What to wear to a winter conference

I’m off to an academic conference this week and it’s slated to be very chilly (ok just regular chilly if you live on the east coast)–here’s my work conference packing list for when it’s cold out:

The art of layering: Winter conferences are tricky because it’s hard to fit all the layers you need in a suitcase. I recommend thinking about layers that are 100% conference appropriate–if you need to take off a blazer or sweater, having a shirt underneath that is ok for the conference is key! In chilly cities I think it is typical to have a conference coat check as well, so you will likely have a place in the hotel where you can store outerwear.

Walking into the unknown: Aside from the obvious challenge of cold weather, if you’ve never attended the specific conference you’re about to go to it can be hard to know how dressy to be. I suggest first knowing your industry (we have tech conferences in Vegas all the time and it appears these are way more casual than my academic conferences!) and second stalking the conference on social media. Find pictures from last years conference and you’ll get a good idea of what people tend to wear.

With these challenges in mind, here are my choices for this work conference!

Packing list:

  • 3 base layer shirts (2 long sleeve, 1 cami)
  • 2 button up shirts
  • 2 sweaters (1 bulky, 1 lighter)
  • 2 pairs of dress pants
  • 1 blazer
  • Outerwear
  • Ankle boots
  • Tights, long socks
  • Lounge clothes: PJs, workout gear, leggings and a sweatshirt for the plane

And here’s how I’ll wear it:

Day 1: I wear lounge clothes for travel when I don’t have things booked immediately; for this conference I’ll arrive in my favorite ponte leggings and an oversized sweater, plus my coat and my workout sneakers. This eliminates three bulky items from my bag so that everything fits in a carry on:

Day 2: Inspired by a recent blog post to “suit up” I’m wearing a suit on my main presentation day. Academic conferences are a true buffet of eccentric outfits-sort of like everyone is dressed for a different party-tenured faculty in jeans, eager job seekers in full suits, and many others in between. But a universal truth of conference centers is that they are so damn cold! Every year I wear a cute dress and blazer and shiver through hours of talks. I’m wearing a suit with full pants this year and hoping to be much more comfortable temperature-wise.

Day 3: For a day of meetings and attending (not giving) talks, I’ll wear dress pants, a light sweater, and a layered collared shirt underneath. Plus, ankle boots for the walk to and from the hotel.

Also, a small plug? I’ve been bringing a to-go mug with me when I travel because I loooove coffee and I’ve gotten so. much. use. out of it! It’s a tiny way to reduce waste but every time I stash one in my purse I am happy I did! (I pack jewelry in it before I put it in my carry on also).

Day 4: More meetings, more talks, but today ends in conference parties. The first year I attended a conference I thought “oh wow, will these be like…party parties?” and the answer is yes and no. Yes in that there is free alcohol. No in that I would not recommend wearing jeans. Today I’ll wear a bigger cozy sweater and dress pants. And I’ll try to make a dinner out of the free hoers d’oeuvres. Wish me luck.

Affording conference clothes: Packing for cold weather conferences can be tricky–another question I’ve been asked lately is where to find these clothes at affordable prices (especially as a grad student?) and to that I say, thrift it! My suit is thrifted, my coat is thrifted, my work bag is thrifted, I could truly go on.

If you want to thrift and don’t know where to start I suggest heading to the mall and trying on clothes until you have a good idea of your size at a big work retailer like J. Crew or Banana Republic. Then, you can browse and order at your leisure on Poshmark. These brands are in abundance on there and most of my J. Crew finds from Poshmark have been under $30.

Happy conference going season. Stay warm!

3 thoughts on “What to wear to a winter conference”

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