How to Dress for Headshots
The real question is, "How would you dress for an interview?"
I've been mastering my craft at creating headshots for more than 20 years. In that time, I've watched clothing choices for my business clients range from Hugo Boss to Calvin Klein for men, and Michael Kors to Forever 21-ish for women.
In the 80's I was introduced to the book "Dress for Success" by John T. Molloy, as I prepared to interview for jobs. While the styles may have changed considerably in the four decades since it's first printing, the principle remains. "Dress the part you're going to play."
If you're already in the career you desire, we just tweak that a bit to "Dress to impress your ideal client." In terms of selecting you to do business with them, they are per se your employer, your interviewer.
This is not always a simple process, since it depends on the industry you're in, and cultural geography, as described in the second scenario to follow. To be clear, this is more about style of attire, and not specifically what colors, patterns to wear. That info we provide when you book your appointment, as well as tips on make-up and hair.
Here are two examples to explain the importance, one being my own.
I was conditioned by my retail manager days to wear a solid, button-down shirt, tie, jacket and slacks. This was my habit the day I opened my first studio in 1996. Letting go of the jacket was a pretty easy shift, but I still leaned a bit toward a rather conservative style on pants, shirts and hair.
Ten years ago, when I while my wife and I were still dating, one of the first things she asked me was, "Why don't you dress like a photographer?" Having spent more time in advising others on their attire, I hadn't actually considered my own. I had never even considered what it meant to dress like a photographer.
One afternoon, she called me at the studio just before closing to say "Meet me at Macy's after work..." I showed up to see a rack with more shirts on it than I'd tried on in 10 years combined. "Don't worry, they're all your color, just see which ones you like."
I liked the style, loved the way she looked at me, but what kind of message would this send to my professional clients? What I hadn't expected, were the results I found instantly and consistently during the image selection process. (most headshot sessions, we do a quick culling, then pop your top images on-screen to choose before you go)
Before the wardrobe overhaul, I had, (and still have), a lot of wealth management clients like MassMutual, Ameriprise, D.A. Davidson, Principal Financial, as well as large legal firms like Buckley Law. They dressed more Wall Street than Silicon Valley.
I was confident in understanding who their client was and what expression would convey trust to their next boss/client. The part that bothered me, was the selection process after the session. I knew which one they should pick. It conveyed authenticity and trust. It was void of the microexpressions that might leave question in the mind of their potential clients.
I would suggest "thee shot" but most clients would stand firm on their own personal preferences. "Well, the boss/customer is always right" (even when they're not), so I found peace in knowing they found one or two that they liked, and proceeded to retouching...
The thing to note here, is that for several years of serving this population, it was rare if ever, that I was asked to weigh in on the decision. I offered my insights, they were disregarded.
The day I started "dressing like a photographer", was in instant, constant shift of decision-making responsibility. "I don't know, you're the professional, what do you think?"
Seriously - "HOLY $#!+ - That's a new one..." read my thought-bubble as I pinched myself. This new pattern was so prevalent that the cause could not be denied. I appreciated the creative input, but it took me a while to process the sudden change in having their trust.
My mind raced with questions like:
"Why only now? - I'm still the same guy as before."
"I earned all of my awards and credentials while dressed and styled conservatively, so why the sudden trust and credibility?..
"Why should my clothes matter, are people really that judgemental?"
It took me a while to study and accept this, but it's just how we are wired. Call it judgemental or observant, our brains are wired to help us survive potential threats.
When a dog greets a new dog, their methods are a tad more obvious and than ours. While our "assessments" of each other are not as primitive, they are no less automatic when we first cross paths.
We unknowingly sort through an unconscious range of questions before we can even help ourselves.
"Are you a threat?"
"Can I trust you?".
"Nice shoes, she didn't get those at Nordstrom Rack."
Advertising has been playing on this behavior for decades. Remember Head & Shoulders in the 80's? - "Cute, but that itch!"
Another great example is from one of my clients that spends half his week on the east coast. He is based in Oregon, serving a Wall Street firm. He spends his day calling on C-level, mostly CEO clients.
To quote him is the best way to explain this.
“When I’m calling on my New York clients, I won’t even get in the door unless my shoes are shined. So I generally have to polish twice a day while there.
When I’m here in Oregon, I’m calling on CEO’s that dress like you." (Pointing at me in my less-than-Wall-Street attire)
So who do you want to appeal to most?
Will one headshot cover you for the gamut of your clientele, or should you be looking at our Two-Look Tuesday session? In the case of this gentleman, one with jacket and tie, another in a semi-dressy button-down shirt.
If you are a counselor to men and women, perhaps wearing that scarf that grabs you all of the compliments will appeal well to your older clientele, but if it’s for couple’s counseling, perhaps something less gender-biased, so that he won’t feel ganged up on when trusting a female counselor.
While there is no single solution for the majority of our clients’ perspectives, it is important that we dress appropriately to the first impression of the ones you most call “boss”. This check-writing client, or the gateway office manager that will determine how far down the hall your personalized business cards will get you.
Best of success, and please share your stories if you’ve had relative experiences. I’m always learning from my clients, and I hope this collective information helps you too!