Networking Lunches: What to Wear (If You Don’t Wear a Suit)

networking-lunch-attireWhat should you wear to lunch while you’re networking? Reader C wonders…

I work in Recruitment Marketing at a Big 4 firm. I like my job and what I’m doing but it’s time to start looking for a new job. As a part of the search, I’m going to be setting up networking meetings over coffee or lunch. I’ve found lots of dos and don’ts for how to set up the meetings, what to say or not to say, etc, but I’m having trouble finding advice about what to wear. I want to look professional, but a suit seems too formal. What should I wear?

Interesting question — we haven’t talked about what to wear to a networking lunch in a long while (although we did just talk about a fairly similar topic, what to wear to an alumni luncheon). I’m going to advise you to wear something I’m going to call Interview-Suit-Minus-One. I know, catchy.

Anyhoo, here’s the idea: An interview suit outfit would be a solid neutral suit like black, gray, or navy, paired with with something neutral like a white or light blue blouse. Wearing Interview-Suit-Minus-One means you change at least one thing in the lineup:

  • Instead of a neutral suit, wear a fun suit, such as the ones we often feature for Suit of the Week — it still says structured professional, but has more personality.
  • Or, instead of a neutral suit (jacket and bottom), wear your suit jacket with a dress (as in, one not made of a matching suiting fabric).
  • Or wear the suiting pants and a neutral top with a fun blazer such as a tweed or linen.
  • Alternately, instead of pairing a neutral top with your neutral suit, pair something fun with it — a black pants suit worn over a colorful pattern or print will read a lot less stuffy.
  • If you do decide to wear an overwhelmingly neutral outfit (black sheath dress, for example), I would encourage you to wear a statement necklace instead of pearls, or a fun pump (I do love a good purple pump) instead of black or nude-f0r-you pumps… but that’s me. (I feel like a bit of personality always helps with networking!)

I suppose my answer might change based on who you’re meeting with — more casual/personality for an old friend or colleague, more formal for a friend-of-a-friend (because you reflect both yourself as well as the person who introduced you, so you should err on the side of being more formal), more formal if there is an actual job opening that you have applied for (or will be applying for) and are networking to get more info on the job.

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If you’d like to pin this, here’s a handy graphic.  Pictured below:  Interview suit / Fun dressFun blazer / Fun suit / Neutral dress / Statement Necklace

Networking Lunch Attire (When You Don't Want to Wear a Suit) | Corporette

Readers, what do you wear for networking lunches? Does the answer vary based on who you’re meeting with, how you know them, and whether or not there is a possible job on the table? 


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  1. This is probably in line with what I’d wear to a networking lunch, but this is the way I dress for work generally. If your current job requires a formal suit and the lunch is during the work week, I say you wear the formal suit to lunch, but if the current job were super casual I’d dress it up in line with the above guidelines.

    On a side note, I don’t think the wrap dress would work with the blazer. The necklines might look awkward, and a bigger issue is the knot creating a lump under the blazer with the tails sticking out.

    • Hi there — Kat agrees with you about the combo, and she says that she wanted to grab a dress for the graphic that most women owned and that we’d featured recently. (She can’t choose a different image and switch it right now because she’s traveling.) That could be an interesting post of its own, though — what dresses look best with a blazer, and which necklines do you pair with which sorts of blazers? Thoughts? Thanks for reading!

      • Great idea! At the moment I’m wearing a Calvin Klein sheath dress today with an Olivia Moon blazer – the dress has a bit of a cowl neck and I don’t love it with the blazer. :/
        Also would be helpful to discuss blazer/cardi length.

      • Anonymous :

        I think scoop or boat neck dresses go well with blazers.

    • I have a print wrap dress that I wear all of the time with a black blazer at work. Instead of knotting it, I tie a crossover, then double back the ties and pin them on the inside of the other side. It winds up looking like a cool belt. You can also belt over the whole thing if you have a wide belt and small ties.

  2. I don’t think that the Gemma wrap really goes with the blazer. I’ve never figured out what a wrap dress goes with, but I think an open shorter and structured cardigan may be a better choice.

    And the other one of the suit with the lacy camisole (that would have been worn with tap pants on an episode of Dynasty), perhaps not a good pairing.

  3. Given these choices, I would wear the neutral dress, but without the “statement”. Unless you have terrible legs, I think it always is preferable to wear a simple dress, if not a suit, in order to impress. Any kind of pantsuit is so Hillary, and I would not want to appear as a matronly grandmother if I were networking for job opportunities. Of course, in a casual setting, any 70 year old grandmother would easily elect to wear fleece tights, but that is not what networking is all about.

    • Anonymous :

      I would pick powerful, confident pantsuit over lady-like dress for networking, personally.

      • Diana Barry :

        +1. If you are a similar age to Hillary and don’t want to appear as severe, that is one thing, but I usually wear pantsuits to work anyway.

        • I appreciate the pants-suits that are shared here -the divine is in the details- keep them coming!

          Skirts are in the wardrobe for more formal occasions, though I have worn a dressy pants suit to court.

    • I also would wear the dress. I do have nice leg’s, but evidntelly, that has NOT been enough to find a guy who is interested in MARRYING me. These day’s I realy am NOT sure exactly WHAT I need to network into a MARRAGE. FOOEY!!! Men want to sampel the good’s, but NOT buy the whole enchalda. I want the whole enhalada b/c am worth it, dad says and he is RIGHT! YAY!!!!!

    • I think it is always preferable to wear whatever makes you feel the most like kicking *ss and taking names, as long as it is within the bounds of appropriate-for-the-occasion. And I think pantsuit-wearing Hills would agree, and also wonder why you care so much about what she’s wearing?

      • She dresses like my husband (or at least she did in the pantsuit era): finds one thing she likes and buys it in every color. It didn’t help that her suits fit like Mom Jeans (but Mom Jeans were a thing then) and maybe she didn’t have the best shoe pairings (but if I were on my feet all day, I might do the same).

        Now, I knows she has an MZ Wallace Bea bag (which I covet), so she is stepping up her game.

        • Anonymous :

          Is she not also wearing suits with pants now? And her suits fit like Mom Jeans because the low rise (or even mid-rise) craze hadn’t happened yet, and that is typically where suit pants hit.

          I also don’t know why you are using 90s era suit fashion to judge the suitability of 2015 suits….

        • Sure but…why do you care so much about what she is wearing?

          • Pls consider :

            As Hillary Rodham Clinton said when asked what designers she wears, “Do you ask men these questions?”

          • I agree – can we just knock this OFF!

            Strong is the new “pretty” – She is a powerful woman, and has the ability to move proverbial mountains.

            Many, MANY of us want this for ability for women – without qualifiers – and if we disagree with the woman, we should keep our disagreement to points that are relevant to the rank and position that they hold, or aspire to.

            I wear pants suits because the president of my employer’s group is FAMOUS for walking fast, and I can do a better job of keeping up as we walk across campus, as everyone else can, if I can match his stride, and that means wearing pants, and reserving high-end heels for other occasions.

            Please do not attempt to shame anyone with irrelevant ad hominum attacks that don’t represent an actual political opinion. This is how many people subconsciously demote women and support male privilege.

  4. I think if you normally wear a suit to work, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t wear one to lunch with another professional who understands your current job.

    If you don’t normally wear a suit to work, then I would try to be somewhere between “business casual” and “suit.” So like a blouse, dress pants, and a jacket/blazer that looks good but that doesn’t necessarily match the pants exactly like a suit would.

    The way I normally create these outfits is to add 1 piece of color for every two neutrals. So if you have brown/tan pants and a tweed blazer, wear a bright top underneath. If you have black pants and a neutral top, wear a colorful blazer. Then only add another bright color (shoes, belt, bag, scarf, etc.) if you also add a neutral too. That way it looks colorful/bright without looking clownish.

  5. Can you post the details on the outfits? I would love to know where the tweed blazer and black pants are from. thx!

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