Conference Fashion…at Home


Raise your hand if you were supposed to go to an academic conference–or even better run one–this spring….That’s a lot of hands! So you are totally bummed that you don’t get to go, and you hate to miss out on the papers and all, but what about the fashion? Don’t you hate missing out on all that, too?

My friend Ula L. Klein wrote the following guest post for What Professors Wear (this blog, y’all) to share her thoughts on what you’re missing out on when you don’t get to go to your conference–it’s more than academics and socializing. It’s FASHION!–and to show off her super cool clothes!

Going to conferences is an important part of my scholarly life, and the connections I’ve made at conferences have seeped into my personal life as well. I have made life-long friends through scholarly conferences, in addition to gaining a much-needed infusion of excitement, information, and inspiration in my scholarship from the presentations and conversations I have at conferences. By far, the conference with the biggest impact on my life has been the annual meeting of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS).

ASECS is a conference that balances socializing with in-depth scholarship on all aspects of the eighteenth century. And while most of us go for professional and intellectual reasons, the social and sartorial side of things are all part of the experience. Many of us have special outfits or shoes we bring to the conference to show off to friends and fellow scholars who we know will appreciate our efforts. This year, due to the coronavirus, however, the conference was canceled—and for good reason. Still, it made me a little sad to think about not just the loss of scholarly connection and intellectual satisfaction—but also the loss of an opportunity to be fun and fashionable.

So I arranged to do a What I Would Have Worn photoshoot at home recently, with my wife as impromptu fashion photographer. My Day One outfit is black leggings with teal, empire waist tunic and transparent sleeves, paired with black and pink Fleuvog heeled maryjanes and a long necklace that would not look inappropriate in a Jane Austen adaptation. I piled my hair up high as a nod to the fact that I am a Serious Scholar (height of hair plus heels = intimidating, which is OK if you are a young-ish female scholar working to establish respectability). Day One of the conference I was going to be presenting, so I wanted to wear my Most Serious Outfit on that day. It’s also the day of the largest conference reception, so it’s a good day to have height in a crowd.

Day Two is more colorful and relaxed, though still very professional. I paired teal slacks with a flowered blouse, black blazer I’ve had forever (with sleeves rolled up), and brand new red Oxfords from ModCloth. Day Two I was going to be chairing a round table, rather than presenting, so I opted for a colorful outfit that shows more of my natural personality while still being professional. Added bonus: the bright colors are good to catch the attention of presenters when they are almost out of time. Hair is styled half up, half down, to show I am professional, but still approachable (I was actually told that this was an optimal hairstyle for women on the job market when I was in grad school…)

Pro Tip: having your hair pulled away from your face is a great tactic when doing public speaking as it lowers your chances of playing with it while you speak, which can be distracting for the audience.

Day Three is by far my most casual outfit, as I had hoped that I would spent a good chunk of Day Three sightseeing in St. Louis, the site of the conference. Still, I wanted to make an appearance at the conference for part of the day, so I opted for comfortable, fun clothes that can still look professional. Day Three of the conference is usually the most relaxed anyway, and it can be nice to show your fun side. I paired a black and white striped top from LOFT with black slacks, a maroon cardigan (also LOFT) with a faux pearl brooch, and maroon Converse Chucks. The slacks, cardigan and brooch are still professional, while the Chucks and stripes make this a perfect conference-to-weekend outfit. The soft fabric of the top is also a nice change after the more “professional” fabrics in the other work tops.

All pants and day one and two tops are from Motherhood Maternity, as I am currently 6 months pregnant. I love that they were both on sale, though, and that they look uber professional and classy; I will definitely keep them in rotation postpartum.

Pro Tip: Never pack anything for a conference that you won’t be comfortable wearing after 5 hours! And if you’re like me, you only wear heels while at the conference, and you change into your Chucks for dinner on the town.

Make up: I regularly wear eyeliner (top lid only) with metallic (but subtle) eyeshadow in pink and gold, under eye brightener/concealer, eyebrow pencil, and blush (I have a sallow complexion so this helps me look as energetic as I feel). For a conference, I add a pop of color with lipstick. A bright red is bold and fun and literally matches every outfit. I don’t bother with contacts at conferences as bold glasses frames are nearly as crucial to The Look as bold footwear.

And that’s a wrap! Who knows? Maybe some of these outfits will make the cut for next year in Toronto, or maybe I’ll have other fun outfits to wear. I’ll definitely be wearing these outfits in the fall at my new job…unless we’re still all-online. In the meantime, I may just wear them for fun around the house or when I video conference with students. Dressing up for work makes me feel creative, professional, and fashionable, and it’s definitely something I’m missing right now as I prepare to work from home through the end of April, and possibly the rest of the year.

I’m right there with ya, Ula. Preparing to go to a conference is so much more than writing that paper and giving that presentation. It’s a chance to network. It’s a chance to see friends. It’s a chance to create a mini-fashion collection from your own closet and walk that runway (well, walk around that huge conference hotel more like).

It’s going to be tough to dress the part for teaching online at home for the rest of the semester, too. But we should all make it a point at least to pull out those great shirts and be seen on Zoom or whatever video conferencing platform you use. Who cares if you’re wearing sweatpants. Just wear that cute top, that awesome brooch, those crazy earrings, that glittery eyeshadow. Cheer yourself up by dressing up. Your students will probably appreciate it, too.

Love to all!

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