What Should I Wear to a Conference

If you have been following my posts on this blog, you may be aware that this topic was prompted by a question asked on last week’s blog.

One of our faithful readers wanted to know what to wear to a major conference. I didn’t intend to devote a complete post to this seemingly shallow topic until the answer she deserved became quite detailed. So here we are.

I don’t believe God wants us to devote an undue amount of time and energy to our outward appearance. If we do, we have made idols of ourselves. But I think we honor Him by presenting our best selves when we appear in public. And established authors often become popular speakers. It is at the conference level that agents and editors can assess a fledgling author’s potential to become a polished and confident public persona. So yes, this topic is important.

Casual or Dressy?

In my experience, conferences tend to go in three different directions:

1.) Several days in fairly remote retreat centers. A couple of examples have just occurred: Mount Hermon and Florida Christian Writers Conference.

2.) A few days in upscale hotels near conference centers in cities, such as ACFW.

3.) One or two days in churches, which are usually sponsored by regional groups such as the new Virginia ACFW chapter, where I will be a special guest in July.

Retreat with raincoats and jeans

Generally, conference directors holding their events in retreats ask that writers dress comfortably. In my opinion, business casual is fine. Jeans are usually permissible. When I go to a retreat setting, I spend time outdoors. Weather permitting, some meetings might even occur outdoors. I’ll definitely walk outside in between buildings to go from one meeting to another. This means I’d better bring appropriate outer gear. I own a great lightweight rain coat with a hood that works well for all occasions. Some people prefer umbrellas.

Comfortable shoes are a must here. I like ballet flats. They are dressy enough to be presentable with black trousers and even some casual dresses but comfortable and durable enough to tackle gravel or muddy pathways. They also meet my husband’s idea of the “closed toe” requirement for both men and women in an office setting. Do understand, however, that as a literary agent, since I’m required to be a speaker, I tend to take it up a notch — a notion some may feel is misguided. In the meantime, you nevertheless may catch me eyeing your athletic shoes with envy! (Should I admit that?) And remember, we are the Christian community so a sense of humor about comfy shoes is always an option.

Since you may be staying a couple of days longer than shorter conferences and it may be more difficult to reach “civilization” from these locations, I recommend packing workhorse items that can perform double duty and checking your list three times to be sure you don’t omit anything. On a non-clothing-related note, be sure to warn your friends and family that wireless may be spotty so they may not hear from you. Be prepared with reading material because some locations have no television in your room. I figure if you’re reading this far into an article about what to wear to a conference, you may not know this. You’re welcome.

Five star casual

An organization with many attendees requiring a large conference center will usually have to meet in a bustling city hotel. The conference directors here want you to feel every bit as comfortable and assured as you would be in the most relaxed setting. You are of course free to dress up as much as you like. In my opinion, business casual will serve you well here, too. If you tend to be sensitive to air conditioning, your favorite blazer is your friend.

I’ve attended hotel conferences where I haven’t left the site, and therefore not been outside, for days. And since I’ve been accused of being a vampire (Hey, it takes effort to keep up this refrigerator white skin!) I am fine with that. I’m totally an Indoor Girl. But seriously, you don’t have to worry as much about outer gear here unless you have made your own plans to tour the city on your own. If you don’t mind wearing higher heels, you can chance those here since walking will be on reliable indoor surfaces. But I’d still err on the side of the nice looking but comfy mid-range heel. These conferences are likely to have banquets where you can bring out your favorite stilettos and bling. So have fun!

[Note from Steve Laube: If you are a guy and still reading this? I have a suggestion… Remember to wear pants. Especially if your name is Jim Rubart or James Scott Bell. I’m just sayin’.]

Quick but professional

The question on the blog asked about major conferences, but I don’t want to neglect the smaller conferences. They offer a chance to meet other writers and professionals in a more intimate setting at a fraction of the cost. In my opinion, these tend to be more casual affairs, but I don’t recommend treating them as too casual. You never know what unexpected opportunity may occur. A professional appearance is always the order of the day.

But tats, piercings, and ripped jeans are my brand!

Then go for it! We get it.


I’ve talked a lot about business casual and it is true that you do want to look professional to enter a profession, which in your case, is writing. All of us veterans have had to do it. I remember buying a couple of Jones New York jackets and a black skirt first along to get started. I remember seeing an actress on television wear a jacket just like mine so I still have it in storage.

To go to a conference, I don’t recommend a wardrobe overhaul. For one, buying three to six good outfits plus shoes and possibly cosmetics in one fell swoop is expensive regardless of your financial position. Second, finding that many good pieces at once, especially when you are trying to buy them for a particular event, is certain to prove impossible because you will become tired and go into panic mode before you reach the end of your mission. You are sure to make costly mistakes. Then, you will find yourself at the conference, in front of your dream agent or editor, wishing you were wearing anything but that peach-colored blouse with the coral skirt and ivory shoes with the ribbons that poke your toes.

When my father-in-law died last winter, my husband and I needed to be away from home for eight days. Neither of us had to purchase a single item of clothing. This is how prepared you want to be for your conference clothing life. And your clothing life in general.

Bottom line: please do not spend money on clothing or jewelry to impress me. Never have I turned down representing an author because I didn’t like his or her clothing, hairstyle, etc. Never. Ever.

Use business casual as a professional guideline to develop your style. If you feel you look great, go for it! I’d rather speak to a writer feeling confident in nice jeans than one tugging at itchy clothing.

Shop in your closet.  Choose clothing your friends and family compliment and you feel great wearing.

As an agent, I want you to profit from your writing career. Build your wardrobe over time. I don’t want you to spend excess money to impress me.

And most of all, write a fabulous book!

Your turn:

What is the least dressy conference you’ve ever attended?

What is the most dressy conference you’ve ever attended?

Did the dress code, either too casual or not casual enough, make you feel uncomfortable at a conference?

Have you ever seen a Christian author whose “out there” style of dress enhanced his or her persona?



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