Fashion Tips for Conventioneers

Aug 15, 2012

Attending a political convention can be a great way to network, support your party’s nominee and recharge your energies before an election.  But with long days, multiple changes of venue and hours on your feet, packing for a convention can be difficult.

I’ve spoken to many veteran convention attendees and they all agree on one thing: Prepare to wear the same outfit for 18-hours and to every function.  You will not have time to change for each event, and you’ll need to choose outfits that can go from day-to-night, from the convention hall, to the fundraising dinner, to the after-hours party with minimum effort. 

Translation: Dresses.  

Tahari Kevin Sheath Dress ($128) // Tahari Pleated Sleeve Dress ($86) // Calvin Klein Woven Sheath ($118) // Ralph Lauren Jersey Sheath Dress ($134)

The dresses above are the kind of easy, stylish frocks that are great for business-casual travel.  They go from day-to-night.  They can be accessorized or worn plain.  And you’ll stand out in a crowd full of people in polo shirts and t-shirts, but be dressed appropriately if you end up at an event with people in suits and ties.  (I also loved this $57 colorblock dress from NY & Co and this cowl-neck dress from Ann Taylor for $98.)

If you are not a person who owns many dresses, do not rush out and buy a bunch of them.  It might be a good idea to buy one dress that you will wear again for work, but a skirt or trousers with a nice blouse and/or a cardigan is also a solid choice.  I just find that when I travel, I fall back on dresses because there is no thought required on mornings when I’d rather be sleeping than ironing multiple pieces.

In addition to a nice collection of dresses, I also recommend the following accessories: 

J.CREW Biennial Satchel ($348) and Rebecca Minkoff Mini-MAB ($495) // Cole Haan Air Talia Slingbacks ($89) and Talia Wedges ($130) (Slingbacks are sold out in snake, similar here.) // Lulu Lurex Scarf ($18) and Bindya Printed Scarf, several colors available ($59) // Kate Spade Give It A Swirl Necklace ($148) and VC Turnlock Leather Cuff ($68) and Kate Spade Beaten Path Bangle ($128)

When traveling to conventions, you need a good quality mid-sized Goldilocks bag, don’t go too big or too small.  It should have room for essentials, plus a small makeup bag (for touch ups) and a pair of ballet flats or Footzyrolls if you intend to wear heels.  It should also have as much extra room as you can manage so that you have a place to put souvenirs and snacks without having to tote another bag.  You should be carrying one bag only whenever possible, and both of these bags can make that happen.

I don’t like to wear a lot of jewelry to events like this a) because I don’t want to pack a lot of jewelry, b) I don’t want to lose anything and c) it’s not necessary.  If you bring simple, versatile earrings and rings, you can pack two or three statement pieces that will really lift an outfit without being too much.  It also helps if you bring only one metal, in my case, that would be gold.

Convention halls vacillate between hotter-than-the-sun and frigid, so bring a versatile scarf so you can keep warm when the temperature drops.  I like an ivory scarf, but you can also choose a metallic or a print.  Just make sure it goes with everything you brought.  Not a scarf person?  A basic cardigan is also a great choice whether you like a ladylike crewneck or a slouchy, boyfriend style.

You’re going to be walking and standing a lot, so bring comfortable shoes that are broken-in.  If you’re most comfortable in flats, wear those.  If you have good heels that don’t hurt, wear those.  I have these Cole Haan Talia wedges and I love them.  But no matter which shoes you decide to wear, bring a pair of Dr. Scholls insoles and some blister pads just in case because nothing ruins a good time like sore feet.  I also bring an anti-friction stick like runners use to prevent my shoes from rubbing me the wrong way.

Lastly, I brought this up in 2008, back when this blog was fresh and new, but I thought I should mention it again: pack pretty under garments.  Because while my position on thongs has changed, the fact that patriotism and an open bar can result in late-night rendezvous has not.  So this is not the time to pull from the back of the underwear drawer, if you know what I mean.  

My recommendations?  Lace boyshorts–pretty and comfortable–or politically-themed Hanky Panky thongs for Republicans, Democrats and Independents.

As for whether it’s a good idea to indulge in your own private after hours party, I wouldn’t advise it.  But I try to be honest with you ladies, so let’s just admit that when you put young(ish) people, alcohol and readily available hotel rooms together, things get fuzzy and lines get crossed.  And even if no one ever sees them, I always feel more confident in pretty underpinnings.

I think I’ve covered most of the basics, if anyone has information to add, please comment.  Convention experiences and work schedules can vary widely, so can attire.  The more opinions, the better.

Career Style, Project Campaign Trail

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  1. elz says:

    Glad you re-featured the red Tahari. I forgot to purchase last time it was up and just got it on sale! Awesome.

  2. Belle, I've been meaning to buy that Tahari dress for a while, but they didn't have it on the website or not in my size for a while now. Thanks for posting – now I know it is back. Adore those wedges.

  3. Amanda K says:

    I worked 2004 GOP convention in NYC. I was a delegation ambassador. Essentially, I escorted various state delegations around when they were touring the city. If you are working on that end of the convention, dresses are far too formal to work in the field. One of my trips took me to the Bronx Zoo with a state delegation! You certainly do not want to look to casual. I happen to like these Theory trousers at Nordstrom: https://shop.nordstrom.com/s/theory-ines-tailor-suit-trousers/3330875?origin=category&contextualcategoryid=0&fashionColor=&resultback=2040

    They can be dressed up or down, and are simple enough that you can restyle them throughout the day as needed.

  4. L says:

    I LOVE this J. Crew dress that I just purchased:
    https://www.jcrew.com/womens_category/dresses/Day/PRDOVR~15874/15874.jsp

    It's a little plain but can definitely be dressier with more glamorous accessories.

    It's only available up to a size 8 online, but I think it would be flattering on pretty much any body type- especially ladies like me with a butt that pokes out enough to make sheath dresses a challenge.

    For reference, I bought a 6 in this dress. The top is very fitted like the “Perfect Fit” tees. I usually buy a size 4 or Small in J Crew tops (except for the “perfect fit” tees which I prefer in a Medium so they aren't super tight), a 6 or 8 skirt, and size 28 jeans.

  5. ECD says:

    L – thank you for sharing! I love that dress – and your fit description!

  6. EK says:

    I bought the red Tahari on your recommendation and love it – at this rate, it looks like we're going to need a rotation calendar for the conventions so your readers don't all show up in it at the same time!

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