What to Wear: Academic Conference Style Guide

Hi all,

As you all are already aware, I attended and presented at three academic conferences during my junior year: one at my uni, one down in South Carolina, and one in Atlanta. After I received my first acceptance, one of the first things I did was Google “Attire for an Academic Conference”. Being an undergrad – one of colour nonetheless – there was a desire to look as professional yet event appropriate as possible.
Being the communication major I am, I am aware of the strength our nonverbal communication, include clothing, carries when we are meeting people for the first time. One thing I’ve observed at these conferences is the lack of undergraduate students; usually, I was in the minority being the only one on my panel – which happened to wow folks – so I wanted to share what I’ve been wearing and packing with me during my trips.
Let me preface this by saying the humanities leaves room for creativity and your field might have different expectations. The fashion choices have been all over the place. I have seen everything from jeans and a t-shirt to suits and loafers.

Check Out Social Media

Similar to most things in life, this is not a one size fits all situation, but I have noticed a good deal of conferences have official hashtags for events. This can be used to your advantage when packing.  Go to the official social media accounts and scope out photos for previous years. You do not only want to pay attention to the people on panels but those in the audience. Perhaps the conference will be lax similar to the ones I attended, and you’ll be able to get away with a lot of casual wear.

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wearing black slack and cardigan to put emphasis on my carolina blue blouse | what to wear to academic conference | petitely packaged | petite fashion
showing school pride with a carolina blue blouse


Talk to People in Your Department

Honestly, the graduate students in my department were the best. I roomed with two of them and am still in contact with them today.( Funnily enough we were chatting about rooming together this year for a conference. Makes those connections people!) From what to expect clothing wise to who to talk to, they were beyond helpful. Sometimes the best research is interpersonal communication.

Pack Multifunctional Pieces

When I was attending conferences, always made sure to pack at least one suit in either black or navy. They were safe colours, but they also allowed me to opt for more colourful tops or playful shoes. Additionally, if I found the venue was more relaxed, I could always walk around in jeans, t-shirt, and blazer.



How to Style Your Hair

So this is a tricky one for women or a man with long hair. You have to think about the weather, the locations, the styling products you’ve packed…the list goes on and on. For my first two conferences I work my hair in braid out with part of it pulled back. During the last conference, I opted to put my hair a bun, because I refused to battle with humidity. I am a firm believer in a bun for people with medium to long hair because it hardly ever will fail you.
a simple braid out and nude lip before an academic conference mixer | petitely packaged
braid out and natural make-up before a conference mixer.
I remember spending a good deal of time wondering what message I was sending through the way I styled my hair. However, when I chose to style it, I wanted to be comfortable when I sat up on the panel. In that moment, a bun made me feel comfortable.

Remember You May Need to Carryall Your Belongings

The bag you carry matters. You’ll spend your days networking, sometimes only returning to your hotel until late in the day. You need to make sure you have everything you might on your person. That could be business cards, your laptop or tablet, snacks, chargers, toiletries. There’s going to be walking involved, so be mindful to select a bag that won’t have your shoulders and back aching at the of the day. 

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Embrace being Petite

For those of missing some inches, our go-to is often heels. While I did pack a pair of heels I never wore them. Two of the venues required walking on brick and if UNC taught me anything, you can ruin a good pair of heels if you are not used to the brick. My suggestion is to pack pair or two of comfy flats and let that be your footwear. I know I did more standing than anything else and my feet thanked me for being sensible when it came to footwear choices.

 Be Your Best Self

No matter what you decide to wear, make sure it’s a representative who you are and allows you to be comfortable. When you have control of as many outside factors, like your attire, you have more time to put all your energy into a stellar presentation.

Until Next Time,

Aitza B