After booking your headshot session, one of the first things you should start thinking about is what to wear. In an actor's headshot, poor fashion choices—such as faded or wrinkled clothing—can affect your chances of getting booked in an upcoming role.
Pro photographer Marc Cartwright, who has years of experience capturing headshots, knows a thing or two about what someone should wear. “I have seen everything from someone showing up to a session with a couture fashion show to someone pulling a wrinkled, smelly, stained T-shirt out of a plastic bag,” he says. Here, he explains what to wear (and what not to wear) for headshots.
When planning your headshot outfits, be sure that your wardrobe choices complement your desired character type(s). Knowing your market is key to nailing your headshot attire and getting a successful photo. For example, what is your age range? Are you aiming your headshot at blue-collar or upper-class roles? Are you playing sexy roles or do you want to land a more girl/boy next door gig?
“I have had guys bring three-piece suits yet tell me their marketing is more the college slacker type,” says Cartwright. “I’ve also had women only bring sexy dresses with plunging necklines, only to tell me that their agent wants something that could help them land salesperson-type commercial auditions. Watch the characters you would play on TV or film, and take note of their wardrobe as inspiration.”
While being inspired by other TV or movie characters is a good start, Cartwright advises to not get too specific, as it can be limiting. “For instance, you can imply doctor without wearing a white coat and a stethoscope in your headshot. A sports jacket and a nice shirt without a tie, for example, could be just as convincing,” he says.
There are some exceptions to the no-costume rule, however. “If you have a specific skill that you are marketing and need to showcase, [do it],” Cartwright says. “Even then, I would suggest making the shot less specific and working with your photographer.”
The color of your outfit is super important when it comes to looking your best in your headshot. A good rule of thumb is to avoid any clothes that wash you out or blend with your skin tone.
- Lighter skin: Avoid white, yellow, light pink, and any pastel or soft colors.
- Darker skin: Avoid brown, black, or colder blues such as navy.
Bring a variety of style options to your session—and not just the same shirt in a different color. “For each wardrobe change that you do, bring two or three options,” says Cartwright. “Each wardrobe change should tell a different story, otherwise, you’ll have multiple shots that look the same except for the color of your shirt.”
Remember that your photographer is always there to help you. “Your photographer will collaborate on looking at what you brought, deciding what is most complementary, and what best satisfies your marketing,” says Cartwright.
“Your headshot is not a fashion show,” says Cartwright. “Of course, you want to look your best, but if your amazing Prada shirt that you saw Emma Stone wearing at her last appearance is getting more attention…it’s taking away from you.” Therefore, when picking out clothes, Cartwright suggests looking for items that complement your body type. “You don’t want to wear clothes that don’t fit,” he adds.
Ruffles, logos, and busy patterns are all headshot no-noes. If you want to add some pattern or flair to pursue quirkier roles, make sure your eyes aren’t immediately jumping to the garment. “There are always ways to show your unique personality without your wardrobe screaming, ‘Look at me and how different I am!’” Cartwright says. “Also, make sure you can’t see through your clothing. If an item of clothing is sheer, wear something underneath that is non-distracting. Your wardrobe should highlight your personality, not scream over it.”
After picking out the right outfits, it’s important to also style your hair and makeup. Camera lighting can wash out your face—and if you aren’t wearing the right makeup, you can appear dull or even ghost-like. Donning some bronzer, blush, and highlighter in matte and neutral hues can keep you looking awake in your headshot session.
As for your hair, it’s a bit different than makeup. Style your hair how you would wear it to go out. But keep in mind that pulling your hair back into a ponytail isn’t always seen on camera. A safe bet is to show up with your hair washed, dried, and kept down.