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Conference Attire

Updated: Sep 1, 2019

As I prepared to go the AAFP national conference in Kansas City—to my first family medicine conference (and second national conference ever), I mentally reviewed things I would need to pack:

Toiletries? Check.

Audiobook for the drive? Check.

But when I began thinking about which outfits to pack, I completely drew a blank. It wasn’t like I had never needed to dress professionally before, but it felt like a more high-stakes situation when I would be networking and mingling with students, residents, and physicians from around the country in the field I had chosen to pursue. I wanted to make good impressions, be comfortable, and still feel like I was being myself.

So naturally: I asked Twitter. #girlmedtwitter, to be exact…

Here were their answers, coming from students, residents, and doctors all:

The bigger words in the word cloud were the more common responses. I also spoke to a couple of classmates who had gone to this particular conference before, and their responses matched the ones I got from Twitter almost exactly. While it does sound like there are some exceptions depending on specialty—e.g. apparently at emergency medicine conferences, people commonly wear jeans—there were some common themes, and I will share my outfits and observations from the conference here.

My Outfits: Day 1

Because I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, I figured I would opt for a more conservative outfit for my first day. I would be meeting a lot of new people and attending lectures, so I wore a suit, colorful casual shirt, and plain flats.

For most of the day I felt a bit overdressed. I didn’t see very many others in a full suit—and even fewer women—especially if they weren’t presenting a poster. I wasn’t the only one, and I wasn’t upset about erring on the side of overdressed when I was introducing myself to residency directors in the expo hall, but I could easily have gotten away with more comfortable attire.

My Outfits: Day 2

After feeling overdressed on Day 1, I opted for a colorful patterned pencil skirt and plain blouse, cardigan, and flats.

I felt like I fit right in this time with regard to how formally I was dressed, while still being comfortable, professional, and expressive of my own style.

My Outfits: Day 3

Feeling more secure in what was normal conference attire, I went with a patterned dress, cardigan, and flats.

In which Grace Stared at Everyone at AAFP NC and Observed their Attire:

If I had to describe the women’s attire at the conference in a few words it would be: business casual, cardigans, and FLATS. Now for more detail.

Shoes: Absolutely closed-toed, but just wear flats. Seriously, I was amazed at how much walking I did at this conference even when I planned to attend several lectures. Getting around between the lecture rooms and then going through the expo hall, my legs and feet were tired even wearing flats (and I walk 2+ miles every day normally). I only saw a couple of students wearing heels (one of them being a friend of mine who regretted it fiercely), so I wasn’t sacrificing style or formality at all by wearing flats either.

Tops: This was where I saw the greatest variety in terms of individual style in cut and pattern. Most women wore blouses, but I saw a fair amount of button-ups and nice tees as well. As is common with most professional attire in this field, the necklines were all high. Sleeveless shirts and dresses were common though.

Bottoms: Slacks, pencil skirts, or dresses. Nothing above the knee, and some people had very cute midi-length skirts and dresses.

Layers: Blazers weren’t completely out of place, but most of the students wore cardigans if they had an extra layer at all. People appeared to dress more formally when they were giving a poster presentation or taking part in the legislative sessions. I didn’t see any fleece jackets, hoodies, or any casual outerwear like that.

Accessories, Makeup, & Hair: There was a range of levels of makeup intensity, but at most it was all around the level I see daily at the hospital among clinicians anyway. Lots of girls wore no makeup at all, so you do you on that front. I personally wore full foundation, eyeshadow, and mascara, because it helped me feel more confident.

Hair styling was also pretty casual. I just wore mine straight, blow-dried, and down like I always do at the hospital. Looking around, it appeared that that’s what most women did as well, or just putting their hair back in a ponytail. Nobody was in any elaborate formal hairstyles or barrel curls. I also noticed that among women of color, lots of women wore their natural hair, as well as straightened hair and braids.

I didn’t notice a lot of jewelry save for plain earrings and wedding rings. I will say there was a surprising lack of upper ear and facial jewelry, and I can only assume that women just opted not to wear them.

Also keep in mind that the specialty, conference location, and time of year can greatly impact the outfit. For example, a response I got a lot while working on this article was that emergency medicine conferences are often more casual (think dark wash jeans instead of slacks, or more colorful blazer options).

Bottom line: wear what makes you feel good about yourself, because that resulting confidence will have a bigger impact in your professional presence and experiences than others’ perceptions of your decision to wear lipstick will. These observations are merely suggestions if you’re having a hard time choosing what to wear. Now, go out there and do your thing, and feel great doing it!

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Great conference attire collection. I like the all these ideas. Thanks for sharing with us.


Great conference attire collection. I like the all these ideas. Thanks for sharing with us.

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