What to Wear for Headshots

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what to wear for headshots

Choosing what to wear for headshots takes a great deal of time and planning and every successful actor prepares their headshot clothing carefully. You can’t take your whole wardrobe with you, yet you’ve got to plan for every suitable casting breakdown for the next year or so. With black and white acting headshot photos long gone, your wardrobe choices now include crucial decisions about colour.

What you wear for your professional acting headshot is so important that you should be preparing your wardrobe several days before the photography session, even taking selfies at home to analyse your clothing choices. Make sure every item is freshly washed, dried and carefully ironed.

What to wear for acting headshots

What to wear for Headshots: clothing advice for actors with Michael Wharley” is packed with visual examples of what to wear and what to avoid for your acting headshots. Here’s the video:

Choosing a headshot outfit

Before we get into the specifics of which clothing choices complement your actor headshots, step back for a strategic overview.

What type of roles could you realistically play?

When the casting director reviews thousands of actor submissions for a casting breakdown, your professional headshot needs to sell your appearance for that role in a split second. That’s a different aim from a business portrait, corporate headshot or personal branding photos. You need to look like you, but also able to absorb another character’s existence.

If you’re using an agency’s headshot photographer with a low session rate, you may only get one look. Plus, the agency may insist on a house style, such as a black T-shirt. In that case, use your makeup and hair skills to create a neutral and versatile look.

But a private session with a headshot photographer usually involves three changes of outfit. In that case, you can pull together three very distinct looks with a headshot shoot lasting an hour or two. A longer headshots session would wear out both you and the professional photographer, who has to then spend hours editing the images.

You aren’t creating a costume, but a hint of a character from everday wardrobe items. It’s the same principles discussed in what to wear to an audition.

You know which clothes suit your height, body shape, age and personality. These rules still apply for your professional headshot. So wear a range of clothes which suggest role types for casting directors, but that doesn’t mean you need to feel like you’re wearing someone else’s wardrobe.

Let’s start by looking at what you should NOT wear for a headshot. Then we’ll look at making good wardrobe choices for your headshot clothing.

What should you not wear for a headshot?

When planning a wardrobe for your headshot session, do not wear anything which distracts attention away from your face. So avoid the following items:

  • Dirty clothes
  • Worn, damaged or faded clothing
  • Wrinkled clothing
  • Badly fitting clothes
  • Outfits inappropriate to your age or casting type
  • Costumes
  • Strappy and low neck tops 
  • Distracting tassels, zips or straps
  • Stripes, dots or busy patterns
  • Neon colours
  • Logos
  • Too much layering
  • Inappropriate or heavy makeup

The professional headshot used to sell your look to casting directors in two seconds shows just a couple of inches below the shoulders. So avoid strappy tops and low necklines which all but disappear in a cropped portrait headshot.

Similarly, avoid fussy, dominating items around the neckline. An upturned collared shirt or coat, or bright buttons can fight for attention when all eyes should be on your face.

What is the best colour to wear for headshots?

Solid colours in jewel tones that enhance your hair and eye colour are often the best colour to wear for headshots. Bright colours can work, but are distracting so choose carefully. Flesh tones are a poor headshot clothing choice because they blend your face and neck into your clothing.

Meanwhile patterns distract and quickly date the image. Don’t even think about a logo – your professional photo sells you, not a big brand.

Darker clothing allow the face and eyes to become the focus of the shot and add drama. A darker colour of outfit is a good choice if it enhances your eye and hair colouring, or suggests a role such as vampire or security team member.

But don’t automatically reach for black clothing for its slimming effect. Many people look washed out against such a dark colour, unless carefully paired with a brighter or subtle contrast. Dark navy or dark green often present a better choice.

Meanwhile lighter clothes give a lifted feel, suggesting a youthful, contemporary, or classical vibe. Muted shades of browns, greens, blues, greys and subtle reds work well.

A white shirt or blouse works with a smart jacket to suggest a business person or office worker. But remember this is not a straight forward business headshot. There must be personality in your face, because an actor does more than dress the part.

Social Media Inspiration

Social media is a great place to see a wide array of actor headshots and find lots of inspiration.

Sleeves and textures in your clothing choices

Wear sleeveless tops with caution. It’s fine to promote athletic and sculpted arms for a full body shot suggesting an action role. But for a close up portrait shot it causes a number of issues.

You can add texture as long as it’s subtle and in keeping with the image you’re aiming for. Bring clothing with lace, leather, denim, chunky knits, rough cotton or a T-shirt with a grain to your photo session if they look good on you and aren’t overwhelming.

Necklines for Actor Headshots

The neckline of your clothing affects how you look in your actor headshots, especially for the close cropped portrait shots which most agents and casting directors see first. Think carefully about the shape of your face, jaw and shoulders, and the characters you could realistically play.

From time to time, roll neck tops become fashionable. Using one may quickly date your pictures so that means booking in your next headshot session earlier than you planned. But even worse, the roll neck can swallow your neck.

A V neck top works well for some actors, accentuating the jawline and cheekbones. A lower cut to a blouse or shirt on attractive actors is a good look for some roles. But be realistic about the roles you’re suitable for and how you really look to others.

A rounded lower neckline suggests athleticism and strength, with short sleeves showing off sculpted arms in full length shots.

Avoid strappy and sleeveless tops for close up shots of your face and shoulders.

How should I wear my hair for a professional headshot?

Your hairstyle should combine your natural look and personality, but also hint at the characters you could play. Ideally, get three different styled looks. Also, get your haircut and dyed about a week before the photo shoot, so it has time to settle.

For actors with shaved hair or short hair cuts, your wardrobe choice has to provide more versatility for suggesting different roles. Depending on your age and potential role, one shot with a dress shirt with a smart suit jacket, a second shot with a denim jacket, and a main shot with a darker colour top would suggest a good range.

Actors with longer hair can try a range of styled looks to suggest a range of different characters. Make sure each outfit fits convincingly with the chosen hairstyle. If you’ve got hair to your shoulders or below, use your photo session to capture how you look with your hair both loose and tied back. A bit of curl or wave in your hair usually enhances how you look in a professional photo.

Photo Session Makeup Artist

A skilled, professional makeup artist could help you look your very best and help the photographer turn a good headshot into a great headshot. It’s important they keep the makeup tones neutral to your natural hair, eye and skin colouring.

But you don’t need to hire a makeup artist when you’re starting out on your acting career. A professional portrait photographer knows how to use backgrounds, filters and light to bring out the best in your natural colouring.

Final Thoughts on what to wear for headshots

Knowing how to dress for a shoot can be daunting because your professional headshot can be the image which gets you into a casting director’s audition room or an introduction to a quality acting agent. It’s no wonder so much time is spent pondering what should I wear for actor headshots?

Your outfit needs neutral, non distracting colour which quietly enhances your hair colour, eye colour and skin tone. Sleeves, collars and textures subtly enhance your face shape and gently suggest the types of roles you’d fit.

Your professional photographer knows how different moods and setup affect how the same item of clothing looks. A conversation before or at the start of your headshot session setting out what you’re aiming to achieve in your images is vital.

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Thanks to Michael Dunn on Flikr for the featured image at the top of the page shown under CC by 2.0 license