The New Business Casual: How to Dress for Zoom

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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.

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.

For Men
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.

For Women
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.

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.

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 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.

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