What should I wear to a business networking event? (dress code)

Through my Facebook group, or in person, I speak to lots of people who haven’t yet attended a business networking event, and who often want to know what happens, what they should do and, very often, what they should wear.
I try to give the right advice for each and every networking event, some of which I’m familiar with, and some which I’m not. As I can’t talk to everyone, here’s some advice which I hope is of use.
Some networking groups can be very formal, some are informal and many have no dress code at all. Particularly if you are attending for the first time, you will want to make sure you feel comfortable and confident. I’m well known for wearing jeans and a flowery shirt wherever I go, but in early photos of me at networking events you’ll catch me wearing a suit or at least a jacket and smart trousers.
Before you attend any networking event for the first time, my very best advice, which I give in my first book Business Networking for Dummies is to try to speak to the organisers of any networking event before you first attend.
Usually, networking events will have their own website or, at least, a Facebook group. This should tell you who is the organiser of the event or, at the very least, who some of the regular members are.
Connecting with either the organisers or some of the members in advance is worthwhile for a number of reasons. Firstly, if you’re new to the group, you will be able to make contact and get to know people a little bit in advance. Then you will have some people that you already “know” the first time you attend.
Secondly, it gives you the opportunity to ask some questions before you attend, and this is what I suggest you ask:

  • What time does the networking event start and finish?
  • Do I need to be there for the whole meeting or is it more of a “drop in” type of event?
  • Do I need to bring any cash?
  • What else should I bring?
  • What is the dress code / what should I wear?
  • What is the format of the event?
  • Will I have the opportunity to do a 40/60 second introduction?

There may be more questions which you would like to ask, but I think that gives you at least a start.
Most networking events which I attend these days have a very relaxed dress code, not least as most attendees are either going to work after the event, or coming straight from work to the event. Therefore they tend to be wearing what they would wear to work and solicitors tend to dress differently to graphic designers who dress differently to people in the building trade.
My general advice, particularly if you are new to networking, is that it you will feel a whole lot better if you are slightly overdressed, rather than underdressed. I speak from experience here, having once been to an event where I was the only person, out of over 200 people, not wearing a suit! These days it wouldn’t bother me (and I would wonder why people were wearing a suit on a sweltering hot day to watch a sporting event), but in those days I was in my early twenties, was new to business, and was mortified.
You have every opportunity to connect with other attendees before the event. Social media, Email and the telephone are your friends here, Use them, start building those relationships, and then you can attend with confidence!

If you want much more of this sort of advice, come over and have a look at my Facebook group – The Networking Retreat. It’s free to join and you’ll find advice not just from me, but from networking experts from around the UK

“I implemented one more thing from the Retreat and it has resulted in a new client which gives me a positive ROI within 6 days”
Claire McTernan – Employee to Business Owner

“within two months I went from an average of one client per month from networking, to five clients”
Samantha Rollins, Trinity Accountants