We’ve all seen it. If you’re a woman in this activity, it’s likely that you’ve either received (or will receive) some offhand note about your appearance on a ballot. Judges will comment on the way you wear your hair, the color/cut of your suit, your heels, or even your makeup. Gross. I know.
But strangely enough, it seems that in every major out-round, in most national finals, all the participating women in speech have a meticulous style. I’m here to break that down for you.
Disclaimer: It is (rightfully) upsetting that in a community so focused on building equity and creating spaces to speak, something as inconsequential as someone’s appearance could sway a rank. But, it is important to recognize that in a subjective competition, those who put effort into showing the judges that they *want* to be there, are inevitably taken more seriously. Those standards for effort happen to be much higher for women. Again, super gross. So if you want to close this article, move on, and rebel against these entrenched biases, please be my guest. I can’t support you enough. There are so many ways to look and feel good in this activity, no one could ever provide a comprehensive guide. Speech is about what you say, not how you look.
Okay! Now that that’s over, let’s get into the grit of it!
My mother is a doctor, and she’s always had a pretty simple rule about being in a male-dominated field. Don’t give someone the chance to discredit you before you show them what you’re worth. That mentality has carried into the way I dress daily, but it really manifested in my speech style.
First of all, makeup. Ladies. Makeup SUCKS. Men don’t have to wear it, it’s uncomfy, and it smudges (rip my mascara after a really good DI round). But putting on the slightest hint of makeup really emphasizes your features, builds expression, and just plain shows the judges that you woke up caring about how you are perceived. I’d suggest going simple—no need to overpower your face with heavy eyeliner (how else will we see your expressions?!?), or bright lipstick (especially if your character wouldn’t be caught dead in a poppin’ lip). I was sooooo guilty of this one before 3p knocked some sense into me. Concealer or some light foundation, combing out/filling in eyebrows, and some simple mascara should do the trick! For something like nail polish, I’m a firm believer in keeping it simple. If you really want to do your nails, light pinks, nudes, or whites will not fail you. But, I also rarely had manicured nails and no. one. cared. It’s merely a self confidence/preference thing.
When it comes to hair, I’ve fought a never ending battle. My duo partner (bless his heart) got a haircut once a month and invested in some gel, and he was good to go. I’ll say it right now—buy some mini hairspray. SUCH a life saver. If you’re worried about flyaways, give a hairbrush a few sprigs and comb it through. Problem=solved. Even in insane humidity like Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, or Birmingham. However you style your hair should be simple and elegant, moving it out of your face. You don’t want to be caught in the climax of your piece with flyways stuck in your chapstick or matted to your forehead. I genuinely believe you can’t go wrong by braiding/twisting the front part of your hair back, and pinning them behind your head. Curl/straighten the rest and you’re good to go! If you like your hair up, avoid sock buns and high ponytails. The former is jarring and distracting, while the latter seems unpolished. A simple low pony, or a very basic low bun will make your facial expressions the main focus of your appearance.
Shoes/bags are such a difficult thing to nail down. I always loved having a plain black purse to keep my black-book, ballet flats, and a water bottle in, but if you don’t have one, don’t sweat it. No one looks. No one cares. For shoes, I’d recommend any new competitor to invest in a *comfy* pair of black heels. That’s right. Comfy. Not pretty. C-O-M-F-Y. You do not want to be the one who trips over six inch platforms, or who can’t walk right at the end of the day when their feet hurt too badly. Three inches is a solid height—not too difficult to walk in with a little practice, but nonetheless very professional. I’d really recommend carrying some flats with you to wear outside of rounds. Please, please don’t change shoes in front of your judge. Feet are gross. Yikes.
Moving on to panty hose. This one is totally and unbelievably unimportant, but I felt it deserved a mention nonetheless. If you wanna wear ‘em—great, more power to ya. I always did, and it helped me feel clean and polished. If you do, try and match the shade to your skin as best as possible. I’m super pale, so the generic tan looked goofy on me. I’ve also seen young women wear black/sheer tights under a black suit and look baller (@ former Duo Champion, Molly McDermott, I love and admire you). But if that’s not your vibe, no one’s (hopefully) getting up close and personal with your legs, so who cares.
I stopped wearing jewelry this year, but if you really want to, I’d suggest keeping it SUPER simple (noticing a common trend here hmm). A tiny necklace with a simple pendant, a string of plain pearls, basic studs/pearls/diamond-y earrings will do. I didn’t have my ears pierced so I never cared about that. The point is, whatever you’re wearing should go unnoticed. No bright or dangly jewelry. We’re trying to make your face and your words the primary focus.
Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Suits!!! Ugh so many things to talk about. If you’re starting out in speech, I can’t recommend a plain black skirt/pant suit and a solid color blouse enough. It will make building any future looks/matching any future duo partners so much easier. The blouse (or camisole—Forever 21 has some great cheap options) should be a solid color...Guess why. Ding! You got it! Less distractions!
Make certain your jacket and skirt/pants (whatever you’re comfortable with) match colors. And by that, I mean don’t go for a bright pink jacket and a black skirt. Even two different shades of black can look messy, so try to buy them in the same place.
I am all for speech women in pantsuits. I think it looks stunning and powerful. ‘Nuff said.
Now, when it comes to the fit of a suit, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Pants should hit at your ankle, skirts at or just above your knee. You don’t want anything too loose (you’ll get so hot in all the fabric) or anything wayyy too tight (mad uncomfortable). If you have the means to get it tailored, that’s awesome, but don’t stress about it.
Now, my absolute favorite part. Colors!!! I am a firm believer in colored suits. Not because they change a ballot (or make anyone “stand out” like I’ve endlessly heard around the circuit) but entirely because They! Make! You! Feel! Fly! They can get kind of pricey in stores though, so if you’re really wanting a colored suit, try googling something like “purple skirt suit” and see what comes up on Amazon, eBay, or even online retail sites (Tahari— I'm lookin’ at you). Just make sure the colors match, and the pieces fit, and boom! You’re good to go.
Side note—for anyone in duo. I have a personal preference in favor of matching colors. You don’t have to, but it’s one of those small details that brings your apparent preparedness to the next level. Match ties to blouses or suits. Try matching suits or doing inverse colors (i.e. 2017 Duo Champion The Secret of Wings, with their pink suit/navy cami and navy suit/pink cami. So. Pretty.). This is super important in certain districts (like my local tournaments in Arizona) and completely nonexistent in others, so take all of this with a grain of salt, and listen to my advice as you see fit.
Ultimately, this guide to “speech girl style” is nowhere near comprehensive or mandatory. If you wanna wear a pantsuit with a button down and a tie, GO FOR IT QUEEN. If you want to tie your hair into intricate braids and immaculate updos, I cannot support you enough. One of my teammates (and fellow 3P coach Taylor Gilliam) had the most INSANELY beautiful makeup. I’m talking sharp eyeliner, immaculate eyebrows, killer contour, and she showed up to every round confident and dominant.
What I’m trying to say is, do what you want.
The primary drive of a “guide” like this is to give a quick summary of existing ideas about looking prepared. If I can leave you with anything at all, I want to drill in the fact that “looking good” in speech is not so much about what you wear and how you wear it. Just show your competitors and judges that you woke up today ready to compete, and put an effort into your presentation. If that means no makeup but a killer swagger, do it.
At the end of the day, this activity is about passion. Appearance is just one possible way to show everyone how much you care.