A student wearing “acceptable” attire would be a competitor at their first tournament and/or in their first year of competition. I would describe it as “visiting grandma” or “church” clothing. It’s not fully formal, but it doesn’t look out of place at a tournament, especially for middle school students and freshmen.
The minimal shoe allowed. No sneakers or tennis shoes. Socks should be a darker color.
Pants: Khakis (w/ a belt that matches shoe color)
Pleated or non-pleated aren’t an issue. Try to keep the pants to simple color choices: traditional khaki, navy, grey, or black. No jeans.
The belt color should match the shoes: black for black and brown for brown.
Shirt: Long-Sleeve Button Down (w/ tie)
Err on the side of caution with shirts, especially in the first year of competition. Simple, plain colors. I’d recommend monochromatic or simple-patterned shirts and ties. No joke ties.
A student wearing “advanced” attire would be well-suited for competition in the local area. They don’t look like a novice but aren’t as put together as the preferred category. I call this the “Homecoming” clothing. The single biggest difference is the addition of the sports coat.
Shoes: Loafers or Lace-ups (w/ dark socks)
Lace-up business shoes look more professional, have a harder sound when walking on tile, and generally are preferred. Loafers are still fine.
Pants: Pleated Khakis (w/ a belt that matches shoe color)
Color choices remain simple: khakis, greys, dark blues, black, etc. Belt matches shoes. Socks are a non-white color, generally — but not always — darker than the pants.
Shirt and Sports Coat: Long-Sleeve Button Down (with a tie) under a Dark Sports Coat
Shirt can be light or dark but is usually monochromatic. Tie is a simple pattern or monochromatic. Tie should go well with shirt, pants, and coat. Simple knots (Single or Double Windsor are most common but not necessary).
Sleeves should be slightly sticking out (no more than a 1/2 inch).
Sports coat is usually darker than shirt and pants and usually navy blue or a dark grey. Lighter sports coats are fine, within reason. Avoid patterned coats.
The “preferred” dress code for speech competitions is the suit. The suit is the simple, professional look. Nationally-successful speech kids in middle school, high school, and college wear suits. And while it may sound prohibitively expensive to purchase this clothing, after years of being involved in the activity, I can point people in the right direction.
Out of the face. If long, kept back and tight. If short, styled well and immovable (especially if doing a high movement event like HI / DUO).
Shoes & Belt: Lace-ups (w/ dark socks)
Lace-ups look the most professional. Depending on suit choice, lace-ups usually look best without rubber bottoms and are usually black or dark brown. Shoes should be polished regularly (about every other tournament). Socks are darker than the suit being worn and are usually of a thinner material.
Ideally, the belt as close to the same color and material as the shoes.
Pants & Coat: the Suit
Modern trends mostly point to two-button, single-breasted suits. Three-button are fine, double-breasted is fine, and three-piece suits are fine. Suits aren’t usually patterned (but can be, on the right person).
I recommend for a first suit going for a simple dark color: black, navy blue, charcoal grey, etc. Dark suits hide stains better, and I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen kids thank the heavens that they have a black suit hiding <insert food or coffee> stain.
Skin tone does play a role in suit choice. For example, someone with very light skin might want to shy away from light tan or grey suits, as it could wash them out.
In terms of pant leg break, I recommend a partial or no break, but that’s really up to the individual.
Sleeves should allow for about a 1/2 – 1/4 inch of the dress shirt to be seen.
Suits will always be performed in with jackets buttoned, so make sure the fit isn’t too tight in the waist and shoulders.
Duo partners will want to match at the highest levels, so coordinating with one another is important.
Shirt & Tie: Button-Down Long Sleeve with Simply Tied Tie
Shirt and tie choice depends on one’s own style, if a duo partner needs to be matched, and what suit one is wearing. While I normally advocate simplicity (you don’t want the clothing to do the talking for you), this is a performative event. Sometimes, if it’s done well, loud clothing is a good thing. It makes a person memorable. That being said, be careful.