Styles and how to dress up in an academic conference

Posted by Capucine MEZEIX, community karma 57

I'm going to speak in a conference in a business school in New York and I'm wondering about a few things concerning style and codes...

It's stupid, really, but I'm still wondering.
I'm French and I've been to conferences in France, but never in the States, and I don't wan't to be out of place by notknowing the codes.
Are people dressed up ? Should I be really dressed up or can I be more casual ? I've asked people in my lab, and some colleagues told me people were really laid back, and some others told me that people were more dressed up than in France. So I don't know who to believe !

Do people care about the style ? I ask this because I have a few dreadlocks and I wonder if I have to hide them or if it's OK if people see them  (yeah, I know it's futile...). In France, doing a conference in a business school with dreadlocks would not be so easy... is it the same in the US ? I wouldn't want people to stare at me and to be discredited because of that.

almost 12 years ago
Tags: style


Gordon Douglas, community karma 549

Hi Capucine,

In my experience, conferences here in the US are pretty casual - though I couldn't say if it's more or less than in France (for what it's worth, they're about equally casual as those I've attended in Toronto and London).

I guess the norm for women is pants or skirts with nice-ish shirts or sweaters or blouses (and for men polo shirts/dress shirts without ties, sometimes jeans). There is variety though, and you certainly see plenty of people in nicer suits/ties (especially grad students presenting or on the market) and even a fair amount in jeans/shorts/t-shirts too (again, especially students). Frankly I think it might vary more by discipline than country - I've noticed geography conferences tend to be more casual and always have more attendees who are obviously unconcerned or obviously trying to make a statement (whether that be "undergraduate" or "radical" or whatever), while students tend to be a bit more professional at the sociology ones I've attended. But really all are pretty much the same spectrum of "academic casual" you'd see around any group of graduate students and faculty. I've never been to a business-school conference really, but I'd guess it will be slightly more on the professional side.  In any case, as a student who is presenting, you would not be out of place if you dressed up a bit.

Specifically regarding your hair, however, you should not worry. I really don't think it matters at all - few Americans (especially academics) would think negatively or judge someone with dreadlocks; most probably wouldn't think anything at all other than that it's a personal/cultural expression. There are professors with dreads. You might not want to reinforce any lingering stereotypes by also wearing a tie-dye shirt or something, but frankly in a business-y setting it might even be a distinction from the mean that you'd be happy to have :)  

Ultimately: people are laid back and nobody is thinking too much about how other people look, but there are probably more people trying to look professional (without over-doing it) than trying to look like they just rolled out of bed for a 9am class. While you don't need to be very fancy, if you're presenting you could edge on the nicer side in terms of outfits, but I definitely don't think you should worry about your hair!

almost 12 years ago
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Jeff Lundy, community karma 227

Of course all of this will be up to your desire (no one's throwing  you out so long as you're wearing clothes), but I can tell you what I would expect.  I was a visiting scholar while my wife attended business school (saw a lot of presentations there), and I also now work for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (the world's largest business federation).

Obviously, you're not hiding your dreads, and I wouldn't consider that an issue.  In most business schools (especially the top ranked ones) you are going to see everyone in suits.  I would definitely wear a suit, along with a tie, just so I look like a professional among professionals. If you're a guy, you could easily get away with slacks, a blazer and no tie, but that will be the lowest you're going to get away with and still look within the norm.

Again, this isn't a law or anything -- you could show up in flipflops, shorts, and t-shirt, if you really wanted to.  I highly doubt they're going to throw you out.  But you will defintely stand out if you're not wearing a suit, and the absolute norm will be to wear one.

almost 12 years ago
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Lea Shaver, community karma 1147

Capucine, congratulations on the invitation and I hope you enjoy New York.

It really depends so much on the particular discipline and even the particular conference. In my own discipline (law) I have been to some conferences where I would have felt underdressed in anything but a suit, and others where it was normal for participants to wear shorts and sandals. The only reliable guide is to ask someone who has been to that venue before.

If you have time to do one tourist thing while in New York, I recommend a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge if the weather is nice. 




almost 12 years ago
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