Today’s Commandress post addresses a question posed by Reader C:
Dear Commandress: My law firm is finally coming out of the dark ages and doing professional headshots of the attorneys and putting us on the website. What’s the best outfit for that? I am thinking about a navy suit with a patterned top (I have quite a little collection of Tory Burch silk sleeveless tops), but most of the headshots I see show a dark suit with a crisp white buttondown. I never know how to handle the collar on those. Can I wear something different?
Reader C has identified a key conundrum facing a style savvy individual in a conservative profession: How can I use my appearance to “fit in” and “stand out” at the same time? Most professionals want to dress the part, but who wants to spend their working hours feeling vaguely (or actively) unhappy about their clothing and appearance?
The stakes are even higher for a corporate headshot. It would be quite painful to dislike how you look in a picture that may be on your employer’s website for years – and that will probably be available through Google images forever.
(1) you want to look professional and confident; and
(2) you want the picture to emphasize your face and eyes rather than your clothes.
This doesn’t mean that your clothes can’t have personality – you just want to make sure that people “see you” before they see your clothes.
(Shown here: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looks professional, engaging and stylish.)
Here are additional tips to keep in mind:
(1) If your company is updating employee headshots, look at prior headshots of senior employees to see what styles will be most appropriate. Ask if your company has any guidelines or if the photographer provides recommendations or tips.
(2) Determine whether a warm smile or a more serious expression is appropriate for your profession and/or practice area. Is it more important for you to look powerful or approachable? Practice your expression and some poses in a mirror to get a better idea of what looks “natural.” If possible, have someone take practice shots.
(3) Your clothes must be clean, wrinkle-free, and fit properly. Avoid clothes that are too tight, whether you are standing or sitting down.
(4) Classic clothes and accessories will almost always be better than something complicated or trendy. Choose clothes that are appropriate for your profession and that make you feel comfortable – you don’t want to look like you are playing dress up.
(Shown here: This businesswoman’s white shirt and dark suit is a very “safe” choice, but the white shirt is neither flattering nor interesting. Compare this image to Ms. Clinton, whose clothes are appropriate and engaging. Image courtesy of StockImages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
(5) Ask if the picture will be limited to a headshot or will include a full-body photo. You need to know if your entire outfit may be part of the picture.
(6) Wear a blazer or blouse with long sleeves – bare arms are distracting and are rarely appropriate for a corporate headshot.
(7) Avoid clothes that are seasonal (like a heavy wool blazer).
(8) For women, collarless shirts are often easier to style than collared shirts. I agree with Reader C – I prefer wearing collarless blouses and knits under a blazer. I wear buttondown shirts on their own.
(9) Instead of a high neckline or turtleneck, choose a v-neck or rounded neckline that will “frame” your face.
(10) In general, dark-colored clothing will keep the emphasis on your face and eyes rather than your clothes. Consider wearing a dark jacket with a mid-tone blouse that complements your skin-tone – or perhaps a classic blazer in a color that looks great on you.
(Shown here: U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis’s teal blazer is flattering and attractive – but not distracting. The midtone color is flattering and makes Ms. Solis look very approachable. If your primary goal is to look powerful, a darker color would be a better choice.)
(11) Avoid white and colors that are close to your skin-tone, both of which can make you look washed out. It’s fine to wear a shirt with a muted pattern, but you should avoid complicated patterns (like bold stripes, checks, or herringbone) and distracting details (like large buttons).
(12) Choose jewelry and accessories that accentuate your features but are not distracting. Small earrings are usually the best choice and necklaces should be classic – this is a good time to wear your pearls and/or diamond studs.
(13) Have a spare outfit on hand in case disaster strikes and you need to change before your picture is taken. Also consider bringing more than one outfit (perhaps two different blazers, different shirts, and some jewelry options) to your session so you can ask for the photographer’s opinion about what will look best in a picture.
(14) Decide how you want your hair and make-up to look – most likely classic and not overdone. Choose a hair style that keeps your hair out of your face.
(15) As for make-up, you’ll probably want to use foundation, concealer, mascara, and lipstick. If it’s been a while since you’ve updated your make-up, this would be a great time to do it. Do a trial run before picture-day so you can figure out if you need any new products. Have your make-up along for touch-ups – including powder in case your skin gets shiny.
(16) Consider whether you want to get your hair styled and/or have your makeup done for the picture. If possible, do trial runs before picture-day to make sure your hairdresser and/or make-up artist understand how you want to look.
(17) Avoid getting a haircut less than a week before your picture is taken. It can be more difficult to style your hair during the first few days after a haircut.
(18) Try to schedule your picture in the morning when you will look freshest and you are less likely to be distracted. Arrive at least ten minutes early.
(19) Get as much sleep as possible the night before your picture is taken and drink some extra glasses of water to avoid dehydration.
(20) Consider working with a stylist to put together the right look – especially if your company rarely takes new headshots. If you are going to use the same picture for five or ten years, you’ll want to look great and avoid styles that will become dated. Many consultants (myself included) offer packages for styling a headshot.