An Acting Headshots Wardrobe Guide for Commercial and Theatrical Looks

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By The Light Committee

You might think your wardrobe for headshots is not important. After all, a great acting headshot is primarily a photo of your face and many photographers crop into the face really tight. But the outfit brings a story to the party and is an important factor. So, what should women and men consider wearing when it comes to their wardrobe for acting headshots?

vibrant commercial acting headshot of a man Los Angeles
As Will Be Pointed Out in This Post, the Use of Color is Important to Set the Tone of the Headshot

What is the Best Wardrobe for Commercial Acting Headshots

First, it is important to think in layers. When it comes to a commercial acting headshot, fewer layers are typically better. Second, it is important to point out there are no rules and going against any advice here does not necessarily mean you are not going to end up with good headshots. So, don’t be afraid to veer away from anything here. That said, typically following the guidance here will maximize the results of a headshot session. Lastly, as mentioned, pairing your wardrobe with appropriate lighting and backgrounds is essential. As mentioned, it all comes together to create the story you want in your headshot image. That’s why big productions have makeup and wardrobe, a director of photography, gaffers, and so on.

For a commercial look, you cannot go wrong with a simple top that has a solid color. But remember that colors tell stories too. That’s why color theory exists. For example, red is known to exude passion and danger. Blue is associated with calmness and being protective. Green can show reassurance but also envy. So, if you want to have a red top, then perhaps your facial expressions should display a subtle look of passion. Remember that the background and lighting needs to build on that look. But is passion what you want to convey too? Piece it all together.

Simple tops like a t-shirt, button-up collared shirt, or thin sweater are practical go-to options. Usually, solid colors are going to be best with minimal textures or patterns. Intricate patterns can introduce digital artifacts into a camera known as moire. This is another reason to keep it simple. You might introduce a thin layer, like a thin sweater over a shirt or a white T-shirt under a collared shirt. This should be okay.

Regarding accessories like jewelry, keep it minimal too. Your jewelry should not dominate the shot where it starts to draw attention away from focusing on your face. This goes for makeup too. Remember that a good practice is that you will want to arrive at an audition looking as close as possible to your headshot, which is another reason to keep your wardrobe to something you can easily pull off later on. Also, don’t fret over getting the perfect outfit together – just a good one. Think about it – how often do you hyperfocus on what an actor is wearing in a movie? Your outfit is the supporting cast not the main draw. So, to summarize:

  • Basic tops are good, like a t-shirt, collared shirt, or thin sweater.
  • With multiple layers, thin is best, like a t-shirt under a collared shirt.
  • Solid colors are best instead of stripes, patterns, and intricate garment weaves.
  • Black, white, and gray are okay but colors like red, blue, and green add to the story.
  • Accessories should be minimal, and makeup should not be overdone.
  • Remember that the background and lighting a photographer uses adds to your wardrobe.
girlfriend look actor headshot of a woman in Los Angeles
Thin Layers, Like a Collared Shirt, and With Solid Colors are Good Options for Commercial Acting Headshots

What is the Best Wardrobe for Theatrical Actor Headshots

It’s much the same when it comes to what to wear for theatrical acting headshots except we’re usually adding layers. So, in a commercial headshot you might have worn a red top. You can completely transform the look by adding a leather or denim jacket and changing the facial expressions you use. When you then factor in working with a headshot photographer that will also do great theatrical lighting with a proper background and you have headshot magic.

But you don’t have to keep it as basic as throwing on a jacket over top of a shirt you also used for a commercial look. If you post to your profile the commercial headshot with the red shirt right next to the theatrical one that now has a jacket over top, it might look similar, particularly if you work with a photographer that doesn’t dramatically (literally) light them differently and use a different background. So, changing out your top entirely can be a good idea.

Consider your layers well because each one can tell a different story paired with your facial expression, the lighting, and the background. For example, a man with shoulder length hair in a white t-shirt under an unbuttoned collared shirt can use a facial expression to give the vibes of a skater. That same person can take off the collared shirt and toss on a black leather jacket to give the vibe of a biker. The photographer can then pair appropriate backgrounds and plan the lighting to help push the headshot viewer into feeling those vibes even more. So, to summarize again:

  • Keep your top simple and add layers over top – leather jacket, denim jacket, etc.
  • Solid colors are best again, while keeping patterns and intricate garment weaves minimal.
  • Accessories should be minimal as layers already add good complexity.
  • Black, white, and gray are again okay but barely contribute to your headshot story.

The background and lighting the photographer uses will be even more important with theatrical looks.

90s look actress headshot in Los Angeles with Asia Holiday
Layers of Clothing Help to Build a Theatrical Look and Even Thicker Layers Work, Like a Vibrant Leather Jacket

VIDEO: What Not to Wear for Acting Headshots

What is the Best Color for Acting Headshots

There is no best color for acting headshots but there are some that have been requested more than others. For example, at The Light Committee, the most popular color that actors have said their agent requested is blue – they want the background to be blue. But that is by far not a majority, meaning this request is made less than 10 percent of all requests for colors. But it is the most popular color referred to. Again, there is no right color but there can be wrong colors.

For example, pairing green and red for a commercial headshot can send Christmas vibes. So, this color combo, while it works well together, needs to be done carefully. Use colors to help shape the look you want to portray. Here are some common color and vibes that might be given with using them, as sourced from the book, Complete Color Harmony:

  • Red can evoke powerful, vitality, danger in an image.
  • Pink is romantic, gentle.
  • Orange can give vibes of friendliness, be inviting.
  • Yellow is a moving color, active.
  • Green can be trendy, youthful.
  • Blue can be invigorating, cool.
  • Purple is strong, luxurious.

It’s important to point out that color by itself doesn’t exude these characteristics and these colors and others can give many more vibes than just what is listed here. For example, just because a wall is painted purple doesn’t mean what’s inside is luxurious. Colors work in concert with one another to create vibes. Think about the classic teal and orange cinematic tone common in the movie industry.

cinematic theatrical acting headshot of a man in Los Angeles
Blue is One Color Often Referred to as Ideal for a Background Color But it is By No Means the Color You Must Use. After All, There Are Many Shades of Blue

What Should I Avoid in Acting Headshots

Before diving into just a few things to avoid in acting headshots, recall the beginning of this post where I mentioned there is no perfect right answer. Don’t be afraid to break the so-called rules. That said, usually avoiding these things is helpful. Here they are, in no particular order…

Don’t over-retouch the headshot. Remember that when you show up for an audition, you need to look as close to your headshot as possible. Most photographers will do a certain amount of retouching. So, if you’re asking for more than they already do, tread carefully.

Avoid cropping into the top of your head. This is opted for to make the shot that much closer to your face, but it can leave things to the imagination. Do you have a bald spot up there or a mohawk? Also, the closer you crop, the less your outfit is contributing to the shot.

Avoid excessive makeup, unless that is your normal self on a regular basis, then go for it.

Avoid getting headshots and then changing your look and not updating your headshots. If you significantly alter your look you will want to update your headshots. What is a significant change? You color your hair. You cut your hair length by an inch to half the length or more. You remove facial hair or add it. You lose or gain noticeable weight. You start wearing glasses. You get the idea.

Armed with this knowledge, now look for a headshot photographer that can help complement your wardrobe with their lighting skills and background options. Remember, this was just a guide and not hard-set rules. After all, even some of the example photos you see here do not follow all the guidance. But following along as much as possible is a sure way you will be happy with your headshots.

school girl look acting headshot of a woman in Los Angeles
While Thick Layers and Flowery Patterns Were Not Part of the Guidance for a Commercial Look, Don't Be Afraid to Break the Rules Because Sometimes it Just Works, Like In This Headshot

Other Resources for Actors

Here are a few additional actor resources that might come in handy. You might also like to learn a little bit about what agents might want you to wear for your headshot session.