Q: My team is returning to office soon and offering welcome back photos. I’ve been in sweatpants for the last 2 years and feel like I forgot how to dress myself for the office. What is best to wear in professional headshot photos? i.e. Should I wear black (or avoid)? Bright colors? Suit jacket? Patterns??
A: “What is best to wear” for professional headshot photos varies between people as many factors go into deciding what to wear in these photos:
- What is the purpose of the photo? Where will you use these photos? I.e. what you wear in a photo featured on your employer’s internal intranet site will likely differ from what you wear in the photo that will be featured on your creative portfolio website
- How you want to portray yourself in the photos
- The culture of your company (if they’re the ones offering these photos)
- Your industry and your role I.e. if you work in financial services vs a creative agency
- Your complexion and hair color I.e. as a neutral-toned fair redhead, cool toned neutrals and colors work best with my skin/hair combination – think blues, greens, cool-toned purples and reds, silver vs gold, etc
- Most importantly: your personal style
Though the pandemic may have influenced the comfort level of the clothes we now wear to work, how we portray ourselves in our professional headshots hasn’t varied much. We may now just be rocking more comfortable bottoms out of frame, but is that really different from our daily video calls?
All recommendations here are based on my professional and personal experiences. Leave a comment below if you’re looking for something more specific – my career started in fashion and my father-in-law is a professional photographer: I could talk about this for days
- Remember: Headshot photos only show from the waist up so dresses and skirts won’t be seen – be sure to choose a bottom half of your outfit that is comfortable (I.e. you will most likely be sitting in front of the photographer – opt for pants if you may feel uncomfortable switching positions in a skirt or skirted bottom). If you’re opting for professional lifestyle photos with a photographer on your own dime, then yes, a full outfit will be needed vs paying particular attention to your upper half.
- Read your labels! Blended fabrics tend to show less wrinkles. While you’re shopping, do the squeeze test to see the difference between cotton and a blended fabric; Depending on the blend, you’ll see that cotton or viscose button-front blouses/shirts show more wrinkles.
- Blazers – totally up to you, again, based on how you want your photo to portray you. Personally, I sometimes wear blazers in my professional headshots because they’re part of my work uniform: a blazer, a tee, and skinny jeans. If a blazer is outside of your normal work attire, don’t feel pressured to wear one. That discomfort will carry through in the photo.
Best Necklines to Wear*
- Women – typically crewneck, v-neck, scoop, or boatneck silhouettes are flattering and still business appropriate. Each of these look flattering layered underneath a blazer as well if you’d like to go that route. Be careful of button-front tops as as gaping / pulling can happen at the bust depending on the fit and fabric.
- Men – collared shirts, tie or no tie, blazer, quarter-zip, crewneck tee, turtleneck – all are flattering and business appropriate. Be careful of color choice and pattern.
- What you choose to wear with regards to neckline should match your industry, role, and comfort level. For instance, if you are a Director in Corporate America vs an Art Director in a Creative Studio, I would recommend different attire to each of those clients. If you live by the motto “dress for the role you want, not the role you have,” then power to you to up the ante – that confidence will show in your photo too 🙂
Best Colors, Patterns, and Textures to Wear
- Solid colors typically photograph best, whereas bold patterns can be distracting from the real subject of the photo: you!
- Jewel tones, neutrals (black, navy, white, tan, etc), and pastels are recommended for the closest color that will be near your face / seen most in the photo
- Personally, because I’m so fair and have red hair, I opt for neutrals (black or white) and let my hair be the color, but that’s my personal preference. If you like colors, wear them selectively.
- My thoughts on neons and brights: while I encourage everyone to express themselves through their wardrobe, neons and brights are best reserved for in-person opportunities for the best impact. NOTE: Neons and brights will display differently in photos vs off-camera IRL. Also, depending on the workplace, bright colors may not be as celebrated as in other workplaces.
- My thoughts on patterns, prints, sheens and textures:
- Patterns/prints: Patterns and prints can make or break an outfit, and are best reserved for in-person opportunities. The size, color, and scale of a print can be distracting in a photo when the only thing people should be focusing on is you
- Sheens/textures: Sheens and textures add beautiful variety to a garment, but with how unpredictable they can be when photographing, it’s best to avoid. The only thing shining in the photo should be you.
- Cutouts: Unless you work in a creative field and the cutouts are on-brand, there is no place for cutouts, sheer fabrics, or fabrics with cutouts in your professional headshot photos. The placement of cutouts (whether part of the overall garment’s design or the fabric itself) can be distracting and may turn off future clients.
MOST importantly: wear something that makes you feel like YOU! The more you resemble a professional version of yourself (vs something you feel you’re supposed to be in the photo), the more confident you will appear in the photo.
Have fun with it, exercise a bit of creative restraint, and if you still have questions, on what is best to wear in your professional headshot photos let me know in the comments. I’d be happy to connect further and share more!
NOTE on *”Best” – above, I use “best” to mean most universally flattering to bring out your best self from both a comfort perspective and from a perception standpoint: Making you feel your best (comfort) while taking the photo, and allowing the photo to bring out and capture your best self that you would like to show clients and customers (perception).