What To Wear In A Photograph


Several people have written in to ask about what to wear when photographed. So we decided to investigate.

Whether you’re talking a formal, planned portrait or photoshoot — or a situation where you have a sinking feeling there will be roaming photographers, sometimes you just want guidance. A true old-school bombshell of my acquaintance was recently telling me that for mid-century photoshoots, she was always instructed to wear polka-dots or stripes. In fact, she recommended something very like this, “to show off your waist!”

This, however, contradicts all contemporary wisdom on the matter: nowadays, the rule is no “busy prints.” (Unless they’re huge and Dorothy Draper-esque, although this runs the risk of stealing the show.)

Here are a few general pointers, gleaned from a professional photographer:

  • Solid clear or dark colors are generally a good idea. Yes, blue and red photograph well — there’s a reason politicians swear by the combination.
  • Open necklines also look good since you don’t risk the “floating head” effect a turtleneck can give.
  • Be comfortable! This is a good life rule but discomfort is somehow magnified in pictures.
  • One photographer I spoke to says he always keeps a few collared shirts on hand — for men and women — because they frame the face well.
  • If we’re talking, like, a head-shot or formal portrait situation, go with sleeves: then the focus can be on the face. Especially true for black-and-white.
  • As a general rule of thumb, fitted works better than baggy — but I’d say comfort trumps this, and if you’re going to be uncomfy in anything tailored, don’t sweat it.
  • One photographer I spoke to said not to “date yourself” with clothing — but while I see the wisdom in this, especially for a portrait situation, I think it’s kind of fun to memorialize something you especially love or that expresses you at this moment.
  • And remember — rules are made to be broken, and the “untag” button exists for a reason.

But if we’re talking failsafes, here’s a suggestion.

Now, wisdom of the masses: What are your tips for flashbulb perfection? Is it in the pose? The clothes? The attitude? Inquiring minds want to know!

For all of our handy Dress Code guides, go here.

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