The success of your trade show exhibit hinges on a wide range of things. The design of your booth and branding; the product information you provide; your ability to offer an engaging experience; and more. Also important—but sometimes overlooked—is the personal presentation of the people who staff your exhibit.
Why Is Trade Show Attire Important?
Clothes don’t determine how competent your staff are, but they do make a big impact on how they’re perceived. This is just as true on the trade show floor as it is in the workplace. How your staff appear is a reflection on the company they work for. It’s important that they look and act in a professional manner to ensure they uphold your brand’s good reputation.
No one gets more than a few seconds to make an impression on attendees who walk past a trade show exhibit. To make those few seconds count, you can’t afford to skimp on any aspect of your presentation. That includes exhibit staff, as well as the booth itself.
Ideally, your booth staff will look professional, but friendly and approachable too. With the right clothes and the right attitude, your staff will be ready to impress visitors who stop by your booth.
Trade Show Attire: What Are Your Options?
There are three common types of attire people wear at work:
- Business formal
- Business professional
- Business casual
For trade shows, it’s typically the business casual look that your staff should adopt.
Business casual is the most informal kind of business attire, and it’s the most common at trade shows, on both staff and attendees. Even though “casual” is in the name, street clothes like jeans and tee shirts and sneakers or flip-flops aren’t usually appropriate. In this context, the term means that a jacket or full suit isn’t necessary, and men don’t need to wear ties.
Common options for business casual clothing include:
- Polo or collared shirts
- Dress shirts
- A sweater or vest
- Casual bottoms such as chinos, khakis, dress pants, or a simple skirt
- Dress shoes, loafers, closed-toe flats, or a low-heeled pump
Remember that shoes should be comfortable as well as stylish—you’ll be on your feet most of the day.
Business formal attire is at the other end of the scale. It’s not required for the trade show floor, but might be preferred for event like banquets and award ceremonies.
Men in business formal attire are expected to wear:
- A dark suit, typically navy or charcoal
- A light-colored dress shirt
- A conservative tie
- A pocket square
- Shoes to match, such as black wingtips or oxfords
For women, business formal attire means a suit with a conservative dress, skirt, or pants, and a matching jacket. If wearing a skirt or pants, choose a collared blouse or a dressy shirt; avoid sparkly and shimmery. Complete the suit with a conservative pair of closed-toe shoes and understated jewelry, if desired.
Business professional is similar in style to business formal, but there’s more flexibility. At some trade shows, it may be more common to see people in business professional attire than business casual.
Both men and women can opt for a complete suit, if they wish, or they can opt for pants or skirt, paired with a collared shirt, a tie for men, and a matching jacket or blazer. Choose casual conservative shoes like:
- Low-heeled pumps
Dress for Your Industry
How do you know which style to go for?
Mostly, it depends on whether you’re representing a corporate brand or are working within a specific industry. Most corporate brands choose business professional or business casual, while non-corporate brands tend to stick with business casual. Start-ups businesses and companies in start-up industries (like the cannabis industry) tend to prefer business casual over even business professional.
It could be smart marketing to have your trade show booth staff’s attire reflect a service your company provides or a product it manufactures. For instance, a fitness brand might outfit booth staff in workout clothes like leggings, sneakers, or branded baseball caps. Similarly, a company that manufacturers leisurewear might outfit staff in its own products.
If you’re not sure what you and your staff should wear at a particular event, find the event’s website. Most trade shows have a gallery of photos from previous years. Use those to check out what booth staff and attendees are wearing.
Should You Coordinate Your Staff’s Event Apparel?
Giving your trade show booth staff a cohesive look is an important part of their preparation. By coordinating their appearance, you ensure that everyone looks appropriate for the show and that they reinforce your company’s identity. Before the show, let your team know what’s expected of them in terms of their appearance and attire, so everyone’s on the same page.
When it comes to your exhibit staff’s event apparel, you have three options:
1. Invest in branded clothing, and have everyone wear it.
If you’re going for a highly cohesive look and want your staff to all look as similar as possible, a uniform is the way to go. This can be a great option if your company employs staff who wear uniforms. For instance, if you operate a restaurant, having booth staff wear the same uniform that servers wear will cause attendees to make an immediate association with your brand as soon as they see your exhibit.
There are several options for branding custom apparel with your company logo or another relevant design. Screen printing and digital transfer are two popular, tried-and-true methods for producing customized event apparel with crisp, clear designs that wear well.
2. Let people wear want they want within the bounds of business casual, professional, or formal.
If you don’t want your staff to look too “matchy”, give them more flexibility in what they wear. One option is to simply let people wear whatever they like, as long as it’s appropriate for the event.
If you want your staff to look more like a team, a little outfit coordination is necessary. You could choose a color for each day of the event, and ask booth staff to build their outfit for the day around the chosen color. For instance, everyone wears a blue shirt, but they choose the shade and the style of shirt. Another option is to use a website like Pinterest to create outfit boards to give staff ideas of the kinds of clothes to choose.
3. Use a strategy that combines aspects of #1 and #2.
Even if you’re fine with people wearing what they want, a little branding on event apparel goes a long way. It’s important that visitors can easily identify your booth staff, and wearing branded clothing helps. As an alternative to a staff uniform or branded polo shirt, consider a:
- Name tag
Something small like this adds visual information to whatever staff choose to wear without dominating their whole outfit.
Color-Coordinate with Your Brand—Not Against It
When choosing colors for your team to wear, you might think the best choice is your brand’s main company or logo color. But will this help your staff stand out or cause them to fade into the background of the booth?
If you’ve used your company colors as the theme for the booth itself, it may actually be better to choose contrasting colors for your staff to wear. They’ll look more dynamic and stand out more if you choose colors that pair well with the booth, but don’t blend into it.
Bonus Tips for Creating the Perfect Look
- Avoid wearing clothes that are too tight or too revealing.
- Don’t wear new shoes – Choose an older pair that look polished and professional but have already been broken in.
- Consider buying a pair of cushioned insoles for your shoes, for extra support and comfort.
- If you wear heels, choose a pair with a low heel-to-toe offset to minimize discomfort.
- Keep jewelry to a minimum, staying away from big or flashy.
- Many people are sensitive to fragrances, so avoid strong-smelling cologne or perfume.
- For those who wear makeup, bring a travel kit of supplies to the show, in case touch-ups are needed throughout the day.
Dress for Success!
The clothes themselves aren’t so much what matter: It’s the fact that your booth staff are tidy and well-presented. A team of polished, professional staff is a great representative for your brand. This approach ensures potential visitors are impressed before they even step foot inside.