The Ultimate Mix-and-Match Fashion Guide

Match your outer awesomeness to your inner awesomeness

Conference season equates to visibility. Who you are in person is a key part of your personal brand. We hear often that early career researchers find the transition from invisible student-type to networking professional raises wardrobe questions. In response, we’ve got five solid conference wardrobe tips and a BONUS packing list.

  • Mix and match: Wear the same base piece more than once over the course of a conference. It’s easy to change up the other items you wear with it, like tops and jackets, and is a budget-friendly way to stretch your wardrobe. This also allows for last minute changes in case of spills or accidents.
  • Casual wear: Relaxed evening events (planned or unplanned) and daytime team building activities may come up, so you’ll want to bring casual wear that’s a step up from your typical weekend gear.  Dark jeans or casual slacks and a sweater or top are good core items and can double as your airplane outfit. Even when not attending conference events, it’s best to maintain a polished and professional look because you never know who you meet in the elevator or coffee shop.
Disclaimer: Casual wear is NOT suitable for conference attendees, presenters, or speakers. However, since formality of conference attire can vary by group and research discipline, ask around for additional dress code insights, or Google the conference for photos from prior years to calibrate. If no info is available consider that it’s always better to be noticed for being slightly overdressed than to stand out because you wore lab clothes when everyone else was in a suit.
  • Comfortable shoes: Don’t feel pressured to wear dress shoes, or styles you typically wouldn’t. And don’t be tempted to break in new ones. Consider the amount of walking when events are held at large hotel venues and seek out comfort shoe optionsMany brands and styles offer a classic look but with more support and cushion, though these will probably be a bit shinier than the comfort shoes you wear in lab (Crocs and lookalikes should be banned at conferences, please).
  • Professional Dress

    Colors: White or lightly-patterned, mostly-white dress shirts make it easy to match any color of jacket and men’s trousers. Black is always a classic base for women, and while you shouldn’t feel limited to only black, it’s simple to accent with nearly any color or patterned top. Gray trousers work well with almost any outfit for anyone, and navy blazers are classic. A simple and clean color scheme helps with the mix-and-matching and allows your wardrobe to be easily updated with new pieces as you progress in your career.

  • Accessories: Smaller pieces and accents like ties and pocket squares can customize a look for men, while women may find creative statement jewelry or scarves a personalized accent which, as a bonus, can double as a shoulder wrap for over-air-conditioned conference rooms.

BONUS! Packing list for 2-Day Conference:

Here Are The Best Bags And Packing Tips For Every Trip

To fit in one carry-on bag

  • one suit jacket or blazer
  • two co-ordinating bottoms
  • one dress (optional)
  • three tops
  • three undershirts
  • one outerwear (check weather)
  • three accessories (ties, pocketsquares, jewellery or scarves)
  • one pair nice shoes (good for day or evening)
  • one pair closed-toe flats (comfortable for walking)
  • 4 pair of hosiery or socks
  • one briefcase (for laptop, tablet, etc)
  • one tote bag (if needed for conference materials. snacks, etc)

Optional (business casual outfit): 

  • pants (no lab clothes, no faded jeans, no yoga pants)
  • top (skip t-shirts and camisole-style tops)
  • sweater (no hoodies)
  • shoes (no mud stains)
  • sports gear to burn off tension in gym or on the run

Do’s and Don’ts of Conference Attire:


Skip fashion trends that don’t translate to the world of academia; you don’t want to be be a clone or an exhibit.


Fitted and flattering pantsuits are professional and practical. If you can’t find off-the-rack that fits well, consider tailoring for adjustments. Remember to add a touch of personality.


This is not campus. Err in the direction of leaving distressed jeans and t-shirts (no matter how beloved and/or sciencey) at home or for socializing with peers.


Matching suits, especially in loud or obnoxious patterns, should stay where they came from unless you are perpetrating performance art. And fit is everything, be sure to try on that suit that’s been hiding in the back of your closet for who knows how long. Don’t wear slacks that are too short, or shorts of any kind, period.


Find a suit in a flattering shade that is professional without being over the top. Classic grey or navy blazers look great with light colored tops and nearly any color tie. And if the fit isn’t great, ask your dry-cleaner for help as they often have tailoring services on site and can get that suit looking fitted and you looking sharp with a quick turnaround.

Additional resources: 

For a funny read about science fashion with little to do with actual fashion advice:

Don’t forget to check out our Edge | Wear Pinterest board for more professional attire tips!

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