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Dress code

Are You Really What You Wear?

Why are conference dress codes so boring and predictable, whilst simultaneously managing to be totally ambiguous? If Dutch delegates really turned up in “business attire,” the room would be awash with designer denim—much to the shocked surprise of the Japanese. What the heck does the seriously business-minded female delegate do today when faced with the dreaded “black tie” invitation? And let's not get started on “smart casual,” an intercultural minefield for any organizer of international meetings!

Maybe we should tailor our sartorial instructions to the psychological or behavioral objectives we're aiming for. “Left bank philosopher” or “beat poet,” perhaps, when we’re trying to stimulate deep discussion and intellectual thought. How about “nerd chic” when organizing a celebratory evening function for techies? Or “all in blue” when trying to get everyone in a relaxed mood, reflecting this color’s intrinsic attributes, or “better red than dead” when aiming for high-octane, scarlet-wrapped, or power-tie energy? Or why not just focus attention on one part of the body: “glossy spats, stilettos, and sneakers,” or “bright scarves and ties” for your next gala event, anyone?

As meeting designers, the instructions or guidance we give create both an anticipatory mood and an onsite visual stimulus. We can choose whether to put delegates at ease or create deliberate tensions. We can celebrate individually distinctive tastes or instill team spirit. Dress codes matter! In this enormously under-explored field there is perhaps only one thing we can all agree upon: Cargo shorts and Birkenstocks are a universal no-no, even in Vegas!

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