Knowing how to dress for a video conference is posing a greater challenge than many of us would have imagined just a year ago. To be quite honest, the question of “what to wear on Zoom?” is something we never thought we’d be asking ourselves. But if the global Covid-19 pandemic has taught us nothing else, it’s that reality as we know can change in a near instant.
One of the many new “normals” for those of us working from home, is facing the inevitable Zoom meeting fatigue and staring back at ourselves on our computer screens wondering, “is this really the best way to represent myself?”. Raise your hand if you feel like your on-camera self is not the best reflection of your who you are. You’re not alone.
In an in-person meeting you wouldn’t feel as though your appearance were under a microscope, constantly being scrutinized by colleagues and clients alike. But on the computer screen, much of the other physical elements are removed leading to a wave of new uncertainties over how to present yourself.
What’s more, working from home makes it all that much easier to justify sweatpants as an acceptable uniform. After all, you haven’t left your home in days, why would you change out of what you were sleeping in?
The Case for Formal Clothing
The thing is, your subconscious mind associates putting on formal clothing with going to work and is strongly correlated with confidence and productivity, which is why it’s critical you maintain a version of your office attire even when working from home. In essence, when you dress professionally you raise your own opinion of yourself and your behavior follows suit by matching your clothes.
If you spend the day in sweats, your mind doesn’t take the task at hand as seriously. Not only do you then feel like napping, but you also struggle to differentiate between work-mode from home-mode.
When it comes to clothing, there is a strong case to be made for dressing the part in order to act the part. As you navigate your new WFH-life, this separation of wardrobe between on and off-duty becomes instrumental in creating more structured normalcy.
You Are the Main Event
Whether you’re in a job interview, being featured at a conference or just participating in a meeting, you are the main event. And by you, I mean your knowledge, skillset and expertise. The last think you need while speaking to your virtual audience is a distraction, and that includes your clothing.
When choosing what to wear for video communications, you’ll always be best to select an option where less is more. The people you’re speaking with have enough outside disturbances, like children, pets and partners, to pull their attention away from what you’re saying. Don’t give them another reason to lose focus by wearing something that overshadows your message.
Your safest bet will always be a solid, subtle color and a simple, classic silhouette.
Dress Down Without Being Too Casual
The unofficial video-conference dress code says that it’s not necessary to look quite as formal as you would in person. Your clients and colleagues know you’re working from home, and understand that an element of comfort is to be expected given the environment. That being said, too comfortable and you no longer maintain your professional image.
A good rule of thumb is to take things down one level from what you’d typically wear in the office. You want to give the impression that regardless of where you’re stationed, there’s no difference in your work-ethic. The best way to relay this message is to keep your look polished – even if it’s slightly more relaxed than it would be in person.
A collared shirt minus the jacket and tie is a perfect example of bringing your look down a notch while still maintaining professionalism. Layer it with a sweater to add more interest or opt for a nice polo if you find yourself overheating.
Leave t-shirts and tank tops for off-duty hours. Even if you’re employed by a more casual company, these types of shirts give the impression that you’re too comfortable and possibly spending more time watching television than producing results. Keep in mind that most of the cues people pick up on are subconsciously fed to them. You don’t want to give anyone a reason to make a quick assumption that the quality of your work is less than spectacular.
Cardigans and lightweight jackets are the new blazer. A sport coat may feel a touch too try-hard at the moment, but an alternative layering-piece will polish off your look while maintaining comfort.
That being said, there remains a time and place for your suit and tie (although dress pants are optional since nobody will be the wiser), and it’s important to know when that is. If it’s standard protocol to knot-up with certain clients or when speaking on panels, in board meetings, or to investors, then the rules of formality remain the same. Don’t give people the opportunity to see you as anything less than serious and capable.
Blouses or sweaters are perfect on-camera options for maintaining your professional image while still feeling comfortable at home. If you’ve opted for styles that would usually be tucked into trousers, do the same and tuck them into your leggings (or whatever bottoms you’re wearing that aren’t visible to your audience). Leaving a billowy shirt untucked creates a distorted silhouette on-screen, and fails to highlight your silhouette.
If it’s standard practice to wear a dress and heels in your office, then this WFH change will be a nice reprieve. To maintain a more elevated appearance, swap the sheath dress for a structured blazer, which looks great on camera without being overstated.
V-neck tops are very flattering as they elongate your torso, especially when the bottom half of your body isn’t able to create visual balance in the frame. Be sure to stay clear of cuts that are too low. You don’t want to distract your viewers with an abundance of skin or the potential of showing cleavage.
Hair and makeup can remain clean and simple but should not be overlooked. Your features appear differently on a computer screen than they do in person. Some concealer and mascara, plus a brush of your hair, may be all you need to be camera-ready and will help you feel your best as your face takes center stage.
Select the Right Colors
Laptops have relatively low quality cameras, which means that certain colors register with less clarity than others. When it comes to selecting your best Zoom outfit, paying attention to color choice is the most important variable.
Believe it or not, black and white should not be your default options even though they may be staples in your every day wardrobe.
You’ve most likely noticed that a black shirt is difficult to photograph on your cell phone – you’ll either capture focus on your face or on the garment, but never on both – and the same is true with your laptop. Textures and fabrics are quite difficult to read by a camera’s lens and your shirt ends up looking like a black hazy blur while your head and hands float around it.
Stark white is also a challenging on-screen option as it has a tendency to radiate a halo effect on your face as your camera attempts to correct for the exposure. This is true of all bright colors including red, pink, yellow and orange.
Neutrals such as blue, grey, charcoal, off-white/cream, khaki and navy are your best choices for on-screen colors as they consistently register with the camera and ensure you look professional, trustworthy, and experienced. Deeper purple, burgundy and green shades also read well, and add more interest to your palette if you find yourself experiencing neutral-fatigue.
Avoid wearing patterns or prints as they can create a weird optical effect on camera known as ‘strobing’. This is experienced most commonly with stripes, where there is a loss of continuity in the line and the lens of your laptop picks up a jerkiness in the pattern.
Solids are always the safest on-screen option, and if you do choose a pattern, be sure it’s one that is very subtle with minimal contrast. Remember that your garment shouldn’t distract your audience from what you’re saying, and that its role is to highlight your professional image without stealing center stage.
Find Your Light
You’ve put together the perfect Zoom outfit and now it’s time to start your meeting. Anyone who works in television will tell you that the quickest way to ruin a shot is to use the wrong lighting. And the same is true for video-conferencing.
Avoid sitting directly beneath an overhead light at all costs. This highlights imperfections and casts shadows on your face, especially in the under-eye area, which makes your skin look saggy and sunken in.
Overly back-lit is also a set-up to stay away from, because the exposure causes your camera’s lens to completely black-out your face as it compensates for the extreme light behind you.
There’s a reason that film sets use extensive lighting set ups to capture actors on camera. It’s to make them look as flattering as possible. To create your own movie studio effect, position your laptop near a natural light source that doesn’t shine directly into your eyes. As opposed to artificial light from the florescent bulbs in your home, natural light is softer and more forgiving on skin and wrinkles.
And if you’re ready to invest in a more permanent WFH station, consider purchasing a ring light, which will guarantee a perfect complexion no matter where you’re seated and may be just what you need to feel more confident while speaking on camera.
Final Tips for Mastering Your Look
To complete your perfect Zoom look, master your presentation by setting your camera directly in line with your eyes. This can easily be achieved by propping your laptop up on some books, giving you that straight to camera, news correspondent effect.
Be sure to look directly into the lens at the top of your screen, which creates the appearance of established eye contact. The tendency will be to look at yourself in the meeting, but while you may feel this is subtle, it’s anything but.
Finally, take a few moments before your video conference begins to ensure your surrounding is clean and clutter-free. While your colleagues understand you’re working from home, a heaping pile of dishes or a scattering of dirty laundry can be more than enough to distract from what you’re saying. What’s more, you don’t want to give the impression to clients or interviewers that you’re a messy, disorganized person.
Remember that the way you’re perceived by others has a lot to do with the information you feed them. Keeping yourself and your surroundings simple and tidy creates the subconscious impression that your work-ethic is equally as organized.