What to wear for headshots: A 2021 guide to the best clothes for headshot photos

Are you staring at your wardrobe right now thinking “I have no idea what to wear for headshots”? You’re not alone: everyone from professionals to entrepreneurs to actors to web developers struggle with this question. Sometimes people have an outfit in mind but might not know of the downsides of certain types of clothing. We’ve put together this comprehensive guide to help you dress your best for your headshot session.

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Table of Contents

What should you wear for a headshot?

professional portrait
Portrait of Anne Lawless by Fredau, Art of Headshots Regina.

We asked all of our photographers (11 to be exact) to answer the question “what to wear for headshots” and tell us what they thought looked best on our clients. Our photographers had lots to say! Without further ado, here are the best types of clothing to wear to your headshot session.

1. Wear more than a white shirt

Setting aside the cultural meanings behind wearing white, many people with pale skin look sallow and washed out when wearing white in photos. People with pigmented skin tones look energized in white because of the contrast against their beautiful skin. It can get tricky photographing white clothing on people with very dark complexions. When the camera is correctly exposed for your dark skin, it lets more light into the sensor which causes white clothing to look overexposed. If the camera lets in less light to properly expose for a white shirt, your features come out too dark – which we don’t want. To minimize this potential problem we recommend wearing a blazer and tie, or cardigan in another colour over top of any white shirt you might want to wear.

2. What is the best colour to wear for headshots?

Here at Art of Headshots we love when our clients wear bold, rich colours because they photograph so well on camera! However, you should choose what colours and shades suit your hair and complexion best – even if they’re not bold shades. Some people look best in lighter shades because darker and overly saturated colours give the appearance the clothes are wearing them, making people look tired, older, or drained of their spark.

You probably already know which colours and shades flatter your skin tones. Even so, it’s never a bad idea to get a second opinion – especially if you’re stuck between a few options. Turn to your partner or trusted friend and ask them what to wear for headshots. Show them a few choices and ask their advice, or bring along your options to your photo session to ask our photographers. Our photographers are happy to let you know which clothing they think matches your complexion.

3. What is the worst colour to wear for headshots?

We recommend staying away from neon shades of colour during headshots since light reflects off your clothing and onto your skin, and can create unnatural colour casts on your skin. Photographers need special lighting for neon clothing to ensure the true shade is captured in photographs, and a majority of photographers don’t have this equipment. Also avoid flesh toned clothing, because the colour can blend into your skin tone too well, risking the appearance of not wearing any top, which is not the impression you want to give in professional headshots. 

4. Wear well fitting clothing

Clothing looks best when it’s cut to our body shape without being too loose or too tight. We truly believe in loving the body you have, no matter your shape or size. However tight clothing may accentuate parts of your body you’re not ready to draw attention to or are still working to accept. Overly loose clothing is not flattering either because it will hide any semblance of shape your body has, making it look like you’re swimming in clothing made for someone else. When picking what to wear for headshots, choosing clothing that fits well increases the chance you like your photos regardless of how you feel about your body.

5. Add layers to your outfit

Layering your clothes adds versatility, looks stylish, and can create a slimming effect. Layering can be done with suit vests, blazers, cardigans, sweater vests, jackets, ties, watches, jewelry, belts, pocket squares, scarves and other accessories. As with anything else, layering should be done in moderation.

6. Pick clothing made of soft materials

Not everyone feels sure of themselves in front of a camera. When you wear clothing that scratches, sticks, or irritates your skin, your distraction at the sensation increases your chances of looking uncomfortable in your headshots. We have methods to bring out your best facial expressions during headshots but they might not work as well when you’re physically uncomfortable. Wearing soft materials that won’t irritate your skin prevents this problem.

7. Iron your clothes the night before

Clothing wrinkles are not something we edit out of headshots, unless you wish to pay extra for our advanced photo editing services. Clothing materials like cotton quickly wrinkle in the dryer, so we recommend ironing your shirt the night before your session. If you want to take extra precautions with a piece of clothing that wrinkles easily, bring your freshly ironed clothes with you in a clothing bag and change at our studio before your session (come a few minutes early!).

What should you not wear for headshots?

Do not wear logos - what to wear for headshots
Choose clothing without logos for your headshots

When deciding what to wear for headshots, we also have a few recommendations for clothing to avoid: clothing that has a history of not photographing well or developing a reputation of being unprofessional. Here are the worst things to wear for headshots.

1. Don’t wear clothing with logos or images

You should also stay away from clothing with giant logos and pictures. Your headshot is meant to represent your personal brand, or your company’s brand and not a clothing company. Wearing clothes with visible logos on it draws viewers’ eyes away from your face, and turns you into an advertisement for that clothing company. Instead we want viewers to decide whether they want to conduct business with you when looking at your headshots. This is easiest when your clothing doesn’t have logos or images on it.

2. Don’t wear patterned clothing

As fun as patterns are, they can be a little too much for a professional headshot. If you often use patterns to express your personality, we suggest wearing patterns in small quantities, such as a patterned camisole under a blazer, or a patterned pocket square in a suit jacket. These patterns should be small and unobtrusive for professional headshots. Ties are best worn in solid colours instead of patterns during professional headshots.

3. Don’t wear sleeveless tops or low cut shirts

You’ve worked hard to get into shape, but a sleeveless top is not the answer to what to wear for headshots. Wearing sleeveless tops during a photo session can be risky in case your bra straps show, something that is difficult and time consuming to edit out. Sleeveless tops shouldn’t be, but can be distracting to certain viewers because of extra skin showing. Similarly, low cut tops show more skin than is considered professional. Choose to wear more modest clothing in your professional headshots to keep the viewer’s focus where it belongs: on your hard earned skills and experience.

4. Don’t wear casual clothes

Except for certain industries, professionals should stay away from clothing that is too casual for their headshots, especially if you’re planning on using the image on LinkedIn to get a new job, or if your company is paying for your headshots. Stay away from t-shirts, sports clothing, hooded sweaters, and clothing with holes in them.

Industry specific headshot clothing recommendations

Our recommendations for what to wear to headshots changes depending on what type of industry you work in. Rather than keep our clothing advice overly general, we’ve included more specific tips for multiple types of professions.

corporate headshots photo by Anastasia in art of headshots Toronto

1. What should you wear for corporate headshots?

Lawyer headshots, financial advisor headshots, banker headshots, accountant headshots and similar professional headshots should stick to formal clothing like suits (for men and women) or dresses in darker, conservative colours. Ties, suit jackets and blazers all add to the air of formality. People in these types of careers should avoid patterns in their headshots more than other types of professionals.

actor headshots photo by Carlos in art of headshots Vancouver

2. What should actors wear for headshots?

When sending out your headshots to casting agents, actresses and actors should have a few roles in mind for the types of characters they wish to play. Therefore, actresses and actors should have multiple headshot options with different outfits to reflect the roles they wish to obtain. 

Actors could wear a suit if they’re trying to play a lawyer on tv (like Gabriel Macht in Suits). If trying to get cast as the love interest or boyfriend, actors can wear a t-shirt with a casual bomber jacket (like Noah Centineo in To All the Boys I’ve Loved before).

Actresses could wear semi formal clothing if they wish to play a doctor with a specialty (think Kate Walsh in Grey’s Anatomy), or more casual clothing like a t-shirt if they wish to play a nurse. If actresses are hoping to land the role as the cynical private investigator in a dark superhero or cop show, they can wear dark clothing with a leather jacket (think Krysten Ritter in Jessica Jones).

Look to other tv characters for inspiration for the types of clothing to wear to a headshot session. Whatever you wear, you should still be recognizable in your headshots.

personal branding headshots photo by Carlos in art of headshots Vancouver

3. What should you wear for personal branding headshots?

Here is where you get to be as casual or professional as you wish, and let your creativity show! There is almost no limit to what to wear when your headshots are for personal branding.

Wear colours that compliment your brand. You can wear trendy and stylish clothing – especially if you’re an influencer or social media personality. Wear patterns if you use them to reflect your personality on a daily basis. Go classic with your clothing choices if you want your portrait to last for years.

The point of personal branding photos is to show the best side of yourself to the world, and your personal style is a major part of this!

model headshots photo by Anastasia in art of headshots Toronto

4. What should models wear for headshots?

More than any other type of headshots, models should stick with basic and casual clothing. Tank tops or t-shirts in neutral colours like black and white, with little to no makeup are ideal.

Designers need to see you at your most basic to help them envision if you can emphasize and elevate their clothing.

web developer headshots photo by Carlos in art of headshots Vancouver

5. What should web developers wear for headshots?

Follow your company’s lead for choosing clothing, especially if they’re mandating headshots. If your company’s culture is casual clothing, aim for a mix between casual and business. Perhaps a collared shirt with jeans instead of a sweater with jeans for men, or a semi dressy top with jeans if you’re a woman. If your coworkers regularly dress up, you’ll want to go with something more formal for your headshot outfit.

Developers updating their LinkedIn headshots in the hopes of landing a new position in the tech industry should dress a touch more formally than the industry standard clothing styles. As the adage goes dress for the job you want…

Additional tips for your headshot session

Headshots photo sessions are about more than just clothing choices, here are a few more ways to prepare for your photo session beyond what to wear for headshots.

headshot preparation tips. Photo by https://unsplash.com/@agustinfernandez
Consider a haircut prior to your session…with a buffer period between haircut and photo session

1. Makeup in moderation

Makeup is a great way to accentuate your lovely features in your headshots. However with so many contouring how-to videos online these days, it’s not difficult to overdo it in your photos. We want prospective clients to recognize you from your headshots, so if you don’t typically wear a facefull of makeup, your headshot session is probably not the time to start experimenting. Reach out to us if you’re interested in our makeup artist services.

2. Keep your jewelry simple

Jewelry should accent and compliment your outfit choices. Stay away from big chunky jewelry, or statement pieces that draw attention away from you. Simple and modest jewelry in silver or gold are always good choices.

3. Haircuts prior to your session

Men thinking about haircuts should book their trims for at least 4-5 days prior to their session to avoid the freshly cut hairstyle. Many hairdressers will blowout and style women’s hair at the end of the appointment. If you don’t want to style your own hair, consider booking a hair appointment prior to your session. Those without a trusted hairdresser or wanting to try a new haircut, should schedule their haircut about 1-2 weeks before a headshot session. This leaves you time to reschedule your session if you dislike how your hair turns out.

4. Keep the flakes away

Many of us have occasional dandruff issues or flare ups (we’re not judging, we have them too). Using your favourite dandruff shampoo the night before or morning of your session will prevent any dandruff from showing in your photos. If you’re looking for a better dandruff shampoo, we can vouch for Nizoral Anti-Dandruff Shampoo; it works like a charm, has rave reviews online, and can be found in walmarts, costcos, and drugstores across Canada and the US. 

5. Headshot preparation checklist

To help your headshot session go as smoothly as possible, here are a few items that may come in handy during your photo session:

  • Lint roller for pet hair & lint
  • Blotting powder / blotting paper for oily skin
  • Lipstick for touch ups
  • Hairbrush / comb
  • Hairspray for flyaways
  • A cloth to clean your eyeglasses
  • An extra outfit*

*Bring additional outfits if you want our photographer’s advice on what to wear during your session. Please note not all sessions have enough time to allow you to change into other outfits. See which session types are long enough for outfit changes.

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