Ask Belle: Business Attire for an Awards Ceremony

Sep 4, 2019

Business events — conferences, awards breakfasts, luncheons — are dress code minefields.  Figuring out what to wear causes more confusion than being in a new city without GPS.  So how do you sort out what to wear so you can look and feel your best?

Hi Abra,

Congrats on your recent wedding! 

I have the distinct honor of being able to attend the 2019 National Women’s Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, honoring luminaries such as Sonia Sotomayor and Gloria Allred. The dress code is “business attire” but it feels like such a special event… Is a full suit the best way to go?

Thanks! Emily B.

When sorting out an event dress code, my first stop is always to the event’s website.  Pictures of past attendees can often help you decipher confusing or vague phrases like “work attire” or “charity dinner chic.” If this yields no results, you can check the press release or newsletter section to see photos from previous events, or search social media for photos.

If that fails, a Google image search will usually yield results.

In this case, the photos from the 2015 and 2017 events show both attendees an honorees in fairly drab work clothes.  Some are in full suits, others in dresses with jackets.  So the “business attire” description rings true.

If I were attending this event, I’d choose a dress with jacket.  Something feminine, and slightly more relaxed than my standard professional attire.  And I’d focus a bit more on comfort, as you don’t know what other opportunities could arise after the event (museum tours, cocktails with tablemates, etc.).

I might also wear DvF since the brand’s namesake is one of the inductees.  Her Mila Collared Wrap Dress caught my eye, as did this gorgeous Klora dress in camel.  If you want your wrap dress to have a more modest look, you can add a camisole underneath or size up and cinch it tighter.  Even though I’m not busty, I like the coverage the bigger size provides.

Also, this strikes me as an event where a bold color might be helpful if you’re looking to make an impression on the people you meet.  Often when I attend large events, I’ll be the woman in yellow or red or cobalt, so that when I e-mail to say it was lovely meeting them, there is a slightly higher chance they remember me because my outfit stood out in a good way.

***

For an event like this, I would want to blend standing out with fitting in, so I would mix a bold color with neutrals.  Here’s a sample outfit.

Tahari ASL Cobalt Two-Button ($139)

T Tahari Pleated Dress ($119)

Naturalizer Audra Pumps ($99)

Lauren Triple Disc Drop Earrings ($30)

Dagne Dover Legend Tote ($265)

***

This outfit mixes a bold cobalt jacket with a simple, versatile navy dress for a sleek, impactful look.  I chose the clean lines of the v-neck and inverted notch blazer for a more modern look.  Pairing it with these navy Naturalizer pumps gives your stability and comfort in a chic package.

As for the bag, I carry my Dagne Legend when I travel to conferences because it’s lighter than leather and holds my laptop, essentials and a water bottle.  This blue color is a nice complement to the other shades of blue in the outfit.

Just remember to bring plenty of business cards.  This is an event where you’ll want to network.

Ask the Edit, Style

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  1. AmandaG says:

    My husband gets invited to various events/galas/etc. through work and sometimes we don’t get an actual invitation to view the dress code. In cases such as this, or others, I will also Google for pictures of previous events. Maybe I’ll look on IG to look for tags of the event. It has certainly helped! I thought your idea about wearing DVF was such a brilliant one!

  2. Emma says:

    I wore this dress to an awards ceremony recently and felt like it was a good fit. A random woman stopped me when I was walking by to say I “nailed it” with the dress, so I think it was a good look!

    https://www.karenmillen.com/gb/womens/clothing/dresses/forever-dress/021273.html?dwvar_021273_color=01&position=17&cgid=dresses#page=2&start=17&categoryID=dresses

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