Strategic Packing.

Picture this: you’re in another city with one suitcase, limited shoe selection, and are attending a conference (for work or otherwise) that requires you to be in a meeting room(s) of unknown climate (it might be subzero; it might be humid and sticky) from 9:00 to 5:00, and then jet out for drinks and dinner.

How the hell do you pack for this?  How do you dress for this?

This was my life last week— an out-of-town conference from Sunday night through Thursday morning (travel time included).

Full disclosure: I am absolutely shit at packing. For being an editor, I cannot edit myself to three days of clothes, products, and other tools necessary to keep my life on track. So packing is not something I can do an hour before I head to airport. There are lists (several drafts, even), Excel documents, to-do’s scribbled on Post-Its, etc. It’s all very OCD, but it’s what gets me from home to the destination city.

Some conferences are super dressy, requiring you to be all I’m Super Serious About My Job and Three-Piece Suits. Some are not; they are more in the style of Hey, Just Wear Clothes and Probably Not PJs. You want to look respectable, but be comfortable.

For a 4-day, 4-night stay at a casual conference, let’s break down what you need (attempting to be all bare-bones-only-what’s-necessary about it):


  • 2 fitted t-shirts (one neutral, one color)
  • 1 lightweight sweater/knit
  • 1 pair jeans
  • 1 pair trousers (or cigarette pants)


  • 1 LBD
  • 1 floaty, slightly dressy blouse
  • 1 pair tights


  • 2 pairs of ballet flats (1 black; 1 color)
  • 1 pair pumps (black is best)
  • 1 blazer (neutral color)
  • 1 cropped/fitted leather (or faux) jacket (neutral color)
  • 1 lightweight scarf (big; not skinny and/or small)
  • 2 bras (1 for tees and normal cut shirts/dresses; 1 strapless/convertible if your LBD or blouse requires)
  • 4 pairs underwear

The key here is to mix and match, and yes— recycle and re-wear pieces. It’s economical, saves you space, and you’re not really getting that dirty at a conference (hopefully), so it’s not (that) gross.

You can start the day in jeans and a tee with a comfy pair of ballet flats, and then dress up the jeans by switching out the tee for a floaty blouse and flats for pumps. Bam! You’re ready for drinks and dinner. Apply that formula to almost any of the outfit combos above.

One dress is likely all you’ll need. Most conferences have a party/mixer (ew, I hate that word) or some type of more-formal(ish) shindig to either kick off or wrap up the event. One standard little black dress and you’re covered. The tights are good if the exhibition hall/hotel ballroom is drafty and cold. Or, you don’t feel like packing self-tanner.

A blazer and a fitted leather jacket (or just jacket, really, but something capable of being dressed up or down) are probably the two most important pieces you’ll pack. The temperature in conference rooms and hotels are notoriously hard to predict. A blazer/jacket keeps you warm, keeps you chic, and enables you to strip it off in the event that you move from Conference Room A: Frozen Tundra to Conference Room B: Tropical Jungle. You can also use these pieces to add some polish or edge to an LBD, blouse or simple tee.

Take that scarf and add it to everything. You can re-wear a tee by adding a scarf and that jacket to a pair of trouser pants. Remix! A scarf will also provide a layer to keep you warm in those conference rooms (or on the plane).

Strategic Packing

On another note, please do not be one of those girls that stilettos her way through a conference, unless you are speaking at said conference. It is not necessary for you to be in 4-inchers when you’re sitting in a room with 400 other people watching a PowerPoint presentation. In fact, people will laugh at you. (Just like I laughed at the girl in a sweaterdress and chunky heels that was lugging around a backpack and a bulky laptop bag during my conference.)


  1. You are really on the sheer trend- that blouse is so cute! I’m trying to work more sheer into my wardrobe, but having a tough time doing so without it looking like lingerie. Help!

  2. Jen- those flats are Zara. I would also check Gap, Target and Old Navy for affordable and cute flat options.

    Olivia- that blazer is Gap. Express and Urban Outfitters are other good resources.

    Alissa- My advice is to keep the rest of the look pretty polished; make it obvious that you’re dressing up, not dressing for bed. Sometimes black sheer (especially with lace) can look a little lingerie-like. Try pastels, and pair ’em with black trousers and a blazer. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.