Dressing For Video Calls in Covid Times

Knowing how to dress for a video conference is posing more challenges than many of us would have imagined just a year ago. The question “what do I wear on  Zoom?” is something we never thought we’d be asking ourselves. If there is one thing that the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us,  it’s that reality as we know can change very quickly.  

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?”

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 and confusion over how to present yourself.

The case for maintaining professional attire

For many people, your subconscious mind associates putting on more formal business attire 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 and confidence in yourself and your behaviour.

If you spend the day in jeans or sweats, your mind doesn’t take what you are doing quite as seriously. Not only do you feel more laid back you may also struggle to differentiate between work-mode from home-mode.

When it comes to clothing, there is a strong evidence to be made for dressing the part in order to act the part and perhaps even more so now that we are spending so much time in virtual meetings.  

You're the main attraction

Whether you’re in a job interview, attending a video conference or just participating in a meeting, you are the main event. You are showcasing yourself which includes your knowledge, skillset and expertise. The last thing you need while speaking to your virtual audience is to distract someone by the clothes you are wearing. 

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 colour 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. 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.

Virtual Attire For Men

A collared shirt without a jacket and tie is a perfect example of bringing your look down a notch while still maintaining professionalism. You can layer it with a sweater to add more interest or a nice polo or cardigan. 

Do not wear a t-shirt or tank top unless you are speaking with people who will also be wearing t-shirts and tank tops.   Even if you’re employed by a more casual company, these types of shirts give the impression that you’re too comfortable and you could be perceived as someone not interested in producing results. You don’t want to give anyone a reason to make a quick assumption that the quality of your work is less than amazing.

Cardigans and lightweight jackets are the new blazers.

That being said, there is still  a time and place for your suit and tie and it’s important to know when that is. If it’s standard protocol to wear a tie 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 professional, serious and capable.

Virtual Attire For Women

Blouses or sweaters are perfect on-camera options for maintaining your professional image while still feeling comfortable at home.

If it’s standard practice to wear a dress and heels in your office, you may feel more confident wearing a dress and heels on your video calls.  I know that I feel more comfortable when I am fully dressed including heels.  

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 should remain clean and simple and should not be overlooked. Your facial features appear differently on a computer screen than they do in person. Some concealer and mascara, your hair in place,  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

Many laptops have relatively low-quality cameras, which means that certain colours register with less clarity than others. When it comes to selecting your best Zoom outfit, paying attention to colour choice is the most important variable.

Black and white should not be your go-to options even though they may be staples in your every day wardrobe. Black clothing is difficult to photograph on your phone and the same is true for your laptop.  Textures and fabrics are difficult to read by the camera's lens and your top/shirt could end 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 colours 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 Patterns

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.

Light your way

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.

To create an inviting and appealing 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.

Mastering Your Zoom 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 anchor 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 tidy. 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.

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