What to Wear for Professional Headshots (Updated 2023)

by | Jan 1, 2023

There’s truth to the adage “clothes make the man.” According to researchers, the way we dress conveys information about our identity both in and outside of the workplace, and has a significant impact on what others believe about us. That includes beliefs about how much influence and power we have, how smart we are, and even how much money we make – all of which impact whether hiring managers, coworkers and clients consider us trustworthy and reliable.

Beyond having the right professional pose and portrait style, what you choose to wear in your headshots will help establish your professional identity within your network. Since most people will see your professional headshot before they meet you face-to-face, your wardrobe in professional headshots is also an important part of making a great first impression.

If you’re considering updated your headshots, you might be wondering “what you should wear for professional headshots?” So as you prepare for your headshot session, consider these wardrobe tips and tricks for great professional portraits! 

Also, if you are looking to update your professional headshot, without actually going to a studio, check out our article on how to take a professional headshot at home. We can help you get a great headshot with just a smart phone.

Style Tips for Professional Headshots

Dress Like Your Boss

What’s considered appropriate dress in the workplace varies widely by industry. Lawyers and doctors, for instance, are generally expected to dress in a more formal and conservative way, whereas those working in technical or creative roles may look out of place if they come to work in a suit and tie.

When in doubt, look to your boss or another industry leader you respect. The way your superiors dress is usually a good indicator of what’s appropriate for your industry, and will help you convey confidence without appearing as if you’re trying too hard. 

Avoid Overly-Casual Clothing

Even if you work in an industry where informal dress is the norm, consider donning more formal threads for your headshots if you want to appear more confident and authoritative. Research suggests that simply wearing more formal clothing can contribute to a feeling of power and control, which can impact your posture and presence in photos. 

The way you feel behind the camera will impact how you appear in your photos, so consider formal clothing options that make you feel good about yourself. If you need an extra boost of confidence, stick with formal options like suits, ties and formal blouses. 

Just because you don’t want to wear a suit, doesn’t mean you can’t dress “smart casual”. You’ll have a friendly appearance to the outside world, without looking like a corporate stiff.

Feature Multiple Outfits

Consider the different people you interact with during the working day, and what clothing is most appropriate in each of those settings. Do you tend to wear the same types of outfits regardless of who you’re interacting with, or do you tailor your clothing choices to your audience?

If you regularly interact with different types of people throughout your day — which is often the case for entrepreneurs, consultants and salespeople — make sure you have a headshot that fits each of your audiences. Instead of trying to match all possible professional scenarios to one outfit for your headshots, make sure to get multiple photos in different outfits. That strategy guarantees that you’re always wearing the right clothes in your professional headshot.

Opt for Suit-Inspired Silhouettes

For better or worse, clothing traditionally perceived as more masculine — including trousers, blazers and suit jackets in darker hues — can have a significant impact on perceptions of intelligence and ability, especially when it comes to people in management and leadership positions. 

According to a study that examined the connection between clothing style and hiring recommendations, blazers and trousers contributed to applicants being perceived as more forceful and influential than those wearing other types of clothing. Suits and trousers in darker colors also contributed to more favorite hiring recommendations for leadership and management positions. 

Not a suit, but still inspired by the jacket and dress shirt combo.

Avoid Older, Worn-Out Clothing

Everyone has one favorite piece of clothing that they’ll wear again and again — but over time, even the nicest blouses and shirts will begin to show signs of wear. This is especially true of brightly-colored clothing or knitted fabrics, which could fade or show signs of pilling of each time it’s washed. To ensure your clothes make you look tailored and put together, opt for newer clothing or “dry clean only” items that won’t show these tell-tale signs of wear. 

Stick with Simple Jewelry

The best professional headshots enhance your natural features without distracting from them. For this reason, simple jewelry is a better choice for professional headshots – especially if your headshot will be cropped closely to your face (as most are). 

So long as you have the right hair and makeup for your headshot session, jewelry should just be a “finishing touch.” For necklaces, make sure the pendant is visible above the crop of the photo. For earrings, stick with simple metallic or gemstone studs, and wear dangling earrings with caution. Hoop earrings and anything that dangles tends to be caught in hair and gets lost in the photo. 

When using new clothing your whites/blacks will come out sharper, and your colors will be brighter.

Ditch the Undershirt and “Floppy Collar”

In a professional headshot, the area directly under your face is critically important. These photos are cropped closely for LinkedIn profile photos and other placements. So think about your undershirt and collar first.

First, unless you’re going for a casual look, with an un-buttoned oxford shirt, avoid wearing an undershirt in your headshot.

While many men wear an undershirt to avoid building up sweat during the day, a white, black, or grey undershirt will be distracting in a formal professional headshot. Why make people think about your sweat?

Second, especially if you’re not wearing a tie, make sure your collar is stiff. A “floppy collar” can make a headshot look sloppy, even if you’re dressed perfectly otherwise.

What Colors To Wear for Headshots 

Consider Color Theory

Color theory refers to the science of how certain colors influence our moods, thoughts and behaviors – and how certain wardrobe hues can influence what others believe about us. For instance, red conveys confidence and energy, whereas navy blue and black elicits a sense of dominance and authority. Think about what message you want to convey in your professional headshots and select colors accordingly.

  • Dark colors are perceived as more formal, dominant and authoritative
  • Light colors make the wearer appear more friendly and approachable
  • Some bright colors convey confidence and energy
  • Muted colors are conservative and less threatening
  • High-contrast pairings like a dark jacket and light shirt can create a powerful image that conveys influence and authority

Stick with Solid Colors

Regardless of your portrait style and setting, simple colors and subtle patterns usually look best on everyone. Bold or busy patterns tend to distract from your face and can lead to moire, an unpleasant visual side effect of repeating patterns. 

Contrast with Your Backdrop

When choosing colors for your professional headshots, consider your portrait backdrop. Unless you’re getting a company-branded headshot, choose wardrobe colors that contrast with your background so you stand out. This is especially true if you plan to have black and white headshots – a dark top against a dark background could make you look like a floating head!

If wearing a button down shirt, try to avoid matching your shirt with the background color. In this photo, the charcoal background photo looks better than the version where the client’s shirt matches the background.

Contrast with Your Skin Tone

As a general rule, professional portraits look best when your skin tone, your clothing and your backdrop all contrast. When choosing what colors to wear, make sure the color is significantly darker or lighter than your skin tone so you don’t look nude from afar. If possible to create a great monochromatic headshot as well, but make sure you let your photographer know beforehand so we can advise you on your best options.

Building contrast between your outfit with your skin tone, background, and clothing will help you stand out.

Avoid Outfit Combinations That Are Typical for Other Professions

The most common mistakes are 1) Dressing like a doctor or 2) Dressing like a waiter.

To avoid looking like a doctor, if you’re going for a headshot, don’t wear a white blazer. It’s very likely to look like a medical coat in the final cropped headshot. (Particularly if you’re shooting with a studio backdrop)

To avoid looking like a waiter, don’t wear a white button down shirt, with a black tie, and a black suit.

How Clothing Should Fit For Professional Headshots

Wear a Higher Neckline

If your headshot is destined for a corporate website, keep in mind that headshots are typically cropped closely around your head and face. So, even work-appropriate tops, with lower necklines, could end up looking more provocative than you intended. 

For men who plan to wear a button-up shirt, make sure the buttons won’t connect below the crop of the photo. Women in particular are perceived to be less competent if their clothing is considered provocative or revealing, so blouses and tops with higher necklines are best. 

Opt for Tailored Clothing (Use tailored fits)

More closely-fitted clothing tends to look cleaner and less distracting than loose or baggy clothing, especially for formal or business-casual photos. If you plan to wear a blazer or suit jacket, make sure it fits closely around the shoulders and arms – even if that means it’s slightly too tight. If you’re concerned about your waistline, don’t worry – most headshots are taken with jackets and blazers unbuttoned, as the creases along your ribs tend to show at the bottom border of the photo.

what to wear for professional headshots as female executive
The space between the body and arm creates a flattering silhouette

The same goes for collared shirts and blouses. If you plan to wear a collared shirt buttoned to the top, make sure it fits snugly around your neck. Loosely-fitted collars leave distracting gaps that draw attention away from your features. 

The Right Wardrobe, the Right Photographer

What you wear for your professional headshot session has a big influence on what those photos will say about you – but nothing matters as much as the quality of your photographer. If you’re a Bay Area professional and want to book a headshot session, head over to our Individual Sessions page for pricing and booking information. 

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