What to wear for a ted talk

What to wear for a TED Talk

Plus, how I dealt with my last-minute TED Talk dress disaster


2020 has offered all of us some unexpected challenges. I’ve certainly had my fair share.

Becoming stranded in Australia when the borders unexpectedly closed, meant being separated from my partner for more than ten months and losing most of my Airbnb income. Yet it also led to me being selected as one of 8 speakers at my local TEDx Townsville.

Suddenly, one of my biggest questions was what to wear for a TED talk?!

I had exactly one month from the day I heard about my selection for the TEDxTownsville 2020 to the day of the actual event. The big TED stars prep for an entire year! But hey, this is an unusual year and I was lucky to get this opportunity when I least expected it. So, I got to work.

I got a reasonable draft written, I asked for tons of feedback, and then I spent every waking hour rehearsing.

Two weeks before the event, I remembered that it was time to give some thought to my TED talk outfit.

I hadn’t expected that what to wear for a TED talk would become an issue. But this was a global pandemic. Everything was unexpected!

I had come back to Australia with only a carry-on; I was only meant to stay for a couple of weeks. The wardrobe that I keep in my tiny granny flat in Mission Beach had been radically decluttered the year before.

It offered two passable options: a black dress or a funky blazer that I could pair with white jeans and a red top. Both options looked reasonably nice.

But when I saw the stage, I knew that black wasn’t going to work. The backdrop on the stage was black and in a black dress I was going to look like a disembodied head and pair of arms.

The blazer with the funky pattern of thin asymmetrical stripes wasn’t going to work either. It would make me look like I was standing underneath a strobe-light disco ball. Apparently, cameras don’t like pinstripes.

I needed a new dress.

But this isn’t Sydney. This is Australia’s remote tropical Far North and there aren’t many shops to choose from. During a pandemic, there are even less. It was too late for online shopping and the nearest shopping centre is 200kms to the north and 300kms to the south of my house. I clocked up many miles searching every shop in Townsville and Cairns, and I found absolutely nothing!

My next option was friends. They happily lent whatever had survived the last wet season: blazers in lawn green corduroy, white linen and padded chambray. My kitchen started to look like a fashion boutique, but nothing really worked.

I combed through a dozen thrift shops, but I didn’t find anything even vaguely appropriate. Low supplies of second-hand clothes was another side effect of the pandemic I hadn’t expected.

A week out from my TED talk, I finally found it in the Red Cross charity shop. A beautiful sleeveless red dress in almost my size. In the change room mirror it looked perfect.

What to wear for a TED talk

I bought it on a Sunday and left it in Townsville for the week to get it dry cleaned as there are no dry cleaners where I live. The dry cleaning cost more than the dress!

When I picked it up the day before my talk, I didn’t think to try it on. The only thing on my mind at this stage was my talk. I was rehearsing like a crazy woman by now, speaking endlessly to myself, in the streets, in the car, in the swimming pool.

So, when I put the dress on 30 minutes before I was due at the event, it as a shock to see my bra was showing. I had thoughtfully brought 2 back-up bras but they were all showing. I looked like I’d just stepped out of the Red Cross change room in the wrong bra. I couldn’t step in front of the cameras looking like that.

I wasn’t in tears yet, but close to it.

I searched the place where I was staying for safety pins. In my desperation, I ripped the safety pin off my name tag and stabbed my finger in the process, drawing blood. It was 10 minutes before I was expected at the event. So I said “f*** it” and drove to the venue, my finger wrapped in a bandage made from toilet paper and my bra showing.

In the Green Room, I asked one of the other female presenters to help me fasten the safety pins. Between us, we have two PhDs, but this required a different skill set. Whatever we tried, it looked like someone had adjusted my dress at the last minute with safety pins. I couldn’t go on stage like that.

My stomach was beginning to tighten, but I couldn’t afford to burst into tears just before my TED talk. Not over a bra and not when I was wearing mascara. So I took a deep breath and calmly assessed my available options. There was only one option  left.

I found some duct tape in the workshed backstage, taped my nipples down and took my bra off.

Who would ever know?! Oops, well, now you do.

So for the record, I proudly gave my first TED talk braless!

You can watch my full Ted Talk here.

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