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What to Wear (And Avoid!) When Presenting On Camera

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You know what they say: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Image and appearance matter, especially for a visual medium like video. In this tutorial, you’ll learn about clothing as it relates to the video camera: which colours, shapes and patterns work well on camera, and which you should avoid.

What Image Do You Want to Portray?

The first thing to consider is your overall image.

When I was working as a news anchor, I always wore a tailored suit because I needed to appear polished and professional. The subject matter was usually serious, and it was important that people see me as a reliable and trustworthy source of information. When I’m teaching online, though, I prefer to wear casual outfits such as jeans and a sweater or blouse. I want to appear friendly and approachable, and a little more relaxed and conversational.

Some people even develop a signature look so they don’t have to worry about what to wear. A perfect example of this is the late Steve Jobs, the head of Apple. He always wore blue jeans and a black mock turtleneck. That was his signature look.

So ask yourself: How do I want people to see me? Also consider:

  • Is what I’m wearing appropriate for what I’m talking about (the subject matter)?
  • Is what I’m wearing appropriate for who I’m talking to (the audience)? 
  • Is it comfortable? Can I move around freely? Do I feel good in it? The last thing you want to be worrying about is whether your collar is crooked or your pants are just a little too tight.

Choose Camera-Friendly Colours

The next thing to consider is colour. I recommend solid colours over multi-coloured prints or patterns. The reason is simple: you want people to focus on you and your message, not your clothing. Solid colours next to your face are unremarkable. Forgettable, even. Provided you choose the right colours, that is. 

So what’s a good colour? The camera loves rich jewel tones like sapphire blue, emerald green, ruby red, amethyst purple, turquoise, topaz yellow. 

Jewel tonesJewel tonesJewel tones

These colours really pop on camera and look great on everyone.

Avoid Bold or Distracting Patterns

Now let’s take a look at textures and patterns. As a general rule, avoid them. Big plaids and bold stripes can be distracting, and again, you want people to focus on you, not your clothes.

One absolute no-no is tight repetitive patterns like high contrast pinstripes, herringbone, houndstooth, and fine checks:

Shirt with pinstripesShirt with pinstripesShirt with pinstripes

As you can see, pinstripes create a weird moiré effect on camera, where they appear to strobe and dance. I see a lot of this with neckties in particular. Go for solid colours instead.

Beware of silks, satins and other shiny fabrics—they’ll reflect light and shimmer every time you move your body:

Satin shirtSatin shirtSatin shirt

Velvet, velour and suede have the opposite effect— these fabrics absorb light, and end up looking muddy on camera.

Wear Clean Lines and Fitted Shapes

When it comes to clothing shapes, keep it simple. Think in terms of clean lines. Avoid fussy details like frilly collars and lots of buttons—again, these can be distracting:

Woman wearing frilly blouseWoman wearing frilly blouseWoman wearing frilly blouse
Photo by innovatedc/Photodune - no longer available

You’ve probably heard that the camera adds ten pounds? Yep, it’s true. So stay away from clothing that’s baggy or boxy in shape—you’ll just look bigger. Your clothes should be fitted and follow the contours of your body, but not be too tight.

A few more tips:

  • Be mindful of dressing too seasonally. Choose clothing that has a year-round appeal.
  • Don’t wear logos, unless they’re your own. These are trademarked images.
  • If you’re interviewing someone and they’re not sure what to wear, ask them to bring a few different outfits. That way you have some options.

Consider Microphone Placement

One final thing to keep in mind when choosing clothing is microphone placement. This is important if you’re planning to use a clip-on or lavaliere microphone. These are also known as lapel mics, because that’s where they’re usually clipped on: the lapel of a jacket.

Make sure when you put the lav mic on that you hide the cord—a common mistake is to leave it hanging out:

Microphone cord on outside of shirtMicrophone cord on outside of shirtMicrophone cord on outside of shirt

The easiest way to hide the cord is to run the mic up inside your shirt and bring it out near the top. Avoid blouses made of really light, flimsy fabrics—the weight of the mic can drag them down and out of place.

If you’re using a wireless lav mic, you need to have a somewhere to put the transmitter. Usually you can just clip it to a waistband or pocket. If you’re planning to wear a one piece dress, though, you might have to get more creative. Duct tape, anyone?

So just to recap: keep clothing simple. Go for clean lines, solid colours, fitted shapes.

In the next tutoria we’ll take a look at the dos and don’ts of clothing accessories like eye glasses, hats and jewelry.

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