Whether you like it or not, your clothes are part of your presentation at a speech tournament.
Take it from someone who wore a couple very unfortunate ensembles during her first month of competition before she noticed everyone else was wearing black business suits: your judges definitely notice what you wear, and the truth of the matter is that it definitely plays a part in how the majority of your judges will rank you. They would never dream of admitting it, they might not write about it on your ballot, and they probably aren’t even aware that they noticed your wrinkled shirt or the hair falling in front of your eyes, but they are subconsciously certain that something about your performance was somehow less spectacular than that of your opponent – who happened to be wearing the classic charcoal gray suit and tie.
Your appearance should never be the main focus of your preparation for a tournament. Always spend plenty of time developing your characters, studying your evidence for debate, and shaping up your speaking skills. But remember that your job at a speech tournament is to make sure that your audience stays focused on the quality of your preparation and your performance -- and if you look disheveled, it will distract from your hard work. The idea here is to look professional and put together. Do not go out and buy a three-piece suit from The Limited or spend $200 on a pair of shoes so you can be ready for the tournament. That is not what dressing for a speech tournament is about! You don't need to spend a ton of money; you just need to come across as a well-groomed person. This means: Take a shower. Clean yourself. And try to choose an outfit that is simple, polished and professional. If you're low on cash and you don't have anything that meets the requirements for your district, you can always find great dress clothes at thrift stores if you know where to look.
This is not the end-all-be-all of speech tournament dress code rules, but it is a set of guidelines to consider when you’re trying to decide on your performance ensemble.
What Not To Wear:
1. Casual/night out attire. It’s a sign of disrespect when you show up to a round looking like you could just as easily be running out to go to a movie with your friends. This means that when you’re choosing your clothes for a speech tournament, your fingers should not even graze anything denim, sequined, or transparent. This also means no spaghetti straps, strapless tops, T-shirts, or shorts. Also, no shirts with an image of a shirt and tie on them, ever. If you wear any of these things, you will embarrass yourself and your team.
2. Inappropriate footwear. No tennis shoes, no flip flops, no sandals.
3. Black tie. Tuxedos and formal gowns have their place, but not at a speech and debate competition.
4. Crazy. Furry shoes, cowboy hats, Flashy jewelry (especially dangling earrings, which move when you speak), sunglasses, giant pendants and pins (It’s fine that you support a cause, but if you have any enormous pendants or pins, you should take them off before you perform) or brightly colored suspenders.
5. Wild makeup. Natural makeup is best for a speech tournament; your audience needs to be paying attention to your performance, not your sparkly green eyeshadow and Bond-girl eyeliner.
Also, don’t wear something that makes it impossible for you to move around, especially if you are competing in H.I. or Duet Acting. You should always try to be comfortable, and if your jacket restricts the movement of your arms, you should just look for a larger jacket or leave it on your chair when you stand up to perform during a round. If you are not wearing a jacket and your shirt is long, though, it should be tucked in and worn with a belt.
What To Wear:
1. A business suit. It’s obvious, I know, but slacks and a matching jacket, either in black, gray, or navy, is the standard dress code at speech tournaments. If you have a suit, pair it with a shirt, tie and dress shoes. Most competitors wear the same suit both days and just switch out the shirts. Girls can wear skirt suits, but in most districts there is a dress code, and you can actually be penalized if your skirt is too short. Knee length or longer, ladies.
2. Business casual. If you don’t have a suit, that’s fine – it is not required. Instead of suits, guys often wear khakis and blazers or even just shirts and ties with slacks. Girls wear classic button-down shirts with a nice skirt. Turtlenecks, sweaters, cardigans, sports coats and even vests (within reason) are generally acceptable attire. Just do your best to look professional.
3. A tie. If you’re a guy and you’re at a speech tournament, you should be wearing a tie. No exceptions, even if the only one you have on hand is covered with the Tabasco logo. Sorry.
4. Hair pulled back. If you have bangs or hair falling into your face during a round, it will distract your audience – and you! – from your act. Secure it away from your face.
5. Nice shoes. Wear dress shoes if you have them. I love cowboy boots and Chucks, but I would never wear them to a speech tournament. Just a pair of brown or black dress shoes is fine, and most people wear the same shoes on both days. Heels are good, but not necessary.
Expression is an important part of speech and debate, but you should allow the focus to remain on your words rather than your rocking outfit. Your clothes should be just another example for your audience that you actually put thought into presenting yourself well and doing your best.