What to wear for public speaking

FT fashion editor Carola Long has posted a timely article (subscription required) on “clothes that speak volumes” when delivering a speech or participating in a panel at a live event. As conferences, talks and festivals return, the need to look good in real life and on screen, she notes, is more complicated than ever.

She quotes Roman orator, and speechwriters’ mentor, Cicero: “In an oration, as in life, nothing is harder than to determine what is appropriate.” So what is the appropriate dress code for today’s professional speaker or executive?

San Francisco Bay Area stylist Victoria Cárdenas Hitchcock shares advice on dressing for live events:

Many people have so much information and experience in thought leadership but they don’t know how to hone that into the perfect presentation so that you don’t lose your audience in the first minute,” Hitchcock says. She has a checklist that informs outfits: what is the venue, the time of year? Will you be sitting or standing? Is the light hot, is it hitting you from above? Who is moderating? Who are your peers?”

She has observed that while famous tech titans are synonymous with a scruffy, ultra normcore (sic) look she finds that “people at the mid-level, in management and decision making, are upping their game. There is no more need to wear the messy jeans, the white sneaker, the T-shirt with a ‘pi equals whatever’ symbol. It used to be that the more anti-conformist the better, and now it’s “how can you help me express who I am?

She advises pantsuits for women. For a business-casual look on men she recommends a polo with an open blazer and jeans, or trousers with a deconstructed jacket and button-down shirt.

New York bespoke tailor Leonard Logsdail, has made suits for the TV show Succession, shares some billionaire-appropriate tips on how to make an impression:

If you are in a group or a panel I would advocate something slightly stronger so it sets you apart. When you look at politicians and they all have a plain suit, a plain shirt and a plain tie, there isn’t anything that really sets them apart. Just don’t go over the top.

Helena Morrissey, financier, (and self-proclaimed mother of nine), and author of Style and Substance; a Guide for Women Who Want to Win at Work, chooses bold colors with pockets to clip a mic on. She advises to check on seating arrangements:

Sitting on a too high stool doesn’t make you feel grounded or at home, so I have learned to ask ahead of time if I can have a different sort of chair,” she says. “We have all heard lots of technically flawless talks that have no heart, so making an emotional connection with a smile, a warm hello and an outfit that reflects your audience is a good starting place.

Finally, good fit is essential, since”oversized suits can still make the wearer look like a child trying on their parent’s clothes.”

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