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

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 to Wear (and Avoid!) When Presenting On Camera

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.

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

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:

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

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:

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

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:

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

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:

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

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.