This post was co-written with Elise Thompson.
Much like putting careful thought to one’s political ideology, reflection on one’s philosophy of dress is essential for an adult in modern society, and yet is something that unfortunately goes by the wayside far too frequently. Dressing appropriately for a conference is not just something to be done because you feel obligated to fill a role; rather, think about the ideas and the image you hope to convey. For example, attending a conference for a student organization, it is important to consider the stereotypes to be overcome before your ideas will be taken seriously by the mainstream. Taking care in your dress is a form of signalling that you take yourself and the ideology you represent seriously, and that can make all the difference. It therefore is, as libertarians often like to look at matters, in your self-interest to take some pains to present a better image.
Ladies, The Basics
While women’s business casual fashion is often less nuanced than men’s, it’s still important to remember the basics. Traditionally, dress pants or a skirt in combination with a nice blouse or shirt will always be acceptable. Switching this for a structured dress or adding a blazer will never set you amiss. As with business casual for men, jeans, leggings, or athletic wear are no-nos and better left for the classroom or a night out.
Dropping Ideas or Droppin’ It Low?
One of the most common issues in conference dress, particularly for young women, is the modern blurring of the line between what is appropriate business wear versus date wear. Do not let this fool you! While women’s fashion tends to be more versatile and can encompass a broader variety of looks than men’s, whether you choose a pantsuit, dress, or skirt and blouse combination, it is still crucial to step back and evaluate. You are ladies of liberty and that makes you intelligent and sexy already, so no need to overemphasize your assets! At a conference, subtlety is key to keep you from looking like you’re headed off for a night on the town rather than to a discussion about credit theory. A modest heel and top or dress that flatters your shape rather than shows skin will make sure you’re remembered in the right way.
Hayek and Hemlines
Ladies, know where your skirt should end. While it’s tempting to transition a more weekend-type skirt to dual purpose for a conference, an image of professionalism is incredibly important and worth the investment. As a general rule, skirts or dresses that fall more than a few inches above the knee may be attractive, but are better suited for other occasions where the expectations and focus aren’t business and ideas related.
Men, We Really Need to Talk About Pants
Well, gentlemen, I could start this at a seemingly logical place like shoes but we really need to talk about your pants. This, of course isn’t directed towards all men but I’ve seen an upsettingly-large number of you wearing the furthest from business casual pants. The killer is jeans. Jeans are not business casual. Jeans will never be business casual, no matter if they’re tailored and pressed. Jeans are the definition of casual.
Another fair number of non-business casual pants that I’ve seen are cargo pants. Khakis are the business casual-appropriate replacement for cargo pants and pull together a look much more nicely. They should be your go-to light pant style, as the casual appearance of cargo pants will detract from the rest of your outfit, no matter how well put together it may be.
One Thing All Economists Will Agree On: The Importance of Investing in Shoes
Shoes may not be as much of a heated topic of discussion, but they contribute quite a bit to your overall appearance. People will notice a freshly-shined pair of nice shoes, and it’s also not too large of an investment to get a quality pair. Assuming you’re the typical strapped-for-cash college kid like I was when I had to pick up a nice pair for conferences, I would suggest checking out your typical stores. I pretty much swear by Kohl’s but JC Penney, Macy’s, and Sears, among other stores, have had some pretty great sales that I’ve taken advantage of.
If you’re going to get a pair of shoes, you should invest in a pair that will last. So, expecting to pay at least $50 would be appropriate. If you get a nice pair, they should reasonably be able to last you for at least five or ten years, if not longer. Therefore, this is going to be an investment worth making. As far as style goes, it’s pretty hard to get a wrong pair of shoes but one thing to keep in mind is slip-ons (i.e. no laces) are an absolute no-no for business casual.
For women, a nice flat or modest heel is always appropriate for the conference environment. Try to avoid too flashy of patterns or too high of a heel, looks that may be too overpowering. Flip flop, open toed shoes, or sneakers will dress down your look and should be avoided.
Shirts That You Don’t Have To Run The Federal Printing Presses To Buy
Similarly important but significantly more apparent to your appearance is the shirt. This is another case where you can save some money if you shop smart. I, personally, haven’t had a completely custom-tailored shirt made for me and assuming that you don’t have too odd of a body type, you shouldn’t need to either.
For your neckline, measure at your Adam’s apple with no space to spare, then add a half of an inch to get your shirt’s neck size. You’ll need to get someone to measure your sleeve length. They need to measure from the middle of your upper back to the vertical stitching at the shoulder, then from the shoulder stitching at the top of your arm to the top of your wrist. With these two measurements, and an eye for a good sale, you should be able to get a quality button-down that fits you well, and will likewise look great on you for as little as $30.
No Excuses! Have At Least One Nice Suit
Believe it or not, suits are in anybody’s price range. Macklemore has the right idea, if you’ve heard his song, ”Thrift Shop.” Once again, assuming you don’t have too odd of a body type, you should be able to find a very nice suit at Goodwill for as little as $10 or $15.
Of course, going retail for a suit is also an option. If you do decide to get a suit via retail, there are a few things to keep in mind. First and foremost, for the love of all that is good in this world, never get a suit for less than $200 (I’m hesitant to put it even that low). If you are making the investment, you’re much better off with a decent quality suit for $400 or more that will last you for years rather than a poorly crafted one that starts falling apart before you get out of the store. Suits are one thing that you need to make the initial investment on if you go with retail. That being said, suit sales are fairly regular. Take advantage, thrifty capitalists!
Know How to Choose the Right Tie
One of the most common mistakes that I’ve seen at conferences is ties that look like they were sold in packages with shirts and pocket squares (which are all important). Ties should not match with your shirt or your pocket square (I swear I’ll get back to that in a bit). I’d like to refer to Jeffrey Tucker’s advice on this when he said “Men’s clothes should not ‘match’; they should go together, which is something else entirely.”
Your tie should be complimenting your shirt and your pocket square. With this arrangement, you shouldn’t be seeing the same patterns but instead seeing a secondary or accent color of the tie or shirt being a focal point of your pocket square. Or also have a simple tie but a pocket square with some intricate design to add interesting focal points to your outfit.
With the exception of sales on accessories at miscellaneous stores, your best best for ties would most likely be TheTieBar. They have flat pricing (considerably cheap too) and the quality is far superior to most anything you’ll find in a department store or even in many well-known menswear stores.
Those Extra Little Touches Can Do Wonders
Pocket squares are in the same category as French cufflinks, tie bars, tie pins, lapel pins, and watches: accessories that allow you to add that extra character or style to your outfit. It’s things like a nice pocket square or a striking tie bar that really catches someone’s eye. At this point, not only are you looking great due to your new business casual outfit but you look put together, like you know how to dress well. People will notice.
Lastly, we need to touch on cologne. Most importantly, if you haven’t already, please put down the Axe can…forever. Gentlemen, a midrange bottle of cologne will give you a more personalized impression and last years. One tip that I really like about applying cologne is that if you can still smell it on yourself ten minutes later, you’ve put on too much. Generally, just pressing the bottle against your wrist and flipping the bottle over for a second will do the trick.
For the ladies, the extra touches on a business casual outfit are all about minimalism. A statement necklace, matching pair of earrings, or bag can pull an outfit together, without looking too flashy. Scents should be light and makeup should follow that rule as well. A good image to keep in mind is that most “looks” associated with a night out on the town (smokey eye, glittery makeup, neons, etc.) are best kept to that purpose only.
Sensible Suits and Summary
Sometimes, it’s the little things that matter and are often forgotten. For example, being thrifty goes a long way in situations where it feels like you’ll have to give up buying textbooks for the semester to pick up a suit. In reality, there’s bound to be a store or online shop, that has a sale on what you’re trying to buy. Hunting down and taking advantage sales can actually save you quite a bit of money in the long run. Take the time to find a good deal if you can.
If you’re ever unsure about how you should be dressing, always, and we mean under any and all circumstances, err on the side of overdressed rather than underdressed. Sure, it might be easier to just forget about the suit and go without, but if everyone else shows up in suits, you’re left looking like the one who doesn’t care as much about how they look, which creates a poor image. Always make a point of dressing to fit the higher expectations for an event because, if you do actually out-dress everyone else, you’re the best dressed one in the room and gain significant respect. Go wow ‘em with your style!
Guys, If you want more tips on how to dress well and are thinking about classing-up your wardrobe, check out these posts from Jeffrey Tucker and The Art of Manliness.