These are tough questions, actually.
What are you supposed to bring to an economics conference in the middle of winter in a Swiss ski resort attended by 2,000 of the world’s most important people?
And what are you supposed to do when you get there? (Aside from attending the “conference sessions,” which every Joe Schmo Davos attendee can attend and that therefore can’t be what you’re really supposed to do.)
And most importantly, what are you supposed to wear?
Because, you know, if ever there was a place where it might be advisable to “dress for success,” this would be it.
On the other hand, “dressing for success” in this crowd would likely mean wearing $10,000 bespoke Saville Row suits. But dressing that way, in this location, would instantly peg you as a dork. Because you’d be stomping around in the slush and ruining your priceless suits and no one else would be wearing a suit anyway because who wants to wear a suit when you’re in a ski town?
So the question still stands.
According to a 25-page book issued to Davos attendees entitled “Useful Information” (one of four such books attendees receive), this is what you are supposed to wear:
1.3 Packing and Dress Code
We encourage informality during the Annual Meeting: this is reflected in the dress code, which is sporty or business casual (no tie). However, black tie or national dress is suggested for the Saturday evening Cultural Soirée. Remember to bring rubber-soled snow boots and appropriate winter clothing, as streets can be slippery and temperatures in Davos can drop to well below freezing.
“Sporty or business casual.” OK, that’s helpful. I guess.
(But what exactly is “sporty”?)
(And does “business casual” mean the same thing in Davos that it means in New York, which is khakis and an Oxford shirt?)
(And what about those “rubber-soled snow boots”? Are we talking huge, hideous furry rubber-soled snow-boots–or some tasteful kind of snow boot that only Davos insiders are privvy to? If I stomp into the Congress Centre in the same Scarpa hiking boots I stomp around New York in, am I going to be given the cold-shoulder? Help, Davos people! What does “sporty” mean?)
(Oh, and by the way, NFW am I lugging my tuxedo all the way over to Switzerland. I’d be happy to go to the “Cultural Soiree in “national dress,” but if I’m going to do that I’m afraid someone is going to have to help me figure out what “national dress” is in the United States. Jeans and a t-shirt? They can’t really mean that, can they?)
Anyway, you get a sense of the anxiety.
Fortunately, there are some folks around who have been to Davos before, and they are secretly spreading the word about what the 25-page book doesn’t tell you about what to bring, what to do, and what to wear.
Felix Salmon of Reuters, for example, who has never missed a minute of Davos, was kind enough to send me the following primer, written by another Old Davos Hand (who wishes to remain anonymous). It’s pitched to the Davos ladies, obviously, but it’s still deeply informative. I’ve added some commentary in blue.
stuff you should pack:
– snow boots that come on and off easily or that are cute and comfy enough that you’ll be OK wearing them to events [cute snow boots. I suspected as much]
– waterproof bag to carry (a) your other shoes if you want to change into them, plus (b) whatever other schwag/loot/crap you collect during your day (you can check this bag at the Congress centre and at most of the hotels where the events take place)
– superwarm coat (it gets really, really cold at night)
– cute tops are more important than cute trou or shoes [cute tops. uh oh]
– a high tolerance for fondant, zweigelt, veal, sausage and spaetzle [np]
– layered outfits – you will freeze outside and then boil indoors
– plan outfits that will work with a large plastic card hanging right at boob height (and I hope you like your picture on the card, because it will flash up each time you have to scan the card, which is a lot)
– gear that can be easily removed – you will go through airport security checkpoints at most events, meaning that you will unload all your coats, gloves, hats, bags, etc. into the x-ray machines at least
5 times per day, generally more often
Things you should seriously try to do if they have them:
– ice driving [whoa!]
– sleigh ride to fondue in the mountains (my friend and I always do this, and it is weird, but fun) [the heck with the sleigh ride, but bring on the fondue]
– get a coffee at the Kaffeeklatsch (a wonderful place towards the
Platz end of town)
– the afternoon tea sessions are often really lovely discussions [“Lovely”?]
– BZ and his wife often do a session or two that are
musical and really fun [who?]
– sit on the white sofas in the Congress centre (if they still have them; I think they have either redone the place or are redoing it) and people watch – hundreds of people will walk by and you can call them over to talk to you, or Felix can film them eating bananas, or sometimes they’ll just come and sit and you can strike up pretty amazing conversations with all sorts of people (frankly, this is my favourite part of Davos; I think it’s where I met Felix, when he was illegally sitting on a white sofa). There is always coffee and soda and water available in that main atrium, and if they’ve gotten a company or country to sponsor a meal, sometimes there’s food too. The Japanese bento boxes a few years ago were pretty freaking great. [I’ll tell you right now: I am going to be a FIXTURE on those white sofas, with my cute snow boots and boob-height badge]
– pace yourself on the drinking; the days are long long long (I can never manage to follow this advice myself, but I thought I’d throw it out there in case you have a stronger willpower than I do) [Bottoms up!]
– read through the offerings carefully and decide what your top priorities are and try to sign up for those first. In years past the sign-up system has been shockingly and absurdly slow, so if there is something that you MUST go to, sign up for it as soon as they’ll let you [I’ve heard this, too–apparently it’s 1980s-era technology]
– smile at the Swiss military who will be EVERYWHERE. Smiling at them makes them nervous, and that’s kind of funny. You have a spouse badge, so they can’t do much to you [I won’t have a spouse badge, but hopefully this advice will work for me, too]Oh, and by the way, according to Felix, no one actually skis at Davos, despite its being a world-famous ski resort.
OK, well, not no one.
Felix’s boss, Tom Glocer, the CEO of Reuters, is throwing a “wind down” bash on the slopes on the final day of Davos (to which Felix may not have been invited). I was invited (Thank you, Tom!). But because Felix has already informed me that only hopelessly uncool Davos attendees actually ski at Davos, I wasn’t planning on bringing my stuff. (Also, I don’t have a steamer-trunk to put it in, which I would need, on account of already having to lug over the “cute” snow boots and everything else). But “winding down” on the slopes does sound fun…