Your Posture
Sorry ladies, but I strongly believe that it is important to
stand like a man
to get respect when giving a talk. This means feet slightly apart, shoulders square (I use padded shoulders in my blazer), head up, stand tight and tall, don’t twill your hair, and no red lips.
Make sure you feel comfortable in your clothes because it that comes across as being confident. It is o.k. to have one signature item that displays your personality. In my case, it is a studded bracelet.
No Suit over 40
Styling a suit in a fashion forward way is a great option for women scientists under 40. If you are over 40 and look young, ditch the suit. You don’t want to stand in front of your student’s poster and be asked whether your advisor is at the conference too.
Over 40, ditch the suit because it makes you look old fashioned. That’s the wrong message in a field that’s about pushing the envelop. Instead, go for an unmatched suit. More on styling an unmatched suit.
Fashion and Dressing Tips for All Conference Attendees
Here some general advice for everyone attending a conference:
- Do not wear brand new shoes. After a day running from session to session in a large congress center, even your blisters would have blisters.
- Pack wrinkle-free clothes that work for both standing and sitting. Only if the conference is in the Tropics, linen is a good choice as humidity suppresses a bit the wrinkling of linen.
- Bring at least one outfit more than the conference will last. Someone may spill their drink or meal over your blazer or onto your outfit at the reception, conference dinner or just in the coffee break. Recall scientists are nerdy and fly in a different dimension (most of the time).
- Go for dark colors as wrinkles are less visible on dark than light fabrics.
- Typically, conveners overestimate the number of people that will attend their session, especially in times of short funding. Therefore, due to the lack of heating from warm bodies, the air-condition is über-performing due to incorrect thermostats settings for the real number of attendees. Consequently, to avoid catching a cold, always have a cardigan or blazer handy even when it is hot outside.
- Wear your name tag.
- Have safety pins ready to attach the name tag to your clothes. The hanging around your neck name tags tilt, hang at belly button height, both of which is just awkward when someone, especially male colleagues, actually care about reading your name
What Works in Earth Sciences
Enjoy your conference and make as many connections as possible. Networking is key. Have your business cards ready. The photos in this post provide some inspirations about what works at conferences in physics related sciences.
Don’t let your outfit be a random thing. Wear the right look in every situation by looking up what to wear when in How to Dress for Success in Midlife. Buy the book now.
If you are in engineering or a discipline that is less casual than the physical sciences you may be interested in reading this Dress 4 Success in engineering advice.
Photos: G. Kramm
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