The Lists

How To Look Smart at This Year’s CES

Las Vegas plus a lot of walking plus the presence of people you work with plus the tech elite in the house equals a very hard equation to solve when deciding on proper attire. That’s the fashion conundrum of the attendees at this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The annual event, held January 5-8 this year, draws 100,000+ attendees and 50,000+ exhibitors from all over the world and all corners of tech, marketing, and entertainment.

We’re not saying that what you wear to the CES is a make-or-break career decision for you. We’re just saying that you have about 10 seconds (according to Malcolm Gladwell, at least) in which to make a good impression on people for whom you already work or who you may someday hope to. Surrounded by a sea of other people and bright shining blinking lights. So no pressure. You got this.

But just in case you have a bit of trepidation, here’s how we at Dandelion Chandelier would address this fashion challenge.

First: Vegas. The current weather forecast for the four-day event is highs in the mid-50s with a chance of rain on three out of the four days. Seriously, could they make this any harder? Rain in the desert? Good for the drought, very bad for shoe options. Vegas is all about glitter, feathers, and bold colors. Hold that thought while we consider the other variables in this equation.

Second, lots of walking and standing. Like most trade shows, the CES demands a great deal of time on your feet – waiting in line, traversing a huge convention center or hotel, hitching up to the bar at the end of the day. You know the drill. That means comfort is mandatory. You need to be able to walk quickly and with confidence.

Third, the presence of people from work, or clients, or prospective employers. Depending on your profession, in the office you might normally wear a razor-sharp suit and well-polished leather shoes. Or jeans and a hoodie. We think aiming for the middle ground between those two extremes is an excellent idea on this occasion. Smart casual is your friend.

Finally, this is a tech crowd event. The technocracy is known for its intellectual brilliance, but generally not for its sartorial savior-faire. Here’s your chance to stand out – looking effortlessly smart can’t hurt, and it might elevate your social currency if you really nail it. We also think that attire for a tech gathering should evoke machinery, lightning, electrical current, and the future.

Ready? Let’s solve the puzzle.

Your go-to style for this event should be crisp, modern, and refined, with just a touch of quirkiness. Your color palette? White; silver; grey; navy and black, with a pop of electric blue, neon green or acid yellow. You could swap out the green and yellow for orange if it suits you.

Why is this the correct answer? Because in a sea of light, noise, booths full of salespeople clamoring for attention, thousands of attendees with questionable taste and Vegas-level over-the-top-embellishment the norm, the way to look smart is minimalist geek chicNothead-to-toe print-crazy geek chic as fever-dreamed by Gucci’s Alessandro Michele. Minimalist. Even if this isn’t your normal look, we suggest that you rock it here. Your style icons? Jenna Lyons; Tilda Swinton; English rapper Tinie Tempah; Moonlight’s director Barry Jenkins and its star Mahershala Ali; Eddie Redmayne; and Benedict Cumberbatch (circa Dr. Strange).

Specifics, you say? Every smart look begins with the shoes. If you get them right you’re more than halfway there. So we suggest chic designer sneakers for both boys and girls:

–For men, go with black leather sneakers from Prada, Valentino, or Berluti; or white leather Stan Smiths from Adidas; or anything from Gucci. One of our male Style Council members is known to rock bright lime green Nikes with a well-tailored dark sport coat, and it totally works.

–For women, personally we’d get a little crazy and wear white or black Fendi high-tops with poofs of fur or monster eyes. But you could also wear metallic silver Louis Vuitton sneakers; or white ones from Gucci; or black ones from Chanel.

–Basically, for footwear you want either bold color or pristine white or black; or shine; extra points for humor, whimsy and geekiness.

–Don’t like sneakers? You could also go with combat boots, Wellies, loafers or chic flats. But no sandals. Please, we beg of you, no sandals.

–Remember, it’s going to be raining. So no suede!

If your shoes are going to be noisy, then your pants have to be extremely quiet. For guys, a dark-washed well-fitting pair of jeans would work well. Or slim twill trousers. Not wool – it’s going to be too hot for that. Fitted designer sweat pants might be on fleek (just don’t go all M.C. Hammer – they need to fit well, and not look sloppy). Go with black, grey or navy; you need a neutral to show off your cool shoes.

Up top, for men we think the cool-kid vibe that works best is a slim-fitting fine-gauge cashmere sweater or a refined polo shirt. Promise us that you will upgrade from a T-shirt. And lose the hoodie and/or the plaid flannel shirt for this event – you can do better than that. Your sweater could be a neutral, or a bold solid color; zip-front, V-neck or crew neck. There are some very funny statement sweaters that will spark conversation (just don’t let the sweater fight with your shoes). You could make it pop with a crisp white collared shirt underneath. Given that it’s Vegas, and tech, you probably don’t need a blazer. You could wear one, or you could just go with some cool neckwear – a knit tie under your V-neck sweater, perhaps. Some dudes can even rock a fedora, but that’s advanced fashion and not something you should try for the first time here. No shorts. Just don’t.

For women, depending on the footwear you pick, we suggest dark-washed jeans, a knee-length pencil skirt, or a pleated A-line skirt. Legging are fine, too, as long as they’re a dark color and your rear is covered (this is still the workplace, ladies). For tops, we’d layer a fitted lightweight T-shirt or a slim fine gauge cashmere sweater under a lightweight, light-colored leather jacket (not black – this is Vegas, you want desert-friendly colors). Like the boys’, your top can also sport an inside joke (scientific or literary) as long as it doesn’t overpower your look. Toss on a feather-weight scarf, or some fun earrings, but balance it all so that you’re wearing one statement piece, not three.

On the accessories front, geeky-chic glasses would be excellent for all – they can be non-prescription or even sunglasses (yes, even if it’s raining, you can still wear sunglasses indoors or out). Our Style Manual says that only one wearable wrist device is allowed, so choose carefully: we’re planning to wear a Hublot Big Bang Titanium Tourbillon, a sleek old-school watch with a transparent face (so the intricate inner mechanical workings are revealed), but it’s your call.

Don’t bring an overcoat – you won’t need it, and you don’t want to disappear for hours into the quagmire that is the coat check.

What to carry? You need something to elegantly hold all that swag.  We’re all in luck – this season there are so many excellent backpacks that you just need to pick one. You could go for minimalist leather, or rock-studded, or color-blocked, or faux fur. As long as you keep your look balanced and stay in the recommended color palette, any of those could work. Women could certainly also carry an LV “never-full” or a Goyard shopper – but when in tech land, we’d go with a backpack. You could wear the official CES-logo’d one, but why? Everyone knows that you’re at the CES – save that to wear when you get home.

The badges at these kinds of events get us totally crazy. You have wear an ID badge, but sometimes the lanyard is a horrible color, or made of cheap fabric – when we can, we attach it insouciantly to a belt loop, or to the outside of our backpack – anything to avoid that “I’m in middle management in the IT department” look.

What other style rules should you be following? Keep your hair and make-up simple and natural. Everything you choose should be made of quality fabrics – especially your shoes and your blazer if you opt for one. Everything has to fit properly (if you don’t have a tailor, stop reading this immediately and go find a good one). If you have to scrimp on quality, do it with the jeans, but try hard to be sure they fit perfectly. Ditto your sweater or shirt – there are some great-looking cashmere sweaters on the market that won’t bankrupt you. Never show up with a cheap bag – people can spot that a mile away. Invest in something you love and really use it. Don’t over-accessorize – it makes you look as if you’re trying too hard. And don’t be a pack-mule – more than one bag is just not a good look for anyone.

See? Simple, right? “Modern Poindexter” is a look that anyone can pull off with a little effort and some wry humor. It’s easy to pack, and there’s no need to check a bag at the airport. And once you’re dressed in the morning, your clothes will fade from your mind, and you can spend your energy being smart on substance. Since you’ll clearly already have mastered smart style.