What to Wear to a Trade Show

Setting up an attention-getting trade show booth is great, but all that effort can go to waste if you have a poorly dressed booth staff. First impressions are crucial at events, particularly during trade shows, and can significantly impact your overall results.

If you are thinking of what to wear to a trade show as a business professional, you will find useful tips and suggestions in this post. Remember that investors will avoid your business if they don’t like the appearance of your representatives. Therefore, you should give the following suggestions the attention they deserve.

Business Casual Attire

People are more attracted to exhibitors who are approachable yet have a notable level of professionalism both in physical appearance and attitude. This explains why business casual attire is the most common outfit worn on the floor of tradeshows.

This type of attire does not require a jacket or suit, and the rules here are more relaxed, but that doesn’t translate to wearing T-shirts, sweatpants, or sneakers.

Women can follow these simple business casual attire suggestions:

  • A simple collared shirt worn over dress pants or skirts are acceptable for business casual attire.
  • Sweaters, polo shirts, conservative dresses, and blouses are also great choices.
  • Comfortable pumps, flats, and conservative heels are acceptable footwear.

For the male folks, the following are in order:

  • Men can choose from dress shirts, polo shirts, or collared shirts.
  • Dress pants, chinos, and khakis are all appropriate attire for business casual occasions.
  • Loafers or dress shoes are okay, provided they match the overall outfit.

Business Formal Attire

Business formal attires are not too common on trade show floors, but they work great when attending tradeshow-related award ceremonies and other evening events.

Here are formal attire suggestions for women:

  • Dress skirts or pants, conservative business dress, and matching blazers or jackets make up women’s business formal attire. Pantsuits can also work for formal occasions, especially when paired with short-sleeve jackets.
  • Dressy tops and blouses with collars are excellent shirt choices. Women can opt for A-line tops or ruffled shirts if they want to add flair to their already chic style.
  • Closed-toe pumps are ideal shoes for a business formal dressing. Make sure to pick one with conservative color – not something shouty or excessively eye-catching.

The following are recommended attire for men attending business formal tradeshow events:

  • Darker-colored suits worn over light blue or white dress shirts are appropriate for formal business occasions. Although this is optional, a nice-looking leather briefcase will complement your overall appearance.
  • Any traditional dress shirt should do the trick. However, you can get a French cuff shirt with exquisite cufflinks if you want to step up your sophistication without going overboard.
  • Dress shoes are your best bet, and make sure they go with your suit. If you are unsure about the color to choose, stick with universal options such as oxblood/burgundy, brown, and black.

Business Professional Attire

Like the business formal attire, the business professional attire leans toward a more conservative way of dressing. However, this option allows for a bit more flexibility.

The business professional attire can be worn at your show instead of strictly for evening events.

For women:

  • Female folks can choose to wear full suits or blazers paired with matching pants. Skirts are also welcomed. Women who are comfortable in conservative dresses can also don them to business professional shows.
  • Sleeveless tops or blouses are excellent choices. Depending on the weather, women may also want to consider wearing sweaters.
  • Flats and pumps are acceptable. Remember to wear moderately colored ones.

For men:

  • A slack worn under a blazer or complete suit is acceptable.
  • Button-down oxford shirts are okay. You can also opt for a dress shirt, but neckties are generally not necessary.
  • Lace-ups and loafers are acceptable shoe types, as long as they look sharp.

Tips for Acceptable Outfits for Trade Shows

two women checking outfits in trade show

Consider Your Industry

The dress codes mentioned above are general guidelines and are applicable in most cases. However, it is best to always double-check with what is applicable and expected in your specific industry, as they could be very specific dress styles for certain industries.

Wearing a full suit may work for a legal or software conference, but the same outfit will be totally out of place if worn in the fitness industry, where you are expected to show up in gym shorts and sneakers.

Factor In Your Comfort

Your personal comfort is of utmost importance because trade shows and expos are often drawn-out events. Therefore, choose clothing and footwear that are fitting yet comfortable enough to wear for long periods at a stretch.

Don’t Forget Hygiene

As the day wears on, you will most certainly break a sweat and become shabby at some point. Therefore, make sure to bring along some wet wipes and your favorite deodorant to keep fresh all day long.

Don’t forget to bring breath mints, too, because your breath will not stay fresh all day.

Do’s and Don’ts of Trade Show Outfits

Perhaps knowing what to avoid can help you better figure out what to wear to trade shows as a business professional or exhibitor. Here is a list of dos and don’ts regarding tradeshow dress codes for booth staff and business professionals.

Do Wear Coordinated Outfits

Your booth staff will look better in coordinated outfits instead of a traditional uniform (even a casual polo shirt and denim pants. Consider choosing a color for different event days and let everyone on your team wear the style of shirt they want, as long as it is that color or shade. The goal is to create a color scheme for easy identification of your brand without having your employees wear the same type of shirt.

Do Appear Neatly Dressed

Wear a neat and spotless dress, whether you choose to go with formal, professional, or casual attire. That means shirts and pants should be ironed, and shoes should be polished.

Do Wear Moderate Nail Polish

Women trade show exhibitors should consider having their nails done a day before the event. It is okay to wear nail polish as long as they are not too bold. It is best to wear a neutral shade, clear, or white nail polish.

Do Wear Nice Fitting Skirts and Pants

Female staff should wear pants that are comfortable and convey a professional look. Excessively tight pants can send the wrong message to investors. Similarly, skirts worn to tradeshow events should be knee-length long at the very minimum. While long skirts are okay, you don’t want to get people disinterested by appearing too casual or out of fashion.

Do Bring a Pair of Comfortable Sneakers

Bring a pair of sneakers (or other comfortable footwear) and swap out your formal shoes with them to give your feet room to breathe during breaks or downtimes. This is particularly useful if your trade show attire makes it necessary for you to wear dress shoes.

Don’t Wear Brand New Shoes

You want to give a good first impression, but busting out that pair of brand new shoes is probably not a good idea. Remember that you will spend a considerable amount of time on your feet, and doing so in shoes you’ve not used before can cause painful blisters.

Secondly, you really don’t want your shoes to make the “new shoe sound” when you walk around. It can be distracting.

Wear your most comfortable shoes as long as they look sharp. Polish them, and they will look presentable.

Don’t Wear High Heels

Female staff must completely avoid wearing high heels because these can get really uncomfortable when used for long periods (as is expected during tradeshow events). A pair of gorgeous but simple flats will be more forgiving on the feet.

Don’t Wear Piercings

Avoid wearing piercing accessories to tradeshows. They are considered unrefined and unprofessional. Women should only wear piercings on their ears in the form of earrings. However, it is vital to aim for a professional style and look, so remember to play down on jewelry and accessories.

Don’t Wear Excessive Perfume

You want to attract attendees and investors with your exceptional marketing skills and not your smell. While you want to avoid offensive body odor, it is important to tone down your perfumes and body sprays.

Don’t Wear Revealing Clothes

Revealing clothes do not convey the right impressions. Keep in mind that marketers at tradeshows are not models, and wearing revealing clothes is not the best technique for attracting positive attention. Female exhibitors should not be seen as trying to get investors through provocative means.

Don’t Wear Designer Labels

You want to avoid designer labels unless you are exhibiting for a designer brand. Clearly noticeable designer labels on you can distract from your brand’s message and the product or idea you are trying to sell and promote.

Bottom Line

It may seem like an impossible task to remember all the recommendations contained in this post. But once you take some time to go over them a few times, it is pretty easy to know what to wear to a trade show.

In any case, if the rules appear to be too many for you to remember, here’s a simple way to stay within what is deemed professional. Avoid wearing anything that you won’t wear to a meeting with your company owner.