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It’s that time of year again: the annual convening of the World Economic Forum kicks off in Davos, Switzerland soon. If you don’t already have an email in-box full of party invitations, you should definitely start working the phones right now. If your diary is already full, then your challenge is what to bring with you. Need to know how to pack for Davos? Here’s the truth about what insiders wear at the WEF. 

How to pack for Davos, you ask?

For you popular kids who already have a full dance card for the annual gathering of the great and the good in Davos, it’s time to start packing.

How to pack for Davos and the truth about what insiders wear at the WEF

How to pack for Davos and the truth about what insiders wear at the WEF.

Having attended this event for five years in a row, we here at Dandelion Chandelier thought that it might be useful to share some inside tips on how to dress in order to manage the Herculean task of packing efficiently.

If you follow some simple rules, we guarantee that you’ll be both well-dressed and able to avoid checking a bag at the airport (we’ve seen people arrive at the terminal headed for the WEF with steamer trunks as large as the ones people used to take on the Grand Tour; you don’t have to be that person).

How to pack for Davos and the truth about what insiders wear at the WEF.

And BTW, we hear some of you saying “who cares what you wear? Davos is about ideas! To which we say: if you can minimize the hassles of moving around on icy streets and sidewalks, avoid ruining your shoes, feel comfortable and confident, and not be weighed down by too much “stuff,” then your mind will be free to think big thoughts.

Nail the quotidian details, and you’ll maximize the odds that you’ll come across as smart in every way.

the truth about what insiders wear at the WEF

1. The first thing to remember (or to learn, if you’re going for the first time) is that it is extremely hard to get around town.

Why? First, the sidewalks are highly likely to be covered in ice (there is no salt allowed in Davos, sand only goes so far, and some shop owners are scrupulous about shoveling, and some are not).

Add to that the formidable inclines or descents you’ll face once you leave the main thoroughfare to enter many of the venues in use.

Finally, many of the streets are poorly marked. On our first night ever at Davos, we exited the Congress Center and walked for 15 minutes under a beautiful moonlit sky before realizing we were heading away from – not toward – our hotel. Seeking guidance, we learned that the young security officers who are shipped into town just for this event are adorable, but their English is a bit rough, and they didn’t know Davos any better than we did. It was their first time there, too.

What does this mean for you?

Durable, waterproof, reasonably good-looking boots are a must.

Trust us on this: you’ll be walking a lot (the traffic is so bad, you won’t want a car and driver, even if one is available to you) and you won’t want to schlep around a change of shoes. So wear boots that will take you everywhere you need to go.

Still not convinced? In recent years, the WEF has been charging an extra fee at the coat check for those who wear boots and then want to switch into high heels and check their outdoor footwear. At $5 a pop, you will be extremely resentful by the end of the week if you do this.

Listen to our words: wear chic boots and don’t try to change your shoes every time you come indoors.

The good news is that you can find such footwear quite easily right now.

You could hit the shoe department at Bergdorf’s – but you could also hit the Ugg store. Say what, you say? Yes, the Ugg store! The brand has really stepped up its style game this season, and its stores are currently full of chic comfortable winter boots that are Davos-perfect.

FYI, the one exception to this footwear rule seems to be Eastern European and Russian women, who apparently will not abandon their 6-inch stilettos for any reason. Every year we see a couple of them clad in fur coats and Louboutin pumps, effortlessly clambering over ice and snow drifts with designer bags on their shoulders (and sometimes a cigarette in their hands).

To these women, we just say: “Wow. We really wish we knew how to do that.”

2. The second thing to know is that you should leave your overcoat at home (or at your hotel) unless you enjoy standing in line.

Every single venue at Davos, including every hotel, has tight security – magnetometers, multiple security people, sometimes even dogs – so you’ll constantly be taking your coat on and off. The wait at the coat check lines can be truly interminable, and the amount of time you’ll spend outdoors is not all that great (unless you get lost, like we did). Davos is not that large, and almost everything is a 10-minute walk from everything else.

Our advice is to layer up as if you’re going skiing: a good thermal base layer will keep you from needing a coat.

Other outerwear tips? It’s going to be cold

Cold enough that you’re going to want a hat and gloves, and possibly a warm scarf. But you’ll need to stash them in your bag once you get inside. Pack a stylish knit cap (or earmuffs), a wool scarf, and leather gloves; things that can easily be rolled and tucked away – or incorporated into your look once you’re indoors.

3. Next up, apparel. How dressy do you need to be?

Think of the Davos look as refined European business semi-casual (got that?) Meaning: dress like a grown-up – one who has put some thought into proper attire – but don’t feel obligated to wear full formal business dress.

Guys can easily sport a regular suit and tie and be done with it, but why not aim for more individuality than that?

A smart tailored blazer, perhaps paired with a fine-gauge cashmere sweater vest; an interesting business shirt or a cool tie, dark jeans or wool trousers. The British gentlemen will be wearing interesting socks – that’s just a thing with them – we love it, but don’t feel obligated to join in unless you want to.

Sadly for the girls’ team, you won’t see all that many women in the Congress Center — attendance has been stuck at 20% female for many years. We think you should take that as an opportunity to claim your style space and wear something interesting.

For day and evening, a chic knit dress is our go-to. Azzedine Alaia dresses were made for events like this: comfortable, warm, and easy to pack. Chanel or McQueen knits would also be a good option. Valentino always has gorgeous full skirts in brilliant colors – you could pair one with a solid-color fine gauge knit top. If you opt for pants, have fun: pair them with a brilliant print blouse, or choose a striking color for your jacket.

We’re counting on you to stand out in the crowd, boss ladies. Don’t let us down.

On that note, what colors should you wear?

Having a strict color palette when you pack is always going to simplify your life. Follow your mood, pick 3-4 complementary colors, and you won’t go wrong. Most years for this event we’re been feeling Alpine colors: winter white, navy blue, slate grey and black. That combination will get you anywhere you need to go.

4. Your other key accessory is, of course, your ID badge.

There’s a strict hierarchy, denoted by color: “reporting press” members get orange; the Young Global Leaders, security personnel and tech staff all have different color badges that control which buildings they can enter (and which door they can use).

White is the highest and therefore most coveted level: it means you’re an official delegate with full access to the Congress Center and every party in town, and you can even walk in the front door. We’re holding our tongues on why the color white was chosen for the most elite status.

Interestingly, there are subsets even within the white badge community – some have a hologram (CEOs, heads of state), some a stripe of blue (executives at big companies), some are pure white (partners of the official delegates) – these are all subtle markers of importance. You’ll see some people flashing these white badges like diamonds, as in “yes, I got it like that, life is good here at the top.

Do your best to avoid these people.

plan your accessories around the official lanyard

We really hate wearing badges and nametags. But at Davos, wearing your lanyard prominently is a must, because security is really tight. Keep that in mind when you pack your jewelry, ladies. Don’t pack a statement necklace when no one will be able to properly appreciate it. Because even in the evening, most people seem to keep their lanyards on. Think dangling or hoop earrings, bracelets, and maybe a great cocktail ring instead.

Just as an aside, the other status signifier is whether your company is a “Strategic Partner” (a major sponsor of the event). There are tiered levels for this, too, and each tier has a dedicated lounge in the Congress Center. The best one is at the top of a long flight of stairs. If you want an instant increase in your social capital, arrange a meeting there. Or just hang there for an hour every day. White badge, and a seat in the best lounge? You are practically WEF royalty, dear reader.

5. What bag should you carry?

We’d save the official World Economic Forum messenger bag for some other time. People know you’re at Davos, there’s no need to advertise it.

Regular readers know that we love backpacks for many occasions. At Davos, though, the vibe is reasonably formal, and we think it requires something more refined.

For women, this is a good time for Hermes (if you have a Birkin, by all means, bring it). Also for Chanel, FENDI, Goyard, Prada, or Loewe. Whether a shopper or structured, you need a bag large enough to carry papers, your mobile devices, and your business cards. And that’s also sufficiently chic for a cocktail party where the head of the EU might be present. Just be sure that whatever you bring can survive a walk in a snowstorm.

For men, to keep up with your stylish European peers, you’ll need a smart attaché or messenger bag — think leather, not canvas. If you really want to go for it, you could opt for an exotic skin like alligator in black or dark brown. But in the evenings, leave the bag behind. The alpha males never seem to be carrying anything at the cocktail parties.

6. Here are some parting thoughts:

Bring snacks. We’ve learned that the free food on offer can be of random quality. And restaurants are jam-packed both day and night, so nourishment can sometimes be hard to come by.

Bring an adapter. They’ll be short supply at your hotel, so be sure you have one that works in Switzerland.

How to pack for Davos and the truth about what insiders wear at the WEF.

How to pack for Davos and the truth about what insiders wear at the WEF.

Don’t worry if you forget something. There are plenty of stores in town (but they’ll definitely be changing luxury prices).

If you’re flying commercial, dress to be seen on the plane. Every year we’ve attended, the first and business class cabins from JFK to Zurich are like a flying cocktail party. So bring your A-game, conversationally and sartorially.

How to Pack for Davos: What Insiders Wear at the WEF

That’s it – everything you need to know to pack for Davos. You’ve got the truth about what insiders wear at the WEF.

Now, go forth and change the world! You got this.

Pamela Thomas-Graham

Pamela Thomas-Graham is the Founder & CEO of Dandelion Chandelier. She serves on the boards of several tech companies, and was previously a senior executive in finance, media and fashion, and a partner at McKinsey & Co.