Trade Show TalesBlog

What Not to Wear (at a Trade Show)

January 31st, 2013 23 COMMENTS
What Not to Wear (at a Trade Show)

What Not to Wear (at a Trade Show)

No blog post over the past three years has gotten more hits on Google or more comments than this one. In fact, it’s not even close. We’re not shy about recycling, even when it comes to content. Enjoy.

I’m no fashion expert. The yellow sweater I wear all winter is a dead giveaway. But you don’t have to be a member of the fashion police to spot these faux pas. Wear what you want if you’re an attendee, but as an exhibitor, you may want to consider these suggestions.


  • New Shoes – Who hasn’t made this mistake and regretted it? After all, you want to look your best so you purchase new shoes. They look great, but they hurt like hell after Day 1. By Day 3, your blisters have blisters. Shoe Rule #2 – Take a little initiative sport and shine those puppies. Or at least get them shined at the airport while you’re waiting for your plane. It’s cheap even with a generous tip. Shoe Rule #3 – The belt is supposed to match the shoes guys! A brown belt with black shoes? Your mother would be appalled.
  • Golf Clothing – Here’s the easy way to decide on golf clothing. If it looks great on the golf course, it looks silly at a trade show. I don’t care if it’s the latest high-tech, super-duper sweat-wicking material. It’s still golf clothing. Now there are exceptions to every rule, such as a sports-related show, but in general, just remember there’s a reason why Fortune 500 executives don’t wear golf shirts and slacks to negotiate multi-million dollar deals.
  • Slacks — If your pants have a drawstring and elastic ankle cuffs, DON”T WEAR THEM. You can pretend they’re fashion fleece or casual Sansabelt pants all you want. Everyone else knows they’re sweats.
  • Slacks (cont.) – We all pretend we haven’t gained weight. But we have. Don’t wait until 7 am on the first day of the show to discover your pants don’t fit or they have that telltale “V” pucker between the waist and zipper. Unless I missed something important in Biology class, blood flow is important.


  • Shoes – For some reason, which I’ll never fully understand, women love to punish themselves. Even more than men, they wear new shoes to the show, and then do the unthinkable by wearing high heels with pointy toes. Ladies, and I say this with all seriousness, you’re beautiful. High heel shoes do not make you more beautiful. If you are angling for a freak with a high heal foot fetish, take out a personal ad (SWF seeks MHHFFF).
  • Pantyhose – Another medieval torture device invented to punish women.
  • Perfume/CologneDo you remember the dirt cloud that surrounded Pigpen in the Peanuts cartoon? Some women (and some men) wear the fragrance equivalent by dousing themselves in perfume. Perfume should be alluring, not painful. Here’s a tip for applying the proper amount:  rub on only one free sample from the magazine.
  • Undies – Let’s just say that if you feel the need to make “adjustments” more than twice a day, you are probably wearing the wrong underwear.
  • Earrings – I’m going to catch some heat on this one. Let me be clear. Earrings are fine, but if your ears look like a Claire’s Accessories rack, you may want to remove 6-8 pairs. Lips, tongue, nose, eyebrow, and skull piercings are a matter of personal preference, corporate policy, and cult affiliation.
  • Pockets – Just the opposite actually. Men always have pockets. As an exhibitor, you need pockets for business cards, pens, trinkets, breath mints, etc. I’m not talking about a safari jacket with 37 pockets, but a dress jacket or skirt with two pockets will make your life much easier in the booth.

My sincere thanks to the fashion forward exhibitors for their suggestions, some of which cannot be printed without an R or X rating. Suffice to say that the term “cleavage” was a contentious topic between men and women.

What did we miss? Add your “What Not to Wear” suggestions and comments .

–Mel White

Additional Articles:

What Smells? The Top 10 Trade Show Odors
Love on Aisle #600 — Trade Shows and Events
Trade Shows as First Dates

Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100 or



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23 Responses to “What Not to Wear (at a Trade Show)”

  1. mel says:

    Hi Jane–

    MHHFFF . . . Male with High Heel Foot Fetish (Freak).

    Male cleavage? . . . Thanks for that disturbing image on a Monday morning. Kramer and Mr. Costanza would be proud.


  2. Ok – What does MHHFFF stand for? And concerning cleavage, was that cleavage on men or women?

  3. Denise Hinton says:

    More on undies: underwear should not show through your clothing. A black or animal print bra under a sheer blouse might be okay at a night club but it’s not okay in the booth.
    Skirts: they need to cover most of your lower half, especially if you need to bend over to pick something up. Better idea, wear pants. I vote no on cleavage for women and for men (plumber’s crack).

  4. JoAnn says:

    I think we should add on their proper attire for install and dismantle…..

  5. Dave Ryder says:

    While I agree with nearly everything here, I can also say it is critical to dress professionally. Frankly, I prefer to talk to someone who is selling and representing his/her company who is a little over-dressed because the norm seems to be dressing (as an exhibitor) for comfort and not for style or professionalism. I nearly always approach a booth, whether I need the services or products or not, if I believe that the person may be a professional contact for future business transactions. If I don’t need the promotional products today, perhaps sometime I will and if the representative is professionally attired and coiffed, there is nearly a 100% chance I will stop. This is even more important if I have paid to enter the show or attend the conference. As a client attending a trade show, the same is true. I always wear a suit or at least a very nice sport coat and slacks because I am representing my company’s credibility to the sellers. It is a two-way street and while the saying “the clothes don’t make the man” has achieved cliche’ status, clothes nonetheless make the image and send a very valuable message. Exhibitors will spend more time with me if I am professionally dressed. Thanks for publishing this.

  6. Lori says:

    Okay come on… if your going to hit the girls about our underwear then you must mention to the men not to adjust body parts below the waist while chatting with us. Scratching and shifting is not really attractive either.

    Not really fashion.. but very unfashionable…..
    I can’t tell you how many guys have picked their nose right in front of me as well as used their pen to clean our their ears while we’re talking…..

  7. Candy Adams says:

    My pet peeve is exhibit staff who wear shirts that SHOULD have been ironed — but weren’t. They look about as attractive as an unmade bed, and professionalism and company image just went out the window.

    Regardless of how “casual” you dress for work on a daily basis, PLEASE either send your shirts out to be pressed for the show, or do it in your hotel room.

    I even pack a small hand-held clothing steamer and a heavy-duty wooden clothes hanger in my gang box — they don’t call me The Booth Mom for nothing!!

    Candy Adams, CTSM, CME, CEM, CMP, CMM
    a.k.a. “The Booth Mom®”

  8. mel says:

    You won’t get an argument from me, Lori. Although I’m not sure how I’m going to get those three images out of my head.

    Very funny and oh so disturbing.

  9. Horst says:

    As I am doing business in Europe and the US, I see the huge gap between those, especially German exhibitors, who dress like they are going to a funeral, (black suit and tie), and the Americans, wearing poloshirts with company logo.

    How do you guys feel about this German overkill, does that appeal to you, or do you think this overdress is inapropriate for a tradeshow?

  10. I’m completely in agreement with the idea of representing your company professionally. Some attendee’s prefer to talk to someone with khaki’s and a polo shirt because they are more approachable then the guys in the booth who are wearing the black suit and tie. Some others prefer to talk to the guys in the black suits…

    I think a lot of what people wear needs to be adjusted when you figure out who the attendee is. If you’re going to a show where there will be a younger attendee or “blue collar” workers, you may want to go with a more casual outfit, but if you’re going to a show where most of the attendees are “white collar” workers or people who are higher up on the food chain, well, the suit and tie maybe the way to go. Investigate your audience THEN decide what to wear… This is not said to be prejudicial but the more you know about who you’re attendee is, the more prepared you can be. But as the list suggests, don’t wear new shoes, don’t “adjust” in the booth, be smart with your attire, comfortable, clean AND non-odorous!

  11. Molly Abel says:

    I couldn’t agree more on the golf clothing! Perhaps people believe that because they play a popular game that many executives play, they somehow magically assume the qualities of professionalism and success, and wearing golf attire lets everyone know this…? To me, it just looks silly.

  12. I think (assuming professionalism is demonstrated) the most important thing is the ability to easily find the person in the booth who “works there”. Whether it is logo apparel, consistent dress, or a custom badge (not the show issued one) an attendee wants to find someone that can help them, and to see as they pass by if someone is available before they step in the booth.

    At a recent show I had an attendee come up to me three different times (in differeent booths) to ask me a question about the exhibitor’s product. It was kind of like going to Macy’s wearing black. People get annoyed when they can’t find someone to help them. Granted, Vegas cocktail waitress dress would be innapporpriate at Chuck E Cheeese, but the ability to spot a server easily is what people want.

  13. Micki says:

    And guys~ if you bought a last minute button down in the airport, at the very least, iron it. You look like you can’t dress yourself, let alone close a deal, when you have creases and fold marks all over your torso. I still giggle every time I see this.

  14. Ray says:

    What should you wear to a virtual trade show?

  15. As both a trade show trainer and image consultant, this subject is definitely a hot button for me! Too many exhibitors look disheveled and unprofessional, creating a poor impression for their company. A good rule of thumb is to consider the personality of your company and who your target audience is, then dress accordingly. For example, if you sell a fun or kid-oriented product you’d look out of place in a suit. But if you sell high-dollar items, you probably won’t get far in a Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts. Logowear is popular now, but even with that you have numerous degrees of professional dress to choose from.

    Oh, and by the way, regarding perfume … less is always better. In fact, with so many people who are allergic these days, you’re running a risk of alienating someone the minute they approach your booth.

    Great article, Mel!

    Marlys Arnold, ImageSpecialist

  16. Drew Goodall says:

    If, you could all please wear shinable shoes please so we can clean them at the show! Will put us out of business otherwise!

  17. Kelly Steitz says:

    You’re taking all of the fun out of tradeshows! If everyone was professional and put together, what would be our source of entertainment during the slow periods?

  18. mel says:


    I only wish I had the power and influence to affect those changes. Heck, I’d be asking for global peace and the end to hunger and disease next. Or should I ask for those first?

    Thanks for the comment.


  19. Billy says:

    How do you feel about designer brand dress shirts with company logo? A sort of high-end fashion statement, with logo for a technology based show?

    Maybe a nice Gucci or D& G dress shirt with dress pants and a company logo on left chest?

  20. mel says:


    Great idea. Professional, tactful, and appropriate.

  21. Justine says:

    As a younger professional, I think it works to my advantage to dress a little more formally. It helps me to convey that I am a decision maker and as worthwhile to speak to as some of my older colleagues.

  22. JZ says:

    BLahahah! Mel – I love this article! So very true about the mens shoes! Buy your new shoes for Exhibitor Show now so that they are broken in by March!

    Also- The women’s undies topic?? That was a bold topic and you addressed it nicely!

    See you in March!


  23. Sarah says:

    I’m about attend my first trade show and this article was very helpful, thank you! I also I thought you also might be interested in this infographic I found on trade show booth etiquette:

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