What to Wear to Give a Speech: Women’s Edition

March 15, 2024

The last thing you want to worry about when you’re heading into a presentation is what you’re wearing.

Giving a speech to an audience is exciting, but it’s also nerve-wracking. You want to know your talking points and reach your audience. 

You don’t want to be pulling at your outfit or second-guessing your clothing choices on top of that.

Keep reading for Next Level Wardrobe’s stylist-approved tips on what to wear to give a speech, in-person or virtually.

What is the Proper Attire for Giving a Speech?

The proper attire for giving a speech is an outfit that is professional, polished, comfortable, and represents who you are.

We recommend going for more conservative necklines and lengths and being intentional with what colors, patterns, or accents you incorporate. Remember, the right outfit makes you feel confident and doesn’t distract from your message.

So is there a specific list of clothes that every woman should wear when giving a speech? 


For some, the best presentation clothes for ladies are a powerful pantsuit and heels. For others, it’s a modest dress and boots. There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. 

But there are a few guidelines you can follow to look and feel your best while speaking in public.

How To Find Your Presentation Outfit in 3 Questions

To find the perfect presentation outfit for you, ask yourself the following three questions:

  1. What is your personal brand?
  2. What do you want to communicate with your style?
  3. Can color help convey your message?

Let’s explore each of these together.

1. What Is Your Personal Brand?

Everyone has a personal brand. You don’t have to be at the top of Forbes’ CEO lists or a major celebrity.

Your brand is another way of saying, “Who are you and what do you want others to think about you?” 

It covers everything from how you walk into a room to how you dress, and even what scent you wear. 

You want to ensure that what you’re saying with your outfit aligns with your personal brand.

For instance, if you’re a corporate executive, a sharp, professional suit presents a clear, unified message.

If you’re a food blogger, on the other hand, wearing a suit would feel overly formal and out of place.

So when you’re picking out speech outfits, ask yourself, “Does this outfit line up with my personal brand? Does it back up what I’m saying?”

2. What Do You Want To Communicate With Your Style?

Do you want to convey a sense of authority with your outfit?

Or do you want to put your audience at ease with a more laid-back look?

What you want to say with your style determines if you should go more formal or relaxed with your ensemble.

Consider your audience as well. Are you speaking to a group of young female entrepreneurs, or an audience of older, mostly male executives?

  • For traditional or formal events, go with a more structured, classical look. The same goes for if your audience leans older and you want to fit in.
  • For more modern, younger-skewing audiences and events, you can incorporate more trend-aware touches or more laid-back silhouettes.

3. Can Color Help Convey Your Message?

We’ve seen a lot of talk online in recent years about color theory and its power over your wardrobe. There’s a whole world of color analysts who swear that finding the exact “season” for your skin tone is the holy grail of dressing well.

To be fair, we know there’s a lot of science out there on color psychology

Like why a lot of fast-food restaurants use rich shades of red and yellow in their signs and buildings. Or how blue paint on a wall can help you feel calm.

And we won’t deny that different colors say different things. For example, a black suit generally reads as more formal and serious than a navy blue suit. 

However, we think a lot of this is overcomplicated and not worth it in the long run. We don’t believe that certain colors are “off-limits” to some people. 

And we definitely don’t think you should waste time stressing about what exact shade a TikTok color analyst told you to wear instead of focusing on what you’re actually going to say in your presentation.

So what’s our take? Use color wisely.

  1. Core colors
    Most of the clothes in your closet should fall under the core color category. This includes classic neutrals like black, white, navy, and gray. These go with most dress codes and you’ll easily find businesswear in these shades. 
  1. Tonal colors
    The second biggest portion of your wardrobe should be tonal colors such as shades and variations on core colors and other neutrals. Then the final, smallest section of your clothing should be seasonal colors and patterns.
  2. Bold colors and prints
    Use bold colors and prints sparingly. Save them for presentations in less conservative settings or industries like art, entertainment, or media. 

3 Things You Should Not Wear to a Speech

Now that you know what to wear when giving a speech, let’s get into what not to wear.

  1. Don’t wear ripped or distressed garments

Ripped or distressed garments immediately signal that what you’re wearing is either trendy or sloppy. 

Neither of these are adjectives you want used to describe you if you’re giving a professional speech. 

Stick to solid, timeless pieces. These options suit more professional environments and dress codes. Plus, if you’re going to be photographed, you want your outfit to stand the test of time. 

  1. Don’t show too much skin

We’re all for embracing your features and self-expression. But the reality is, showing too much skin doesn’t read as professional.

Especially in more old-school, conservative industries like finance, law, and politics. And, especially if you’re an executive, CEO, or trying to work your way up the corporate ladder.

The safest bet is to dress on the conservative side. Keep hemlines longer than your knee, cover your shoulders, and avoid low-cut tops.

  1. Avoid anything that makes noise

Noisy clothes and accessories can be just as distracting as ripped clothes and showing too much skin.

Jingling jewelry and squeaky shoes can make it hard for audiences to hear what you’re saying.

To avoid this, do an outfit test run before your big event. Try on your entire outfit from head to toe, accessories included. Make sure you won’t have a bangle banging against your microphone or squeaky leather pants rubbing against your seat.

3 Real-Life Examples of What a Woman Should Wear to a Presentation

Let’s put together all of our advice on what to wear to a presentation together. Here are three real-life examples of speech outfits for different occasions to inspire your look.

1. Speech Outfits for a Virtual Event

Though it’s tempting to wear yoga pants for your virtual speech — after all, no one will see them! — we recommend avoiding “above the keyboard dressing.”

Numerous studies have shown that dressing for success has a big impact on our self-confidence.

Even if your audience doesn’t know if you’re wearing sweatpants or trousers, you’ll feel the difference!

Instead, take notes from the CEO of Chanel, Leena Nair pictured above. She may be speaking over a webcam, but she’s still fully dressed. 

She’s also kept her background neutral and her outfit simple so the focus is on her and what she’s saying.

2. Ted Talk Outfits- In-Person Event

Need Ted Talk outfits for an upcoming keynote? 

For an on-stage, in-person event, we recommend something like what Melinda Gates is wearing above. Why does this look work?

  1. It’s conservative.
    The high neckline, long hem, and half sleeves on her dress keep her looking polished yet feminine. 
  2. It’s a “one-and-done” outfit formula.
    She’s wearing the same color from head to toe for an ensemble that’s easy to put together but looks chic. 

The final reason why this look works is that it’s simple and unfussy. You don’t see over-the-top jewelry that could get in the way of her talking, and the dress is easy to sit in. 

3. Speech Style- In Person Event

A last approach is for an in-person event. Check out this structured pantsuit worn by Alissa of Stylish Curves.

The structured style keeps this presentation outfit polished and simple. It’ll look nice when you sit or as you walk on stage.

The print and playful (but selective) accessories also add personality and accent her personal brand. This is a great example of how to add trend-aware touches to your speech outfits without going overboard.

Dress for Success at Your Next Speaking Engagement

Ready to exude confidence at your next public speaking engagement? Apply for Next Level Wardrobe’s Women’s Styling Services. We’ll help you uncover your brand through style and simplify how you shop for good.

About the Author - Cassandra Sethi
About the Author - Cassandra Sethi

Personal Stylist & Image Consultant

Cassandra Sethi is a Personal Stylist and Founder of Next Level Wardrobe, a luxury Personal Styling and Shopping Service that helps successful professionals of all ages and sizes. After working in the fashion industry for over 25 years, she used her expert knowledge to create a proprietary styling system called ‘The Next Level Wardrobe Style System' which guarantees clients more outfits with less items in their closet. NLW has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Tamron Hall Show, NY Mag, Huffington Post and more.

*Disclosure: Next Level Wardrobe only recommends products that we’d suggest to our clients or personally wear ourselves. All opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, Next Level Wardrobe may earn a small commission. Read the full privacy policy here.

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Cassandra Sethi

is a NYC Personal Stylist and Image Consultant. She is the Founder of Next Level Wardrobe and 'The NLW Style System' that guarantees clients more outfits with less items.

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