Today, I want to talk about a slightly controversial issue. How to dress on set. A lot of people have an issue with clothes and dressing properly because it’s so linked together with looks. Looks is a controversial matter that I don’t want to get into too deeply here.

By looks, I mean everything about the way someone looks – the first appearance if you will. It’s not a debate between skinny vs. fat, who’s nose looks like they’ve had plastic surgery or any of that.

We’re talking here about the total package of a person’s appearance as they present themselves to a potential client, business contact or an employer, and anything else you can think of where you’re judged on your appearance.

By “dressing properly,” I refer to dressing to fit the purpose. If you’re going to meet a potential client at a high-fashion company like Gucci, you’re going to be dressed a lot differently than if you’re on a polar expedition filming penguins. An extreme example, maybe, but it illustrates the point.

Dress To Impress

I have a confession to make: Looks do matter. They’re not the be-all, end-all, make-or-break of success in life and business (as some people would have you believe), but they certainly do help.

Don’t believe what people tell you about first impressions not counting in lift and business. They do.

It’s true that around 80% of communication is non-verbal. The words you speak have surprisingly little impact on the way you’re perceived. The non-verbals are the way you look, your body language and tonality.

Let’s look at an area not wholly unrelated to business success: success with the opposite sex.

Let’s be honest here – it’s clear that looks do matter in the attraction department, just not as much as some people think. In the realm of attraction, there has to be some mutual interest on a skin-deep level in order for people to hit it off.

But looks alone will very rarely attract a potential suitor. Even the classic example that lonely people point to of the outrageous antics of promiscuous movie star/rockstar types is wrong – instead of looks getting those people laid, it’s really an extreme form of social value that’s leading to the insane number of knotches on their bedposts.

However, looks are a contributing factor towards any person’s success with the opposite sex. If, in the realm of dating, it’s a contributing factor and something that you can do to increase your attractivity, then why wouldn’t you want to stack the odds in your favour?

I’m not saying that you should go out and get plastic surgey, a tummy tuck and hair implants, but making yourself look your best should be every person responsibility to…themselves.

And that’s why this is so controversial – because deep down lots of people have a fear of looking their best. At the back of their minds they can always explain away some business failure or setback with some vague comment about, “how I just didn’t look the part.”

How many times have you heard friends say after a job interview, “I don’t think my face fits…”?

It’s a roundabout way of saying what we’re talking about above, as well as being a pretty effective defines mechanism. How you dress on set matters.

Stacking The Odds In Your Favor

So what does all this mean for your business and filmmaking success?

It’s not about being materialistic and judging everyone on their appearance. It’s about recognising that this kind of pre-selection mechanism is a part of everyone (whether they like it or not) and that by acknowledging it we can improve ourselves and our odds of being perceived positively.

It’s all about giving yourself an advantage that so many other people don’t permit themselves.

Yes, we’re stacking the odds in our favour, but it has to come from a place of doing it for your own self-improvement. You’re making yourself look your best in order to find your best self.


You’re doing it for yourself. You’re not doing it for that client you’re meeting next week, or the woman you always bump into as you’re entering the gym.

No, it’s not about other people, real or imagined. It’s about yourself.

Yes, you recognize that people judge others on appearances and that appearance is a huge part of a first impression. But the decision to improve the way you look (including your dress sense) must come from within yourself and for yourself.

As we’ve discovered, non-verbal communication is 80% of the communication picture, and it’s the same whether you’re meeting someone for the first time or the 90th time.

So How Exactly Do I Dress On Set?

As we mentioned at the start of this post, dress for the purpose. context is everything in dressing terms.

If you’re trekking across the Sahara desert filming a documentary, you’re going to want to dress very differently than you would if you were appearing on stage to receive an award for that documentary.

One of the age old debates in dress and clothing discussions is always budget vs. expensive. And not just in the arena of clothing. The spent vs. thrift debate has raged in all sorts of circles since the dawn of time – or, at least, since the dawn of the credit card!

Whilst making yourself look your best in order to stack the attracting odds in your favour is acceptable, feeling like you need to invest thousands of dollars a year in order to keep up with the latest trends that will attract you the best clients is ridiculous…not to mention incredibly shallow.

So there’s a potential client you imagine you can only land if you rock up in a Bentley and step out dressed in a William Westmancott suit?

I only ask you this: Is that the kind of client you want to work with?

When It Comes To Clothes, Context Is Everything

Look, clients appreciate a business-people who make an effort, but there’s no need to go overboard with it. Once you start buying expensive stuff just to impress other people, you’ve jumped off the diving board of try hard.

You don’t need to do all the ‘try hard’ stuff. It all comes from a place of desperation and neediness.

Remember this as a good rule of thumb – dress how the client does. If you’re going to meet the VP of a large marketing company to talk about your video production services, you should dress smart, without be over-the-top.

On the other hand, if you’re meeting a client in a coffee shop to discuss their upcoming wedding that you’re going to be filming, you can dress casual.

Context is everything.

Some Pointers To Look Your Best

Dress the way you want to be perceived. It’s true that a person dressed in a well-fitting suit is going to portray a certain air of authority. Likewise, if you stumble around town in week old clothes, looking and smelling like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards, then you’re most likely going to be making a first impression that you don’t want to make.

To a lot of people, this is going to come across as a mixture of common sense and preaching to the choir, but I thought I’d give some general pointers about looking your best for business and all-round success.

So this means:

  • Get a haircut that works with your body size and face shape.
  • Always be washed and clean. Goes without saying really! This is especially true when meeting potential clients. Clients don’t like messy, unkept freelancers.
  • Brush your teeth before leaving the house. According to dental recommendations, you should be brushing twice a day, but remember to brush before you leave the house, especially if you’re going to a meeting or to do some work.
  • If you’re male, keep your facial hair tidy – I personally prefer to always maintain the unshaved look, but your mileage may vary.
  • Decent smell. Aftershave, perfume and deodorant where needed. Don’t let yourself smell like yesterday’s dinner, or a trash can.
  • Good clothes that work with your image and fit your personality. And, as we’ve discussed, fit the context of the situation you’re dressing for.

I feel stupid just mentioning it, but I urge you here not to try to be someone that you’re not. You have a responsibility to yourself to look your best self, not somebody else’s best self.

You Can Tell A Lot About Someone By The Way They Dress

We touched on this earlier in the post. You can really tell a lot about someone by the way they dress.

So we come to the most important part of this post: You have to, above all else, be true to yourself.

And, no, this isn’t some woo-woo new age stuff. Be true to yourself, in this context, means to recognize who you want to be and dress in a way befitting that. From there, you gradually become that person you desire to be. Just like setting a goal, you make gradual changes, day by day, and you eventually achieve it.

This could be stated again and again throughout the posts I write here, but I think it’s particularly fitting here when we’re discussing image.

Throughout all of this, everything that we’re doing here, we’re trying to find our best selves. To be our best selves. If you try to follow someone else’s ideal of a best self, then you’ll find yourself, years down the road, having to seriously re-examine yourself.

I can give you pointers, but it’s, of course, up to you to plot the course you want to take. Not everything that you read here will be for you. It’s about finding the bits that work for you and disregarding those that don’t.

If you want a quote to remember this by, you should follow Bruce Lee’s advice:

Keep what works for you and throw away the rest.

Clothing reveals an awful lot about who we are, what we think and how we feel about ourselves. People’s emotions are so often reflected in the kind of clothes they wear, but it’s not always as simple as that.

Whilst we could say that confident people express themselves outwardly with a choice of confident looking clothing, there’s always the cliched example of the insecure party girl who wears revealing clothing to mask the confidence she doesn’t have. Is this kind of clothing confident or just screaming for acceptance and attention through a phony confidence?

By choosing to dress a certain way, people are choosing to openly associate themselves with a tribe. By tribe, I refer to a group or architype that people feel a part of.

The incredible business commentator, Seth Godin, discusses the idea of tribe in his book Tribes, as well as his other books and blog posts focused on business and marketing.

For example, clothing wise, we have the obvious ones like uptight business-people, goths, ‘indie kids’, geeks or punks. There are, of course, more subtle examples of tribes.

An example of a less subtle (yet distinctly in your face) tribe would be neo-Nazi groups. If tattooing a swastica on your forehead doesn’t firmly identify you as part of a certain tribe, then I don’t know what will!

Make sure whatever tribe you choose to represent (if you choose one at all) is in-sync with your values and personality. Don’t get stuck in the hole of moulding your personality to fit an image. Instead, mould your image to fit your personality!

I hope you’ve found this article all about working on set helpful. If you have any questions, thoughts or ideas, feel free to drop them in the comments below. I’d also really appreciate you sharing this article with your friends and colleagues using the share buttons below.

Thanks for reading!