what to wear for headshots

choosing what to wear to  shoot‘what do you want me to wear?’ or ‘what type of clothes shall I bring?’ have been questions prospective clients sometimes ask me prior to booking a photography session. if you’re having headshots taken, either for personal reasons or business, the focus is on your face. so anything you wear, use as a prop or the backdrop that you’re set against should accent your face and not conflict with it. that’s the rule of thumb.

I usually tell clients that the first defining rule about wardrobe is the intended use of the photograph: is it personal or for business? if it’s a personal portrait you definitely have more leeway. if you are taking acting, corporate or professional headshots, it may be wise to follow some basic standards. still the rules are not carved in stone. a freelance journalist needing a headshot for his blog may not follow the same requirements as a student applying for a job in a law firm. those differences aside, there are some universal considerations pertaining to style, color, accessories, grooming, makeup and hair.

first thing to consider is what type of clothing should you wear. most photoshoots with professional photographers, unless you go to a glamour shots studio that shoot volume, last about 1 hour. that gives you ample time for wardrobe changes. your choice of clothes largely depends on the type of the shoot. when you looking for corporate headshots, what you wear is limited to formal and business casual. any assortment of suits, jackets, blazers, sweaters, shirts and ties will keep you in business. for actor’s headshots, your wardrobe should help in creating the look that you’re going for. it can be formal, business casual or sporty.

in all cases, you should avoid extremes and try to be credible in the outfits that you choose. the same goes for models who can find themselves in situations where they need to wear any kind of apparel for a shoot. in my experience, with only few exceptions, did clients for corporate headshot need change of clothing.  but if you’re shooting different looks, it’s good to bring different items. what is most important is to wear the clothes that you feel comfortable in and let the photographer use his creativity. unless you’re a professional model, If you’re not at ease with how you look, it will show in your photographs!

the type of attire you wear should be appropriate for the type of the shoot. but there are some considerations about the style and how it can enhance the picture. any kind of garment you wear, you should pay close attention to the neckline as it extends the face. visually, v-necks tend to be more appealing because they repeat the shape of the person’s chin. how close or open depends on the style that is contemporary without showing too much skin, especially for women. round necks work well for women when they’re scooped. t-shirts, when worn by men, tend to give the effect of choking as they stick too close to the base of the neck. bare arms or covered? this only matters when you’re shooting casual headshots. some will say long sleeves are best but what you wear shouldn’t look dated. women with slim figure can get away with most anything. but the ones on the heavy side should avoid bare arms because they can distract from the beauty of the face!

the colors that you wear shouldn’t contrast too much with the color of the skin. wearing colors that are also too similar to the background can also cause the opposite effect of merging into it. though the photographer can use creativity, it’s a good idea to use colors that are not too bright for dark background or ones that are too light for a light background. black, gray, burgundy and dark brown are more suited to dark backgrounds. but if the photographer is working with a light background, try using light colors that are washed out like pastels, denim, beige and whites. in an outdoor setting the colors to avoid are definitely the ones that are dull because they don’t add anything to the composition.

remember, the face is the subject. hair, accessories and clothes only serve the purpose of framing it. so they shouldn’t distract from it. keep your jewelry to a minimum. metals tend to create unwanted reflections. If you wear earrings, keep them small. there’s nothing more jarring than big, colorful earring dangling from the lobe. it’s ok to wear in real life because people look at the whole body. if you have to wear a necklace, it’s better if it’s slim with no pendant, especially with a symbol that is too recognizable. hair clips can be worn if they’re used to tame an unruly ponytail and not showing.  sometimes, they’re acceptable with little girls but if needed, a plastic one that blends with hair color is best. body piercing jewelry should be ruled out unless shooting for alternative modeling or an actor’s role that requires it.

most women have basic skills for applying makeup. one thing to note is that there are some subtle variations in color that go unnoticed to the eye that the camera will pick up. so If you do your own makeup, make sure foundation is applied evenly to the face and all visible parts of the neck to avoid looking like you’re wearing a mask. for everything else, unless you’re experienced in applying makeup, it’s a good idea to use minimal makeup. a lot of makeup mistakes that are hardly unnoticeable in real life are magnified by the camera, especially in headshots and portraits. so if you have fake eyelashes with smear glue, you can be sure that the pictures will spell out loud ‘fake eyelashes’. it’s beyond the photographer’s job to teach clients how to apply makeup because they may know a lot more about it. if the shoot involves changes of clothes, great care should be exercised to avoid getting makeup on clothes. most women routinely dress and wear makeup so there’s little to fear in that regard.

If you want to tie back your hair, try to use a bow, barrette or any accessory that doesn’t call too much attention. if you’re the creative type, you can change your style in between poses. you will certainly make sure to bring a brush and hair clips and do not forget the water spray bottle. there are certain things that the camera brings out like dyed hair with roots showing, so you need to make sure that the color mismatch doesn’t show on the pictures. recently dyed hair tends to be dry and brittle. If you have your hair dyed professionally, you’re sure that your hair stylist gave you some advice on how to maintain it. otherwise, have some type of moisturizer that you apply to the hair before the shoot. good looking hair gives much you more confidence so you can free your mind and focus on posing and how you look in front of the camera. if you have a friend, she may be able to give you some pointers, or you can use a mirror, take time to make sure that everything falls into place.

all of these are a few guidelines that apply mostly to portrait photography and headshots of a professional nature. but if you’re dealing with fashion models or doing actors headshots, you have much greater freedom to innovate and come up with color combinations and styles that break the rules. the bottom line is to feel comfortable within, relax and be able to smile naturally, have fun and let your beauty from within shine!

for further reading see
guide to great headshots
tips for portrait photography