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What To Wear For Headshots In 3 Simple Steps

Choosing what to wear a common thing people struggle with when preparing for their photoshoot. Unfortunately there’s no one size fits all answer on what’s best to wear as each person is an individual with different needs. That said, once you determine a few key things, choosing what to wear becomes pretty simple. When choosing what to wear for headshots everyone should first consider:

  1. The Purpose of Your Headshot
  2. The Background of Your Headshot
  3. The Underlying Tone of Your Complexion (cool to warm)

This isn’t complicated once you understand the the basics of how to color coordinate outfits for photos. Check that post out first if you’re unsure how to do this. Then this post will help you narrow down outfit options you should consider specifically for your headshot. 

By the end of this quick post, my goal is to help you narrow down what to wear so you get the best headshots possible from your session.

Before we get started though, I need to mention that this post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links at no cost to you. Please read my disclosure for more info.

Where to Shop for Headshot Outfits

women's headshot outfit

Most of you reading this will likely already have good outfits for your headshot using the color theories outlined in this post. For those that need to pick something up for their headshot, the following places are a great place to start when searching for outfits. 

  • Rent the Runway – Great place for women to affordably rent designer clothes.
  • Lucky Brand– Personally my current favorite retailers for casual tops.
  • Ann Taylor – Good Business casual tops for women.
  • H&M – Casual affordable tops for men and women. Interesting finds here and there if you’re willing to look.
  • American Eagle – Nice casual top options for younger men and women.

Step 1. Consider The Purpose When Choosing What To Wear For Headshots

Studio Style Professional Headshot
what to wear for headshots
Author headshot profile Perspective

Determining what to wear for your headshot should always begin with the intended purpose of your portraits. This will help you narrow down the style of the outfits you should consider. For instance, office professionals will probably want to dress in a different style then people who want acting headshots. The former will likely dress more professionally while actors might choose to take a more casual approach. 

Of course this isn’t a blanket rule, but this idea doesn’t need to be complicated either. Just think about how you’d want to present yourself when meeting with prospective clients or collogues in person, and use that as your style target (suit, collard shirt, t-shirt, etc.). 

Since a headshot is basically the profile photo that prospective clients will interact with online, It’s a good idea to represent yourself accordingly so people know what to expect when they meet you in person. 

2. Think About the Background When Choosing What to Wear For Headshots

Once you know the level of formality you should target for your headshots, the next thing you should think about is the background of your portrait. I offer 4 main backgrounds to my clients for headshots. For studio style headshots, my clients can be photographed on black, white and grey backgrounds. For on location headshots the background will be what is available to me at the location. 

Since we know from the “how to color coordinate outfits for photos” post (mentioned earlier) that we should only use 2 of the 3 main color groups, knowing the background color will help us narrow down the colors you should consider for your headshot

For instance, if you want to have your headshot photographed on a white background this would be considered a neutral color. This means all neutral color shirts will harmonize well with this background. You can then tastefully accent your neutral outfit with pops of earth tones or blacks.

Alternatively if you want your headshot photographed on location in a rural setting, this means that your background would be composed of earth tones. Earth tone outfits would then blend well with this background and then you could add pops of neutrals or black to accent.

Remember the 80 / 20 When Color Coordinating With Backgrounds

Just make sure to keep in mind the 80 / 20 rule when color coordinating outfits with backgrounds, and never use all three color groups together.

Tasteful accents happen with just a dash of color accent. Too much will feel overpowering and distract from the headshot. Conversely colors that are too similar may blend together to much and lack pop. Examples of this include would include scenario’s like:

  • White shirt on a white background
  • Black shirt on a black background
  • Earth tone shirt on location 

Step 3. Color Coordinate Your Skin Tone With Your Outfits

The third and final factor your should consider when selecting what to wear for your headshot is the underlying tone of your skin. This video gives a good breakdown of how to determine weather you have cool to warm undertones in your skin. 

Choosing warm or cool tone outfits only matters if you choose to incorporate neutral or earth tones into your outfits. That said, most people will probably at least accent their ensemble with one of those color spectrums or include one as the background, so it’s important to think about. 

The bottom line is people with cool skin tones should stick with cool color pallets while warm skin tones should stick with warm pallets and backgrounds. As an obvious example, people with warm tones can accent their outfits with gold jewelry while those with cool tones will do best to accent with silver. 

Things To Avoid Wearing For Headshots

Now that you have a good idea of what colors and styles to consider for your headshot, there are few things you should definitely avoid to ensure a flattering headshot. As a blanket rule it’s best to avoid:

  • Heavy patterns and prints
  • Shirts with logos, pictures or words
  • Wearing distracting accessories
  • Shiny clothes

Think About Your Neckline When Choosing What to Wear For Headshots

Headshot of a woman with dark features on a black background
This is about as low as I'd go with the neckline if you want your headshot to look good in square crop social profiles
Personal branding headshot of a man in a suit and tie
Example of a good neckline for a professional men's headshot. Note his neutral color clothes and background. Also note the earthone yellow pop in his tie.

Some photographers will capture your headshots in a portrait (vertical) orientation. Other’s (like myself) capture headshots in a landscape (horizontal) orientation. I personally prefer this landscape crop because I think it’s better suited for website and in social profiles (in most cases). For social profiles, square crops are often used which landscape orientation tends to be better for also.

In either case, the main thing to think about is where the neckline will end in the photograph for the final crop. If the neck line plunges low (as is typical with many women’s blouses) the bottom of the neck line can get cropped out of the headshot and look odd in both square and landscape crops. Thus, I find that it’s better to select a top with a tighter neckline so the viewer can see the entire opening in the final photo.

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I hope this post helped you narrow down what to wear for headshots and where to pick them up if you need. As you can see it’s really not that difficult once you know to start with a color theme and then accent it sparingly throughout the outfit. Once you understand  this principal, extending the same theory to the background to tie the image together is rather straight forward. 

If you have a better way of color coordinating outfits for headshots, let me know how you do it in the comments. If you know someone who would find this helpful, be sure to share this post using the buttons below!

Jason Guy

I am a portrait photographer based out of Sonoma, California. I create portraits for people of all ages with the goal of making images that are timeless. Portraits you will look back on decades from now, and still love them just as much then as you do today. While flattering lighting and pose are important, capturing how others see you is what I ultimately strive for.

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