Backstage Experts Answer: What Should Actors Wear to Auditions?

Photo Source: Jesse Balgley

You’ve spent so much time learning your lines and getting into the mind of your character, that you totally forgot about what you might wear to your audition! Well, fear not, our Backstage Experts are here to help.

As industry professionals spanning various areas of the business, our Backstage Experts think of everything, so we knew they’d be the perfect bunch to ask the following question:

What should actors wear to auditions?

Here are answers from 22 industry professionals!

(And if you missed the last installment of this column, check out “13 Signs of an Acting Scam” and see how to get your acting questions answered at the bottom of this article!)

Paul Barry, L.A.-based acting teacher and founder of Acting 4 Camera
A casting director once told me that actors should dress the way the character would dress, but only to the point that they would feel comfortable wearing that outfit on a bus to the audition. If you would feel comfortable wearing full priest blacks and dog collar, or blood-stained wedding dress on the bus, then go for it. It’s the difference between being the character and pretending to be that dictates your level of comfort.

Going all out and turning up to an audition with tattoos, nose piercings, and dreadlocks is fine as long as it doesn’t look like a cheap Halloween costume. Sporting a leather jacket and mohawk does not automatically transform you from sweet girl next door to Lisbeth Salander from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” You either have the heart and pulse of the character underneath, or you don't.

With the internals taken care of, you could play a biker wearing a tutu or a lawyer with a nose piercing and still confidently defend your choice. In the end though, it is your choice.

Marc Cartwright, L.A.-based headshot and editorial photographer
I think actors should consider the part that they are auditioning for and then wear something that fits the part. I’m not saying get into costume, but if you are going out for a corporate lawyer, for example, don’t come to the audition in a T-shirt and jeans. Take out as much guess work for the casting director as possible.

Stephanie Ciccarelli, co-founder of Voices.com
When auditioning for a voiceover job, what you wear (even though it may not be seen when sent online), may still be heard! The microphone picks up nearly everything you do, including the sound of clothing ruffling or the jingling of jewelry. Many voice talent prefer to wear comfortable clothing that allows for mobility while minimizing unnecessary noise. Cotton, knits, and well-worn denim works well. Stay away from polyester, as it’s noisy. As footwear goes, flats or soft sole shoes help tremendously for cutting down on noise while keeping you grounded with better access to your breath. If you’re auditioning for voice work in person, dress nicely but remember to follow the tips above so as not to distract from your voice.

Heidi Dean, founder of Marketing 4 Actors
You have a five-page scene and two songs to learn for your audition tomorrow so, naturally, your audition attire is the last thing on your mind. But you know the minute you walk in the room they’ll be judging you—even before you show them how awesome you are. Clothes are a big part of this first impression! What do your audition clothes say about you? Your audition clothes should:

  • Show them who you are!
  • Be comfortable!
  • Be appropriate for the role you’re auditioning for.
  • Highlight your best features (in size and color).
  • Look good on camera (for film and TV auditions).

Need some more help? Read my favorite book about creating your own style “Change Your Clothes, Change Your Life” by stylist George Brescia. Above all, make sure you always wear something that makes you feel awesome. The better you feel about yourself, the better your audition will be!

Risa Bramon Garcia and Steve Braun, The BGB Studio
Actors should wear what’s comfortable. And wear what makes you feel good. Wear clothes that help you feel the role, sure, but this is not about “dressing up” for the role. We’ve seen female actors falling off of heels. We’ve seen skirts so tight they can barely sit down. And guys sweating in wool suits in 100-degree weather. How can you act freely dressed like that? That said, an appropriate polka dot dress for a period show—(we love that on “Masters of Sex”)—doesn’t hurt. If, and only if, it makes you feel like you’re in the world. Yes, your agent wants you to look fantastic, but nobody cares what you look like if your work is fantastic. And please, leave the stethoscope and clipboard at home! Feel good, work well, be loose.

Jeremy Gordon, L.A.-based casting director
Don’t overthink this one. You’re going to a job audition. Be professional without overdressing. Don’t dress too “part specific.” If you are reading for a doctor and show up in scrubs, it’s harder for anyone to imagine you as the lawyer—especially if the producers are choosing from tape. We’ll tell you if we want you to wear anything that specific. Learn what colors work on camera. Some just don’t work. Plain colors, no patterns, graphics, or words (for most auditions, not all). Learn what looks good for your skin tone. Just trust your judgement, and if you’re brand new to the biz, ask a friend! Said with love. xoxo

David Patrick Green, founder of Hack Hollywood
This one is near and dear to my heart because, as with most things, many actors try way too hard when it comes to dressing the part for an audition.

They aren’t looking for makeup artists or costume designers when they call you in for an audition, so actors need to not worry so much about their appearance when they go into an audition and should instead focus on inhabiting the character.

I, like you, actually dress a little different from everyone else because then I know I will stand out and it makes me look more confident in myself. If you have the confidence to wear a T-shirt when it calls for a suit, then they are going to pay attention to you.

Trust me, your suit is not going to get you the job, but standing out and being unique might. Sell you, not your wardrobe.

Cathryn Hartt, founder of Hartt and Soul Studio
Easy breezy on this.

Wear something that makes you look and feel great. If it’s on camera, try to wear solid colors (no sparkles or logos). Try to stay away from bright white and tiny stripes (which have a psychedelic effect when you move). For drama, wear darker colors or earth tones. For comedy, wear brighter colors.

For commercials, look and see what people in your category are wearing in commercials and keep that in your wardrobe.

Dress in something that gives the look of your character without looking like you’re trying to wear a costume. However, if it’s for a doctor, wear a lab coat. If it’s a period piece, wear something that looks similar to the effect.

Philip Hernández, NYC-based audition coach
Your wardrobe should suggest you’re a unique artist who will arrive prepared, on time, and deliver. Wear something comfortable that expresses your personal style. Auditions are a professional opportunity. Together, not sloppy. Neat, not torn.

Commercials: Read the breakdown. Explore the company’s website. Watch old campaigns to get a sense of their brand and target customer. What looks good at home may not work on camera. Take a video of outfits and hairstyles to see what looks best.

Television: Suggest your character, but be yourself. Don’t wear a uniform. Watch the show to get a sense of the style.

Musical theater: Personal style, comfort, and a hint of character apply. Research the project. Is it based on a book or film? Were there workshops or regional productions? For callbacks, wear what you wore the first time.

Lay your clothes out the night before. You’ll spend more time preparing, feel more confident, and book more jobs

And don’t forget: Wear a smile. It says you’re relaxed and will be a positive presence on set or in rehearsal.

Tammy Hunt, LA-based manager
Actors should try to appear and dress as close to the character they are auditioning for as possible within reason. You don’t need to dress in a red nose and clown shoes if you are auditioning for a comedic role in a circus setting, but you get the idea. Just don’t go in with a full beard and flip flops if the role is an Ivy League-type who happens to be a young lawyer.

You want to make it as easy as possible for the casting director to visualize you as the character you’re auditioning for. Always, and I repeat, always arrive clean and smelling good. This goes a long way in any room, but especially in a casting room.

Ken Lazer, owner of Ken Lazer Casting Company
After 23-plus years of casting, I’m a firm believer that wardrobe is key in an on-camera audition. Giving the client a better vision of what it would look like if you booked the role can only help your audition stand out. If you’re auditioning for the role of a businesswoman or businessman, wear that professional outfit. How about a jogger? Wear those running clothes. Here’s a fun little trade secret: If you’re auditioning for an on-camera commercial, wear colors that match the colors of the product packaging. For example: Have an audition for Tide detergent? Notice the colors the actors are wearing in past commercials. You’ll see they are wearing colors that match the colors of the Tide packaging.

Kate McClanaghan, L.A.-based casting director
Every actor needs a handful of go-to items in their wardrobe to suggest types they’re likely to audition for such as: Mom/Dad, office-type, professional/authority, (clean) workout wear, bathrobe/pajamas, and so on. Head to Goodwill and pick these items up on the cheap. Then have them altered at your local dry cleaner so they fit well and are figure-flattering. Choose bold colors. If the role is for a specific profession, such as a cop, a nurse, or a construction worker, then wearing clothing to further imply this wouldn’t be out of line. Just keep it simple! A shirt and shoes, which will allow you to carry yourself with the appropriate stature, should offer just enough to back up your performance. Don’t overwhelm or upstage yourself with awkward props and unnecessary elements that will only undermine your ability to perform. And if you’re expected to “just be yourself” and nothing specific is offered (which is a bulk of the time), be the most well-groomed, approachable, pleasant, dressy-casual version of you.

Brian Patacca, founder of Actor Salon
You can find me changing in Starbucks bathrooms and the backseats of cars all the time! I’m a commercial actor and we have precious seconds (both in the audition and on screen) to nail the character, so wardrobe counts for a lot! Wardrobe gives me the chance to say I understand the concept of this commercial or genre of this television show and I’m going to show you by wearing the clothes that will put me in that world. I try to see wardrobe as one more thing I have control over, and I go so far as to consider it part of my creativity. You should look exactly like your character as he/she would look on television. Television is aspirational; your clothes, hair, and skin all look a little bit nicer and put together—OK, a lot more put together than we do in our normal, everyday lives.

Joseph Pearlman, L.A.-based acting coach, founder of Pearlman Acting Academy
Actors should present a “clean canvas” when auditioning. Trying to impress or glamming it up reeks of desperation and trying too hard, and should be avoided as it can shut you out of contention the moment you walk into the room. Never forget the first rule of the audition: Don’t try to guess what they are looking for, assume you are who they’re looking for, and bring yourself to the role with brave and fun choices.

Reading all audition instructions is paramount. If it doesn’t say to dress like a cop, don’t dress like a cop—be a cop! My recommendation is to dress for confidence, like you’re going out on an exciting date with the intention of trying not to over impress. Bottom line: Your audition wardrobe should be an attempt to magnify your inner beauty and charisma, not distract from it.

Jackie Reid, manager, and owner of L’il Angels Unlimited
The basic rules are what not to wear to an audition. No solid black, solid white, or solid red clothing. No costumes unless specifically asked to wear one. Do not show up in a police officer’s uniform unless you’re requested to. No logos on clothes. For example: Your child can wear a shirt with a mouse on it, as long as it’s not Mickey! No dizzying, distracting patterns, and nothing inappropriate such as a Speedo or too much cleavage.

Once past the don’ts these are the do’s: Wear something that makes you (or your child) feel like a million bucks. The talent should feel comfortable and confident. And when you find an outfit that works, stick with it! My daughter wore the same pair of purple overalls and green T-shirt to auditions until they were practically rags. She booked 21 national commercials in that outfit and they had her wear it in 11 of those commercials.

Jessica Rofé, founder and artistic director of A Class Act NY
Often, young actors (and their parents) think they should dress up their kids for an audition. Girls show up in poofy skirts with makeup and hair all done. Remember, an audition isn’t a party; there’s no need to overdress. From my days in casting, I can tell you that we want to see kids look like kids, not like young adults. We want them to look their age. The worst thing a teen girl can do is overdo the make up. Keep it light, keep it simple. Don’t age yourself! Girls or boys with long hair, make sure your hair isn’t in your face and obstructing our view. Now, if you’re going out for a commercial audition in which you’re playing a jock or a skateboarder, you can wear something suggestive of that character, but you definitely do not need to show up in full garb.

Mae Ross, founder of 3-2-1- Acting Studios
The basic on-camera rule is do not wear white since it “burns” the camera, and be aware that black will age you. Stick with solid colors that look good on you and stay away from busy high contrasting prints, stripes, and polka dots.

Wear clothes that suggest your character. For example, if you are auditioning for a cheerleader, you don’t have to wear a cheerleader uniform, pom-poms, and all. However, you could wear a nice cardigan or preppy collared shirt and style your hair with a small ribbon. You want the casting director to believe that you are the character without looking like you are wearing a costume (unless requested).

Leave your accessories at home; they pull focus away from your face where all the action is! You want people concentrating on your performance, not getting distracted by your bright shiny earrings. Rumor has it, that wearing blue gets actors cast more often.

When in doubt, a simple solid-colored shirt and khaki pants will suffice for all auditions and work for both genders. Just remember, your performance should stand out, not your outfit.

Erika Shannon, founder of Don’t Dodge the Dance Call
This is mostly for the gals, and it’s about shoes. Please, please, please wear shoes that help you walk and stand confidently. If you suck at walking in heels, do not wear them to an audition until you’ve mastered the art of working it! It’s a long journey from the door to the X, and you don’t want your first impression to look like a baby giraffe and sound like a herd of elephants as you teeter to the center of the room! How you move shows how you feel. Move confidently and set yourself up for success with your footwear, starting from the ground up!

Denise Simon, NYC-based acting coach
Actors should be themselves first and foremost. However when auditioning for specific roles, it’s perfectly acceptable to dress in the flavor of the character. No costumes please. You never need to try that hard. If the character is an edgy rebel, the clothing can reflect that. Be mindful of the shoes you wear as well. If you can’t walk in high heels, don’t wear them.

For younger performers auditioning for period pieces especially, I always recommend neutral, not contemporary attire. Dark skirt and white blouse for girls, and khakis and polo shirt for boys.

Ilene Starger, casting director
Without spending money on additional wardrobe items, actors should dress, in a non costume-y way for the roles for which they audition. If going in for a lawyer, doctor, or other white-collar professional, men should wear a dress shirt, a suit jacket, and at least dark rinse jeans and nice shoes. Have a tie on hand, too. Women should wear a pencil skirt or dress pants, heels, and a blouse or non-baggy sweater. If auditioning for a character who is less upscale, dress down appropriately, but not to an extreme degree. Women should factor in makeup and jewelry choices, too, depending on the character. Less is more if the character is not economically advantaged. And, in any case, women should avoid dangly long earrings and too much jewelry, which are distracting on camera. Men and women should avoid royal blue or gray shirts and sweaters, as taping facilities usually have a backdrop in one of those colors.

Ben Whitehair, L.A.-based actor
Clothes are a pretty good option. Leaves seem to be going out of style. Specifically, I recommend dressing similar to what your character would wear. But how the heck do I figure that out? Great question. For TV, you can start by watching the show you’re auditioning for and look what style and colors they wear. A quick Google image search can also do the trick. And stay away from strong patterns and logos; there’s a good chance you’ll be put on tape and those are distracting. And if you’re the type of person who struggles with this or wants an expert opinion, enlist the support of someone like Buckley Sampson in L.A., or make friends with a professional costume designer working in the medium for which you’re auditioning.

Ryan R. Williams, L.A.-based on-camera coach, founder of Screen Actors System
Something that suggests the part, but stops short of a costume. Something that shows off your best physical attributes, but stops short of shameless. If you get called back, wear the exact same thing. It worked before and most people won’t notice. It will help them track you in their memory. Be bold, but not a clown. Be sexy, but don’t insist on this. Follow the trends. As filmmakers, we are relying on you to be hip and in touch. Shop for the audition if necessary. Never be afraid to tuck in a tag and return this item to the store when you’re done reading for the part. We’ll call that a forced corporate sponsorship of the arts.

Check out our videos on what child actors should wear to auditions, and what you should wear to a dance audition:

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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