(net)working it

Earlier this week I went to a networking event. Leading up to the event, I had in my head, for some reason, that people would be dressed like they dress for a holiday party. I’m not sure why I thought this, seeing as I’ve been to networking happy hours before–where people were not dressed like this–and it is not yet the holidays. Nonetheless, I couldn’t get this image out of my mind when deciding what to wear.

Cut to me standing at the edge of my closet with half-dried hair, sobbing. I acknowledge that a holiday dress was not the right attire for this event, but I’m not sure what to wear instead. I know things that I could wear, but they don’t feel special enough. I want to stand out, to make a statement, so that people will be drawn to me. Isn’t that how networking works?

Cut to the hotel elevator. I am wearing a grey Gap dress that I have worn to several interviews and once to present at a conference. I’m wearing metallic flats and I have a sparkly headband on. There is one other person in the elevator besides me and Dago, so I make a joke. “You know, if there was a picture of an elephant in this elevator and I took it down, there would still be an elephant in the room.” The joke bombs.

Dago and I both stop in the restroom before making our way into the ballroom. I quickly stash my sparkly headband and reapply my very red lip stain. I feel like the elephant in the room, but Dago and I go into the ballroom anyway.

I’m not entirely sure if it had more to do with my paralyzing social anxiety or the fact that I chose the wrong outfit, but I immediately wished I hadn’t left my closet. Dago and I stayed long enough for him to enjoy the quesadilla bar and an upside-down pineapple cake martini and then we bailed. I handed out one business card. It was to the guy from the elevator.

The only proof that we were even there.

Okay, I tell you all of this because I know at least a few of my readers will be attending so many networking events over the next few years. I have come up with some tips and example outfits so that you can learn from my mistakes. I may not be able to help you with your crippling anxiety, but I can help you pick the right outfit.

Tips for choosing the right outfit for your night of networking:
+ This should not be an office or interview outfit. You’re at a party that happens to be with professionals.
+ No slacks. Dark jeans, cords, skirts, and dresses are all good alternatives.
+ Don’t wear white on black because you’ll look like a cater-waiter.
+ Make a statement. You’re here to get people’s attention–this is not the time to blend in.
+ Use accessories as conversation-starters. Networking can be tough, so wear something that gives people an “in.”
+ Choose your colors wisely. Does your branding use a certain color scheme? Use it in your outfit. Walking branding!
+ This may differ based on the industry with which you’re networking, but don’t worry too much about hiding tattoos or piercings. These can be conversation starters and show off your personality a bit.
+ Break out your fancy shoes. Chances are, other people will be under-dressed. You’ll feel awesome wearing your most awesome shoes. (This can be anything from a really bold pair of sneakers to gold-capped heels to spiked booties.)
+ Edgy > cute. This is a good time, if no other, for people to take you seriously. I think that dark neutrals with bold pops of color look much more sharp than pastels.
+ Be comfortable in that you’re confident. Don’t be comfortable in that you look comfy. You’re a professional and if you don’t believe it, no one else will.
+ Try out a trend! Have you been wanting to wear a peplum top, but didn’t have a place to wear it? What about a pair of deep oxblood pants or a leather pencil skirt? You have to appear to be the very hippest and most up-to-date in your fashion if you want people to believe you know what’s going on in whatever field you work.
+ Please, oh please remember that there will be photographs taken. If you are wearing a dark colored top, wear a dark-colored bra. The opposite goes for a light-colored top. And no VPL.
+ Carry something to keep your business cards in. And a pen. Don’t have business cards? Carry something to keep someone else’s business cards in. And order yourself some business cards.

Outfits I really wish I had worn:

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