Reading Time: 8 minutesThe short answer is there is no steadfast rule, but let me give you a few ideas and food for thought from my own experience. It can seem a bit of a nightmare at first consideration. Do you dress to impress, go super casual to blend in, formal or informal? There are a few things to keep in mind around how to dress for networking events, so let’s break it down.
Regardless of the type of event, you want to look appropriate and professional to your audience, particularly if it’s a new group of people. You always need to look smart and look the part. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that might help you.
Plan out what you are going to wear the night before. It’ll alleviate the morning rush and allow you time to think about the colour coordination, right shoes, right style for the event, right colour tights, matching socks and shoes – this is particularly relevant in winter. I have young kids, so I can often be up trying to get dressed with very little light, while trying to not wake the kids.
I’ve had my share of mishaps. Thankfully the last time this happened to me, the venue happened to be very dark, but I ended up with a green dress, navy tights and brown boots – it wasn’t particularly well coordinated, so I learned my lesson – work out the wardrobe issues the night before. I can’t tell navy from black tights on those early, dark mornings!
Regardless of the event, you want to make sure that your clothes are well maintained. Remember, first impressions do last.
So what do you want to say to the people that you meet? What do you want to convey about yourself, about your company or about your brand? If you’re wearing shirts or blouses, make sure they are crisp and ironed. Sew on those missing buttons, cut off straggling threads and if you have seams coming down, either make a change or keep some safety pins or a small sewing kit in your car to make a quick repair.
Tip: As a Mum of three smallies, I always had baby wipes with me and although my kids are beyond the nappy stage now, I have a pack of baby wipes in the car at all times and a stock of them at home. When you’ve got make-up that fell on your jacket or a jam handprint from one of your lovely children’s pieces of toast, baby wipes are amazing at getting a quick clean result and will tide you over while you get to your next networking event.
Another point to be aware of for all you guzzling coffee drinkers (aka me). I would often be in traffic, getting that caffeine into me as quickly as possible. And what happens? – That spill on the white top or newly pressed shirt. Disaster! What to do? Well, one option is having a spare top with you in the car, or a little ’emergency dress kit’. Same applies for men – ketchup or coffee on the shirt or tie – not a good look, so have a plan B.
Colour and Shape
Clothes should ideally suit your colouring and shape. If you aren’t comfortable, you’ll concentrate on the discomfort, which means you aren’t concentrating on building new valuable connections. Be comfortable.
For women, avoid skirts that are too short and avoid cleavage. While you want attention, you want it for the right reason. Likewise, make sure your feet are comfortable. Don’t wear heels that are too high if you can’t walk comfortably in them. You’ll just put your energy and focus on the shoes and that’s not really the best use of your energy. Your time is precious, so use it wisely.
There are a number of colours in the rainbow that can actually make a tangible impact on your mood. Yellow, as an example, will lift your mood as well have connotations of clarity, concentration or energy. Green is perfect for a mediator, as it sits in the middle of the rainbow. It is restful, balancing and can help with decision making – it also happens to be my all time favourite colour.
So have a think about what colour marries with your profession, personality & brand; it may well send out some powerful subconscious messages that helps enhance and enrich your brand.
Tip: If you are very tired and feel that your face is drawn, it’s a good idea to wear a really bright colour near your face. It’ll help lighten it up and bring a bit of vibrancy. It’ll also make you feel better.
If you aren’t sure – invest some time with a personal stylist. I know a few of them locally to me in Ireland. It’s such a good investment of time to work with one. They’ll help you develop your style and colour pallette, plus help you shop in a way to suit your budget.
And just think of the amount of confidence this will give you? A lot of people would consider this unnecessary or frivolous and I would push back on this, because confidence is earned and achieved over time. A small investment to grow your confidence exponentially seems like a great trade off to me. Ann-Marie Woods is a local Mum who is also a stylist, lecturer and offers personal shopping to men and women who need to change or are looking to upgrade their look.
What To Wear
Men and women can wear tailored suits and accessorize with a nice satchel or elegant clutch to finish it off. The shirt and tie or blouse can be a nice colour to give a lift to the outfit, especially if it’s navy, black or grey. Personally, I try to avoid regular suits, as I have often walked into a room full of navy, grey and black suits…so how do you stand out if you are blending in? Granted, for women this is easier to achieve. I tend to wear dresses a lot, or if I opt for trousers, it’s with a bright blazer and top. As I’m only 5’3″, I need a little help to get seen, especially when surrounded by a room full of tall men in dark suits!
Men can really diversify with shoes, ties and socks. I know some, e.g. Stephan Murtagh – The Exhibition Guy, who’ve actually developed this, so it’s now a talking point and people come to expect wacky socks, in his case. It’s also an ice-breaker and lightens the mood! An added bonus is that people start tweeting and spreading pictures of him on social media, be it a selfie or a post of his socks…it’s all keeping him top of mind. Smart.
Don’t look to wear baggy, out of shape clothing. Instead, pick structured, tailored outfits, such as jackets and blazers to help bring a level of style to your overall look. You’ll reap the rewards in the form of enhanced confidence. Believe me, it’s worth it.
Changing From Day to Night
Many of us leave the office and head straight to evening networking events. I’d generally recommend a change of top or shirt to mix up your look. You could look to change your shoes, accessories and move seamlessly from day to night for the networking event.
Tip: If you do a lot of networking, then I would suggest keeping a spare set of tights (neutral and black), plus spare socks in the car. You never know when you are going to get a ladder in your tights or get soaked on a very rainy day. You don’t want your feet sloshing around in your shoes, so have a failsafe to keep you dry.
Another consideration here is pictures that are taken of the event. These days everyone is posting to social media. Everyone is a photographer and those pics are getting posted, so it’s worth making sure you’re looking your best.
Tip: try to work out whether the event will have badges for participants. As I mentioned, I wear a lot of dresses to networking events, as they are easy and always stylish and on point, but what drives me a little bonkers (a little crazy) is badges. They often have pins and I have nowhere to pin it! I keep a lanyard in my car and have it to hand, so I can convert the badge with pin to a badge with lanyard.
Bad breath is a no-no. If you are a smoker or suffer from halitosis (also known as bad breath), then make sure to have gum or breath freshener in your bag, your car, your knapsack. Keep it handy and use it.
Clean nails is a must. It’s also worth investing in a pedicure and manicure every so often. This doesn’t have to be all the time, but if it’s hot out there and the sandals are out of the closet, make sure your feet look the part.
Polish your shoes. Wide sweeping statement coming your way, but it’s often the men that fall down in this regard. There is no excuse for muddy, scruffy shoes. This is an instant turn off.
Quality & Being Appropriate
Go with the best quality you can afford. It doesn’t have to be designer or outrageous. It can be all black. Nice slacks and a black polo neck or nice trousers and a nice shirt. Again for men, slacks, shirt, blazer. Ties aren’t necessary unless you are at a very formal event, but the likelihood is that the organisers will have specified this in advance.
Be appropriate with what you are wearing. Appropriate can relate to the time of year. The weather. The occasion. The venue. Why do I add all of these aspects in, I hear you ask? Well, many is a time I’ve literally cursed myself running through (or at least trying to), or do a hobble, come run through Trinity College Dublin or Dublin Castle in high heels. Let’s put it this way. It’s not a good look. These locations and campuses are beset with cobbled stones. They’re gorgeous, but an absolute nightmare for high heels. So this is why I say, know your venue…wear appropriate shoes.
Ladies, just keep it neutral and then you can’t go wrong. If you are moving from day to night, then you can certainly add a little pazzazz and change up your lipstick or lipgloss. I have one make up bag at home and one fully stocked one in my car at all times. As the scouts say, ‘Be Prepared’. I also keep a small bottle of perfume in the car and my partner keeps a bottle of aftershave. A little spritz always gives me a little boost.
You also need to consider your brand identity, which is something I also discuss in the blog on why you should invest in professional photography. We all have a personal brand. This represents your individual style. We all have an image that we project, so if you aren’t sure yet, take some time to think about it and work out your style and how it reflects your business. Clothes allow us to reflect our inner personality outwards.
If you are in a creative, colourful, artsy world, odds are you don’t wear suits and vere towards colourful, bright clothing, so own it. It’s your brand. Likewise, if you are a mortgage broker or investment banker, you are going to opt for more serious clothes that imbue trust with your clients.
I tend to wear heels when I’m networking, but that’s because I’ve a height deficit. You quite possibly wouldn’t see me otherwise! That said, this is my choice. Heels aren’t for everyone, so if a nice pair of pumps or brogues are your style, go for it.
People buy from people. And people instinctly understand and exude confidence when they are comfortable. Don’t do yourself a disservice or try to imitate someone you’re not. Own Brand You.
We’ve mentioned grooming, preparation, what to wear – all necessary and relevant. However this is only one part of the equation. How you ‘bring it’ matters. Stand up straight, make eye contact, shake hands. Stand tall. Stand proud. We’ll discuss handshakes in another blog, as it’s something people get really wrong a lot of the time. It’s worth learning how to do it effectively and confidently.
When it comes to standing tall, a couple of things to note:
If you are running a business, starting a business, getting out there to represent your company – well then, you are already awesome and need to acknowledge this. Have that front and centre in your head. But you can also imagine string at the top of your head pulling you up to the ceiling. Don’t slouch or hide away into yourself. You’re there to make connections and have conversations.
And smile! The best dressed person in the room is smiling!
Some other considerations for how to dress. Check out the parking situation around the venue that you are going to. Is it in the hotel, a parking lot nearby, street parking? Do you need coins or do you have a parking app? Again, be prepared. The last thing you want to do is be going to an event on a rainy day, having to park a mile away and walk in high heels (for the ladies), so do a little research and plan ahead. If the parking is distant, consider wearing flats or low court heels.
As with everything, practice makes perfect. It does take time, as does everything worth while in life.
Let’s keep the #networking conversation going!
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