Picking Out Outfits for a Headshot – A Guide to Appropriate Headshot Wardrobe
Most people struggle with what to wear for a headshot. It is completely understandable. Picking out clothes for such an occasion is not exactly easy. Not only do you have to look the part, but also, your clothes must not attract attention away from your face.
Deciding what color to wear is just the tip of the iceberg. A lot more consideration goes into selecting the right attire for a headshot. For example, many photographers prefer it if their subjects wear clothes with a little bit of texture. Plus, black and white, colors that many consider “safe choices” are not suitable choices for most types of headshots.
You mostly need to think about four things when choosing your wardrobe:
- The style
- How it fits
- The color, texture, and patterns
- How you accessorize
More importantly, you need to dress according to the nature of your headshot. Theatrical headshots apply different guidelines than corporate headshots, which is why we will be looking at the requirements of each type of headshot.
Theatrical and Commercial
Even though only part of your attire will appear in the headshot, it is enough to show your sense of style. For men, a sports coat and a tie outfit works if you’re after the business casual look.
Avoid anything with button-down collars. They don’t usually translate well in photographs. Also, if you decide not to wear a jacket, then don’t wear a tie either. Most commercial headshots don’t require formal dressing anyway, so don’t put on a tie just because you feel like you have to.
For women, you have a little more freedom when it comes to a wardrobe choice. You can wear anything as long as it doesn’t have a low neckline, isn’t sleeveless or short-sleeved, doesn’t have noisy patterns, and isn’t silky or shiny like satin. Turtlenecks are a no-no too.
Jackets are optional, so only wear one to the shoot if your character is not complete without it. However, jackets are professional territory, so you don’t normally see them in theatrical headshots.
How it fits
For men, your clothes must fit perfectly. You can’t get away with any ill-fitting shirts and sportcoats.
As for your sports jackets, the seams should rest directly on top of your shoulder, not above or below it.
For women, your clothes have to fit well too. Not too tight, but then not baggy or loose. If anything, they should fit a little snug. It is best if you try them on before the session to make sure they fit just right.
The color, texture, and patterns
Now is not the time to play it safe by choosing black or white outfits. It is advisable to wear something that makes your image pop. Commercial headshots tend to be colorful and eye-catching. The trick is to infuse color into your headshot without making it the focus of the photograph.
Men are especially fond of wearing black or white to photoshoots. If you must, then, by all means, wear them, but bring along a few color options too. Stay away from the all-black or all-white attires unless you’re auditioning for a bodyguard or an evangelical position.
If you must wear a black sports coat, make sure it has a visible texture. Alternatively, ditch the dark colors and opt for a neutral charcoal gray, which lays out great in photographs.
In a nutshell, anything you wear that makes you feel like a million bucks is the right choice. Don’t be afraid of color either; it can do wonders for your skin tone.
Women generally know which colors look good on them, so go with the most flattering color option. If you’re not sure what that is, try out some jewel tones like green, blue, and red, or go for vibrant colors that accentuate your skin tone and highlight your eye color.
How you accessorize
When it comes to accessories, a little goes a long way. Jewelry should accentuate your look, not be the centerpiece. Therefore, keep it at a minimum.
For earrings, studs are the best. They are simple enough, but can still exude elegance, especially if they contain a gemstone or a pearl.
Dangling earrings are not necessarily bad, but they tend to get tangled up with your hair. Most of the time, they don’t even appear in the headshot!
Accessories can make your outfit even more interesting, but you don’t want them getting in the way of your headshot.
Professional and Corporate
For men, you can never go wrong with a fitting suit jacket and an adequately matched tie.
We’re not talking about couture fashion here; we’re talking about a style that exudes professionalism and confidence. In professional headshots, the trick is to dress like you normally would for work. Be neat, be formal, but more importantly, carry your corporate style with you.
Corporate style varies among individuals. Some like the classic suit and tie outfit. Others prefer to leave the tie at home, although it must be said that it makes you look less professional.
If you must go tie-less, a sports coat looks less formal. Wearing a suit jacket without a tie gives off the impression that you’re dressing down.
For women, your top should either be a v-neck, a crew neck, or a boat neck. These are the most flattering, and they always lay wonderfully in photographs. Collars, not so much, so avoid stand-up collars if you can.
How it fits
Your clothes must fit right for a successful corporate headshot. This is not the place to wear ill-fitting jackets and shirts.
Check that your shirt fits you by noting the gap between your collar and the back of your neck. No gap is good, but if your neck bulges out a little that means it doesn’t fit. If there’s one thing you don’t need in a headshot, it’s a neck bulging out of a shirt. It’s never a good look.
For female professionals, the message is the same: don’t wear anything baggy or low cut. Don’t cover up your neck, and don’t dress in sheer or shiny clothing. Ensure your top has sleeves, and if you can, pair it with a well-fitting suit jacket.
A wise professional would invest in tailoring ahead of the photo session. It may seem costly, but compared to the value it brings to your headshots, a tailored outfit is priceless.
The Color, Texture, and Patterns
When it comes to corporate attire, playing it safe is generally recommended over wearing flashy clothes. However, there is such a thing as playing it too safe.
For example, the white shirt is an overplayed hand. It makes you look, for lack of a better word, boring. If you must wear white, compensate for an interesting tie. Otherwise, explore colors like sky blue, pink, and green that flatter your skin tone, making your headshot more appealing.
The texture is also very important. Your suit jackets should have them in abundance. Ditch the linen and go for tweed, or opt for colors lighter than black and navy. Textures layout quite nicely in headshots, so give yourself a visual advantage by wearing something with visible texture.
Ladies, don’t be afraid to pick a color that works well for your skin tone. Jewel tones are highly recommended, but there’s nothing wrong with earth tones like brown, grey, or jungle green. Dress modestly, but go for colors that bring out your eyes, for example. That’s how you make your headshots stand out.
How You Accessorize
Don’t bring any big jewelry along. It only draws attention away from your face, and that defeats the purpose of a professional headshot.
Nevertheless, if your signature look involves big jewelry, you can discuss it with your photographer to make accommodations for it in the headshots. Jewelry that has sentimental value is allowed as long as it doesn’t take the focus away from your face.
As for men, the tie is one of the few accessories you may be permitted to have. The other one is the pocket square, which features a great deal in corporate headshots.
Most guys can tie a decent knot. The best choices are the Shelby and the Pratt knots. If you’re not confident about your tie tying skills, have someone tie it for you before you arrive at the studio. Alternatively, don’t wear a tie if you can’t tie one properly. A sloppy tie can ruin a great headshot, so don’t risk it.
8 Useful Headshot Wardrobe Tips
- Carry as many as four different outfits
When your photographer says to bring options, don’t just carry as many color variations as you can. Each of your outfits should tell a different story. Otherwise, it’s a lot like spending money on a headshot just to see what you look like in different colors.
Talk to your photographer beforehand about the types of outfits you should bring. They’re in a better position to tell you what to wear to audition or market for a specific demographic.
Also, it is perfectly alright to carry the entire outfit, even though headshots are typically above the waist. If it makes you feel more confident, then go for it; bring the shoes and pants too.
- Do not wear your outfits on your way to the studio
The last thing you want is to arrive with wrinkled, sweaty clothes at the studio. To be safe, keep your headshot wardrobe on hangers until it is time to take the photos. The outfits should be neatly pressed and clean. Wearing it through your commute is asking for wrinkles and stains.
- Dress your character
The most important tip is to dress in a way that complements your character. What are you looking to tell your audience? Are you a friendly and reliable medical professional? Are you a cheery and persistent salesperson? Are you an approachable but intelligent staff member?
Dressing for the part is a tip that cannot be overstated. You want your audience to know exactly what type of character you are the moment they see your headshot.
If you need inspiration, turn on the TV. Most likely, the role you’re auditioning for has been played before. Take note of the wardrobe of these characters on TV or film, and try to emulate it, but make it yours.
- Don’t dress flashy
Unless you’re specifically looking for fashion-oriented headshots, there’s no need to bust out your Prada shirt or Polo and Lacoste shirts. If anything, stay away from outfits with boldly emblazoned logos, ruffles, and distracting patterns.
Keep it simple. If you have to wear something with patterns, they should be subtle. If your eye jumps to the shirt first when you look at the headshot, then the pattern is too busy.
For ladies, avoid anything too sheer or distracting. If you must wear translucent clothing, layer it with something underneath. Your outfit merely serves to present your personality, not override it.
- Your outfits should be clean and well-pressed
It should go without saying that your wardrobe should be neat, pressed, and clean. Make sure of this a few days before the session. Don’t ever take a headshot with a dirty, torn, or crumpled shirt. No one will take you seriously.
- Don’t struggle to be unique
Most people don’t know where to draw the line between highlighting their personality and being downright eccentric. In as much as individuality is important, what’s more vital is that you come off as relatable to a wide demographic.
If your outfit is too outlandish, you’ve already lost the engagement of the vast majority of people. In short, it’s not your wardrobe that should tell people of your uniqueness; it is how well put together you look in your headshot. Don’t try too hard to stand out, especially using your wardrobe.
- Buy new clothes but keep the tags on
A great tip is to buy clothes from stores with good return policies and return them after the photo shoot. It helps a great deal if your clothes look like they’re fresh off a clothing rack at, Ross, Marshall, JC Penny or Nordstrom Rack rather than a moth-infested closet.
Go for that “new” look at all costs, but keep the tags on if you’re not interested in keeping the clothes afterward. However, it’s usually a good idea to keep the clothes you use in your headshots for audition purposes. If you can afford to keep them, then do so by all means.
- Under no circumstances should you wear a costume
You’ve probably seen medical headshots where the subject dons a white coat and a stethoscope. There’s nothing particularly illegal about that. It’s just that auditioners find costumes like these cheesy. It’s hard to be taken seriously if your first impression elicits a laugh.
Don’t wear a costume unless it is explicitly required for the audition. There is no role that you can’t audition for a nice sports coat or a crew neckline. Besides, wearing a costume limits your options. You can’t audition for anything else in a doctor’s uniform. Not even a role in a feature film.
There is an exception to this rule. You can wear a costume only if you’re marketing a specific skill, such as in construction or security.