How to Dress for a Portrait
Keep it simple for a great looking headshot.
It’s the most common question we hear: What should I wear for my photo shoot? Is this color good? How about my tie? Should I double-up on the makeup? The short answer is this: keep it simple and dress conservatively, like you might for a job interview. Read on for more specific suggestions regarding how to dress for a portrait session.
Stay with what works. Whatever your daily preferences in eyeshadow, lipstick and concealer, don’t change it up just for the purpose of the portrait. Gone are the days when heavier makeup was needed to make features visible for the camera. Today’s cameras are capable of such high definition that you should feel confident with your usual makeup routine. That said, if you sometimes do wear makeup but sometimes don’t, do wear it for your portrait. The ability to smooth skin tones and minimize shine are two of the primary benefits, whether or not you prefer blush, lipstick, eye shadow or more.
For short hairstyles, in particular, try to schedule a haircut a week in advance of the session to avoid the freshly scalped look. Those who have a five o’clock shadow by lunchtime should consider scheduling portraits in the morning hours (in truth, most of us look better in the a.m. and drift downhill as the day progresses) or bring a razor to shave prior to the portrait. For long or curly hair, minimize flyaways as much as possible with product or hairspray. And pray that it doesn’t rain.
Like so many things in life, less is more. That doesn’t mean no jewelry, but rather accessorizing with an eye toward subtlety. Anything overly large or eye-catching is not ideal, as we want the focus to be on your beautiful face. Avoid statement jewelry unless it’s part of your personal brand. (See below for the same principle at work with neckties.)
Q: “Should I wear my glasses in my picture?”
A: “Do you want to look a little older? Do you want to look a little smarter? Do people know you as someone who primarily wears glasses?”
What you likely suspected turns out to be true. Your glasses do tend to make you look older. But they make you look smarter, too! So for those who sometimes wear them and sometimes don’t, we suggest thinking about how most people know you—with glasses or without—and deferring to that look. Unless, of course, you’re no fan of how you look in glasses, in which case take them off! It’s your picture, after all. But don’t remove them because you’re worried about glare. Any self-respecting professional should be able to light your portrait in such a way as to flatter the subject and minimize unwanted reflections on glasses.
So many of these guidelines are about minimizing distractions and flattering the form. With neckties, anything eye-catching is usually less than ideal. Look at what presidential candidates wear during debates: simple red and blue “power ties” are hard to beat, though there’s no rule that says one color is superior to any other. What always looks great is a simple, distinct, thick stripe tie. Patterns can be fine too, though the finer the pattern the more likely it is to disappear. If you’re thinking of a bowtie, think twice. Not because they’re bad, but because they definitely make a statement. If you’re known around the office as “the bowtie guy” then you have our permission to wear your favorite bowtie for your portrait. Otherwise, stick with the long tie. When in doubt, bring a couple of options and we’ll help you decide on the most flattering choice. (And if you’re not great at tying a knot, look here for some helpful hints. The knot is crucial if you’re hoping for a promotion.) And if you’re in a more casual or creative industry, consider wearing a jacket but skipping the tie.
The jacket is the linchpin for the professional portrait ensemble. It’s the area that presents the most opportunity to look great, as well as your biggest chance to really screw it up. (Remember that time President Obama wore a tan suit and everyone lost their mind? Same thing here.) If you heed no other part of this advice, do this one simple thing: Wear a well-fitting, dark toned jacket with minimal pattern. The darker the jacket, the more professional the look—though that doesn’t mean black is best. In fact, we’d suggest navy blue as the king of the hill, followed by dark gray, black and potentially brown. A fine pattern is acceptable, but if you’re crossing over into zoot suit territory it better be because it’s integral to your brand. For the rest of us, simple and conservative simply photographs better and will make you happier with the look of your portrait. Men, it may be a warm summer day and your seersucker suit looks snazzy, but you are guaranteed to be unhappy with it in your portrait in the longterm. Women, your jackets tend to come in more color and pattern options, so do take care to choose something dark and simple for your most professional look. Only wear that bright jacket or patterned blazer if, and only if, it is by far your best looking outfit in which you will feel the most confident. If it’s even close, defer to the conservative option.
Oh, and if your question is “Should I wear a jacket for my photo?” The answer is almost always yes. Whether you’re a ditch digger one month from retirement or the next in line to be CEO, a jacket looks more professional and almost always makes a headshot look better. The v-shape of the lapels, for instance, is particularly flattering on most people, as is the slimming quality of a dark color and a well-fitted single-breasted jacket.
Most of all, give priority to a jacket that fits.
If it’s going under a jacket, it can be almost any color you like—as long as it’s white, off-white or light blue. Do think about minimizing the pattern if at all possible. And if you’re not planning to wear a jacket, see the item above before making that decision and then consider a darker, non-white shirt. Without a jacket, white looks very stark. And if you’re considering a sleeveless blouse, reconsider that as well. Based on the way most portraits are cropped, bare shoulders are rarely flattering even on the most fit of portrait subjects. Another reason to prefer jackets, too.
FIVE TIPS TO DRESS FOR A SLIMMING EFFECT:
1. Wear a dark color
2. Wear a solid color
3. Wear a suit rather than separates for a solid color head to toe
4. If your shirt, sweater or jacket has lines, they’d better be vertical
5. Make sure your clothes fit well, neither too baggy or too tight