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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.

Ashley B
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  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 tips. You always looks smartly dressed, but still young and energetic. I teach kindergarten so I always need professional looking clothes that I can move easily in and that wash-up really well! Sometimes it's a challenge, but I often get compliments on my outfits, so I must be doing something right!

  4. Great picks. The past month I've been doing a lot of interviewing and I always struggled between wanting to be fashionable, but professional and not too funky. It's definitely a struggle but you found a great balance for your conferences!

  5. 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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