Tag Archives: museums

Professional Development: Dressing for Success at Conferences

Today I’m delighted to introduce Kate Laurel Burgess-Mac Intosh as a guest blogger here at EMP, with a post about how to prepare your wardrobe for a conference. Kate is one of the busiest and most experienced EMPs I know, and has been a great acquaintance since we met at the AAM conference last year. She holds a Master’s Degree in Museum Studies from Harvard University Extension School, and an Undergraduate Degree in Art History and Fine Arts. Kate is currently an independent museum professional, and her present work includes working for Reach Advisors as a Research Assistant, and facilitating learning about the future of museums and the field as a Teaching Assistant in the Harvard Extension School Museum Studies Program. She also is the one of the Professional Affinity Group Chairs for the New England Museum Association’s Young and Emerging Museum Professionals (NEMA YEPs). Kate is Principal of Revitalizing Historic Sites. She has been researching, writing, and presenting on creative ways to ‘shake up’ historic sites, especially through the introduction contemporary art, and featuring her findings on revitalizinghistoricsites.com and Facebook page, “Revitalizing Historic Sites Through Contemporary Art.” Thanks again to Kate for today’s wonderful post!


Dressing for a conference is tricky, especially when one is just starting out in their career. After a conversation at last year’s Emerging Museum Professionals reception at the American Association of Museums Annual Meeting and Conference in Houston, Texas, it became apparent that there was not much out there for guidance on dressing for this type of event. The acronym of KISS comes to mind, slightly shifted for dressing for success at conference: keep it simple and stylish.

In many ways, conferences are like multi-day interviews. Dressing strategically says something to others around you, and you should take getting dressed for the event as seriously as you would take dressing for an interview. You will meet many other professionals, all with various levels of experience; they may be your next co-worker, manager, boss, or executive director, so making the best impression during your first encounter is important.

Everyone travels from somewhere to get to the conference. Point A to point B can be hard on dress clothes. Everything you want to wear has to be packed; finding sturdy and wrinkle-free fabrics is key. Check with your hotel, either by phone or on their website, prior to arriving to verify if laundry services are available, and/or if an iron and ironing board are included in your room amenities; if an accident occurs, or a shirt needs to be ironed, it is good to know what your options are before panic sets in.

Climates vary by where the conference is being held, so check and follow the weather prior to packing. If it seems appropriate, pack layers so as to be prepared for what the weather may become while you are there. A dress or suit jacket makes a huge statement when it comes to your outward appearance, and can be helpful if the building or hotel is air conditioned, or if the weather shifts during the day.

A big question to ask yourself when getting ready for conference is: if you put it on at 7:00 am (or sometimes earlier!) can it make it until 11:00 pm? Even if you hope and think you can dart back to your hotel room in-between sessions and events, it is best to plan that things can (and will) go over time or off schedule. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes that are professional, yet easy on your feet.

When networking and attending sessions, you will be receiving and handing out lots of business cards and other materials. Try to plan to have pockets in each of your outfits throughout the days you are at the conference. Leave your room and realize you don’t have any? Put your business cards in the pocket of your nametag, behind the name plate (this helpful tip was given to me by Leslie Howard, Chair of the Boston EMP group, at my first AAM Conference, and I continue to use and share it).

Short on funds? (Okay, I know, EMERGING professionals in the MUSEUM field, do I even need to ask?!) Below I’ve included a list: “12 Places to Shop Chic on a Museum Professional’s Budget.” Before you head out to shop, sign up for e-blasts from places that have clothes that inspire you; these generally include coupons, discount codes, and inside knowledge of special sales. Mentally plan outfits before shopping, so as not to ‘over-purchase,’ but to head into a store with a clear definition of what you are looking for and the gaps in your wardrobe you are looking to fill to be conference ready. For inspiration, and to help keep you on track, find outfits you like in magazines and/or online, and bring images with you when shopping. One rule of thumb to always remember is that inexpensive clothing always looks more expensive in a neutral color (think black, grey, white, beige).

Remember most importantly to reflect your personality and interests, as your dress is only the first step to conference success.


12 Places to Shop Chic on a Museum Professional’s Budget

An alphabetical list of 12 places to show chic on a museum professional’s budget in honor of the 2012 AAM Conference, for those seeking clothing that reflects their professional persona without leaving them penniless. A combination of in-person and online retailers are listed. If you have a favorite please share it in the comments section, so as to grow the list as a resource for others who want to shop chic on a museum professional’s budget.

1. Bluefly: discounted designer and up-and-coming designer clothing; added deals received via e-blasts

2. Burlington Coat Factory: discounted clearance venue for major retailers; large selection of men’s suits at most locations

3. Designer Shoe Warehouse (DSW): wide selection of shoes at discounted prices; rich clearance section with reductions between 30-90% off of original prices

4. Gilt: online designer sales, requires account sign-up

5. H&M: great location to search for accessories and basics at inexpensive prices. Watch for designer collaborations, such as recent ones with the tv show Fashion Star, and designers such as Versace, Lanvin, and Marni, at deep discounts compared to their runway lines.

6. Last Call by Neiman Marcus: clearance venue for the major retailer; additional coupons and discounts available to e-blast email subscribers.

7. Macy’s: sign up for their email and snail-mail list to receive coupons and alerts during major sales, with discounts up to 75% during end-of-season clearance events

8. Marshalls: discounted clearance venue for major retailers

9. My Habit: online designer sales, requires account sign-up

10. Nordstrom Rack: clearance venue for the major retailer; additional discounts available to e-blast email and snail-mail subscribers.

11. Rue La La: online designer sales, requires account sign-up

12. Target: selection varies by store; identify items online, and use search feature to locate at a local Target. Watch for designer collaborations (recent collaborators include Jason Wu, designer to First Lady Michelle Obama), generally priced below $100 per piece from the collection.