BY ROB SMENTEKThere’s a particularly memorable scene in the movie Dumb & Dumber in which the characters played by Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are preparing for a formal charity ball by trying on various tuxedos. Ultimately the pair makes their entrance at the black-tie affair wearing wildly outdated ruffled tuxedos, creating a scene in front of the snooty, upper-crust crowd.
Anytime you pack for a trade show or convention, there can be some stress when it comes to picking your wardrobe. Certainly you want to be comfortable, but there’s also the whole “dress for success” thing to consider. Surely, a vintage powder blue tux isn’t in your suitcase, but at the same time you don’t want to be the only T-shirt in a room full of Brooks Brothers. You want to stand out, but for a good reason. If you’re not adept at sporting a statement piece or color—and you know who you are—it’s always in style to keep it neutral.
Be well suited for the occasion
Even if your industry is largely business casual during day-to-day operation, trade shows and other professional events (even association meetings) are the time you want to up your game and look your sharpest. As the industry continues to be more and more collaborative in nature, you are facing a room full of potential business partners at transportation events, so you’ll want to dress like it’s a business meeting. Save your jeans for casual events or nightlife—stick with a suit or your company’s branded attire during the day. That means you too, ladies. Make sure your suit is comfortable, fits well, and, yes, is a classic or modern style. Current fashion favors a slim-cut suit, with a single-breasted, two-button jacket—but that certainly isn’t mandatory. Choose the cut that works best for you.
Also, do yourself a favor and check the weather of the destination city in advance. If there’s a stretch of unseasonably warm weather, you may want to eschew the three-piece suit and stick with a light wool jacket and pants/skirt. Reverse that plan if you might experience a cold snap during your travels. Even if you are traveling to a hot locale, the AC in most places is usually cranking, so take note to bring a sweater if you tend to run on the cooler side.
“Even if your industry is largely business casual during day-to-day operation, trade shows and other professional events are the time you want to up your game and look your sharpest.”
Fit to be tied
Whether you choose a classic striped, skinny solid, squared-off knit, or vintage bow, it’s always a good idea to complement your suit with a snazzy tie—there’s a reason it’s considered a classically professional look. However, it’s recently become fashionable to forgo a necktie and open up your shirt collar while wearing a suit. While you couldn’t pull off this look at an important sales meeting, fancy dinner, or, heaven forbid, a funeral, it’s certainly acceptable and appropriate for many occasions—particularly those held during the day.
But if you want to withhold the Windsor knot, just be sure that your collar doesn’t resemble a hang-glider. Stick with shirts that have smaller broad collars or even button-downs. And don’t forget the collar stay! Here’s another tip: if your undershirt is showing, button up and stick with a tie. Of course, conversely, we don’t need to see your chest hair—only keep that first button undone; disco is dead, after all. If you’re looking to add a little flair to your suit while still sacrificing the tie, consider a patterned pocket square. Ladies, if a tie isn’t your thing, a scarf, ascot, or necklace will make a suitable (pun intended!) replacement, unless you are already wearing a statement blouse or shell.
The agony of d’feet
Ask any trade show veteran what single piece of advice they’d share with a newbie and the odds are it won’t be about firm handshakes or business cards. Without a doubt, the number one thing he or she will say is “wear comfortable shoes.” Since so much of the trade show experience involves walking and standing—usually for hours and hours on end—you’ll be doing yourself an enormous favor by leaving the new, patent leather wingtips at home. Generally, the sneaker/suit combo is looked down upon (although this writer thinks that Converse Chuck Taylors look good with anything) but fortunately many shoe manufacturers now make dress shoes that feel and fit like sneakers. Brands like Skechers and Cole Haan are known for their variety of styles for both men and women that will match your suit and keep the blisters to a minimum. Still insist on wearing your favorite leather dress shoes? Well, at least invest in a pair of inserts to make things a little more bearable. Whatever you choose, make sure they are broken in and tested before the event.
Now, we realize that no one knows foot pain like women. Stilettos on the show room floor may look great, but it’s just not worth the torture. If flats or loafers simply aren’t part of your wardrobe, consider a wide, low heel. Women have a larger selection of stylish yet functional pumps: Consider Aerosoles, Anne Klein, Rockport, or Clarks, all of which tout the blend of trend and comfort technology.
Sock it to ‘em
Worried that wearing a suit stifles your individuality or just doesn’t “say anything” about your personality? Well, there’s a solution for that. Recently, socks have become the de rigueur way to express a bit of personal flair and fun with a more formal outfit. Virtually every fashion retailer offers a huge selection of socks with bright colors, wild patterns, and even your favorite superheroes. This is a subtle and affordable way to demonstrate your personality and maybe even start a conversation.
Every person at a trade show or event is a potential client, so it’s in your interest to look your best. Looking like a million bucks is your first step to earning that million. But just because you have to “button up” in a suit, it doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your comfort, style, or individuality. [CD0917]