Difficult level: Academia. Further complicating details inside the fold.
I (a woman hopefully nearing the end of the penultimate year of my PhD) will be speaking at an upcoming academic conference in my subject (humanities), and am currently trying to decide on a choice of dress. I have spoken at conferences previously, but generally in cold weather; this conference will likely be in temperate weather (probably around 60-70 degrees F), so I'm trying to go for something lighter and a bit more late-summery than my usual conference outfit of wool tweed, sweaters, and tall boots. To complicate things, at least in the sub-circles I have been in, there is a fairly particular aesthetic culture within my discipline that I think is probably best described as anti-corporate. Professors in my humanities area seem to me to define themselves in some measure against corporate culture, especially in acts of sartorial defiance. I have seen suits, for instance, remarked on as pretentious and soulless, like you're trying too hard (possibly in overcompensation for your work, which it seems to cast aspersions on - I have heard similar things about Silicon Valley culture as well). This obviously makes choice of clothing a bit of a minefield, especially for women, since our clothing choices are often read to be personally expressive in a way that men's aren't. A number of key (male) academics in my field will be there, and it is crucial that I make a good impression on them, as it is likely that one of them would be on any hiring committee if I look for a post-doc in the next few years. Help?!
From what I have seen, the (non-graduate-student) men tend to wear chinos and (possibly slightly rumpled) button-down Oxford shirts with the sleeves rolled, and no tie. I have even seen some very senior academics wear jeans at conferences or other formal events. The men who wear suits tend to be grad students, and I think this is looked down on by older academics, or at least thought of as servile. I have come across fewer non-graduate-student women at conferences, since my field is dominated by men at the higher echelons, but it seems to me that what generally works best for women is a polished artsy/bohemian style that channels a business-casual vibe - that kind of slightly cliched Zooey-Dechanel young-librarian-who-shops-at-Anthropologie feel. Nothing too formal or stuffy, and the outfit has to have a bookish slightly quirky but slightly classic flavor - polished, confident and masterful without being aggressive or masculine, sweetly ironic, a bit prim in a playful way, very feminine, and body-flattering but not overtly sexy. Color-wise I am hoping to avoid dark and harsh suit colors, as I personally look much better in soft saturated jewel-like colors (peach, emerald, turquoise, coral, golden yellow, apple green, plum, etc.). I have fair skin and reddish-auburn hair that is wavy and mid-back-length, and I think I come out as a "warm spring" on seasonal color-typing. Also, I have a medium-sized hourglassy shape (34C/36C bra size - 27" waist - 38.5" hips), so I am trying to find an outfit with a good amount of waist definition and a generally fitted shape (feminine without looking too sexed-up).
In light of the above, my questions are two-fold:
1. I'd love to hear suggestions about what types of clothing or outfits in general work best within these parameters - both the parameters set by the sartorial culture of my discipline, and also those of my body shape and coloring. The conference is several days, so I am looking to form a few outfits. General recommendations for what to wear would be great, or even links to specific pieces if you know of any! Bonus points if they are either high-quality/long-wearing for a reasonable price, or alternatively, cheap enough to be easily afforded by a grad student!
2. On the day that I give a paper, I am leaning towards this
dress (of which I am soon to be the proud new owner). I like it because I think that the colors and shape will work with my body and coloring, and it seems to me to hit the right sort of vibe, especially with the tuxedo neckline playfully riffing off of men's business dress. (I have some more feminine sundresses, but they look to me less like conference wear and more like Saturday picnic in the park, so I thought this one might be better.) I was thinking that I would wear this dress with vintage brown leather woven heels and a fitted cropped deep-v-neck cardigan, buttoned only for a few buttons at the waist so that the dress's ruffle shows - maybe in a plum color. Does this sound okay? Suggestions on earrings? Would the dress be better paired with a cardigan in another color, or with something else? Suggestions on how to wear my hair? Would I be better off with a different dress/outfit entirely?