(Originally Posted in Blavity in September 2017)
The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference (CBCF ALC) starts tomorrow and if you don’t know what to wear then you have a problem. Because CBCF’s highly anticipated event is as much about what you get invited to and who you meet as it is what you wear.
This policy wonk meets HBCU homecoming. That's what CBCF ALC is.
What began nearly half a century ago as a small policy conference for Black elected officials has evolved into four or more (depending on who you ask) days of pure pomp and circumstance. Lavish parties and galas, whos-who receptions, movie screenings, and brunches mix with policy panels and town hall meetings. You never know who you are going to meet, share an elevator with, or take a shot with at the VIP open bar.
As a former Hill communications director, I know. Your style must always push through.
But, let’s be clear. This is DC. The labels aren’t as important; attendees aren’t regularly checking for designers. Style and attitude, however, are imperative.
No, the clothes don’t make you, but this week they could propel your career. So, whether you’ve got it like that and can run to the mall, or need to shop in your own closet, here are five style tips to keep in mind as you get fashionably ready for this year’s CBCF ALC.
1. Wear outfits that translate from office to evening
Most Hill staffers and/or office employees have this routine down; this tip is a must if you are going to catch $7 drinks at happy hour in DC. But, dressing from day to night becomes especially important during CBCF ALC. There can be more than three events on any given night starting as early as 5:30 pm. If you want to make rounds, going home to change is not an option.
Women – be prepared to switch out your modest low-heel pumps for stilettos, peep toes, or suede stunners. Wear a silk shell or form-fitting sheath dress that will shine on its own after you remove your cardigan or blazer. Throw jewelry in your bag: trendy gold or freshwater pearls work. You just need something to ensure your outfit pops.
Men – take advantage of your tie and handkerchief. Basic black or blue should be replaced by embellished fabrics, trendy patterns, bow ties, and/or colorful hues. Pack an extra shirt if you take the metro frequently and sweat. And, don’t forget to accessorize. Croc-rimmed or Malcolm X style glasses and flower lapel pins remain male professional trends.
2. Timeless pieces are the foundation for any sophisticated look
Whether a Ralph Lauren structured blazer, a Brooks Brothers suit or a genuine leather shoe, pull these items out during CBCF ALC. Get them professionally cleaned. Re-sew buttons on and get zippers stitched. Timeless fashion will always help create the best Instagram photos. The light picks them up in a way that creates shadows on less expensive pieces.
CBCF ALC is the time to cash in on your fashion investments. Take them out; they will shine.
3. Stand out with a statement piece
A statement piece looks different on everyone but yields the same result: star power. The blazer mixed with crushed velvet and leather lapels. The pumps in bright royal blue suede. The novelty business card holder: bedazzled to the gods or an unexpected mini briefcase. All of these will make you stand out. Even more importantly, these items are conversation starters. In other words, a shy person’s secret weapon.
“Where did you get that?” will be followed by “where do you work,” “who do you work for,” or “what do you do.” Statement pieces make networking easy and provide instant style.
Use them wisely and be prepared for compliments all night long.
4. Don’t confuse reception attire with your Freak-um Dress
Have you ever been to a work event and asked yourself, “did she really wear that to work or did she just decide to show her butt cheeks to us?” “Are fitted tees and jeans the new normal in the office or did he change 20 minutes ago?”
No matter which reception, day of the week, or time of day, there are always a few attendees who inspire the questions above. Don’t. Be. That. Person. CBCF ALC attracts people of all ages, walks of life, and professions. There’s no need to over (or under) do it.
Research the event before you go, and when in doubt, think of Auntie Maxine. What would she think of your outfit?
5. Have your formal wear on standby
Part of the joy of the CBCF ALC can be not knowing what’s happening next, where you will end up, or what you will be invited to. A Phoenix gala ticket could come through two hours before the event. The same is true for afterglows, state-sponsored parties, and rooftop soirees. So, have your finest ready. Sometimes a statement piece is not enough unless its hem reaches the floor. A Brooks Brothers suit sometimes must be a tux and pumps should be strappy.
For those who don’t wear these ‘fancy’ items often: try the ones in your closet on today! Last minute changes can happen but you want to be prepared. And, if needed, there are several online services that can get you something right away!
At the end of the day, declining an invite to a coveted affair this week is practically sacrilegious. Prevent committing a sin by using these style tips. Used in part, or together, they will get you ready for the Blackest policy event of the year.