How to Dress for Television
by Ellen Ratner and Kathie
• Dressing in business attire is
always safe. Being overdressed or underdressed will divert the audience’s
attention. You do not want the focus of the interview on what you are wearing
rather than on what you are pitching. Keep your audience in mind. Is your
interview on a daytime show whose audience is generally female, age 25 to 65,
or are you being interviewed on a Sunday talk show that focuses on national and
international current events and attracts men and women? Dress appropriately
and you will not only look good, but also fit in with the host, set, and
• Studio lights generate a lot of
heat, so it will probably be hot on the set. If you are dressed too warmly and
have to remove your jacket, you are going to look less like an expert.
• Might a microphone be clipped to
your clothing? If a woman wears a blouse and no blazer, jacket, or cardigan,
the weight of the microphone may pull on her blouse and be distracting. The
same is true for a man wearing a polo shirt with no tie. Blazer collars and
ties are typical places for the sound team to clip a microphone. Note that tie
clips and necklaces can create a lot of noise if the microphone bangs against
them. Swishy fabrics can also create noise problems.
• Despite what you may think, it
is good to wear colors. Black and white look dull on camera, especially in this
age of HDTV, where colors practically jump off the television screen. There is
a long-standing debate about whether men should wear white shirts; light blue
is worn just as often. If you watch the Sunday-morning talk shows, you’ll see
that almost every male interviewed wears a navy blue suit, white or light blue
shirt, and red tie. The interviewers are a little less cookie-cutter in their
appearance. Navy is always a winner, but so are red, yellow, and even pink.
Avoid wild color combinations
• Patterns to avoid are plaids,
checks, polka dots, and busy geometrics. These all tend to read bizarrely on
camera. You may have seen someone being interviewed, or even a host or an
anchor, whose tie or blouse seems to move because the pattern is too busy.
• Do not select your television
wardrobe based on what is in fashion, but don’t wear something that hasn’t been
in vogue for 30 years (although it does seem that every fashion trend of the
past 40 years has had a rebirth). It is better to be conservative with
on-camera clothes than to be too far out there.
• As with your clothing, make sure
your jewelry or accessories are not overpowering. Metallic jewelry really
shines under those lights (think about someone abandoned at sea using a mirror
to attract a rescue plane). If your accessories are huge, your face will
disappear, and the noise your jewelry makes will annoy the audio team. Avoid
heavy chains on the neck and wrist. If you have a huge diamond ring, turn it
around during the interview. Sparkling diamonds can be a distraction. Avoid
large earrings—they could get in the way of your earpiece if you are
being interviewed by remote instead of in-studio. Men, wear a tie, not an ascot
or cravat, unless that is really the way you dress.
Don’t overdo ties or scarves, but
don’t blend into the sofa either. Bright and slightly bold ties are fine.
However, a small pattern could appear as polka dots on camera instead of the
expensive Hermès palm-tree pattern that it is.
• Women, make sure your skirt or
dress will cover everything if you cross your legs during a seated interview.
Wear new panty hose to ensure that there are no runs on the verge of spreading
up your leg. Men, wear long socks. If you are being interviewed on a “living
room” set, no one wants to see skin above your socks. Be sure that your socks
either match or compliment your shoes and pants.
• Test outfits beforehand if time
permits. Wearing what you intend to wear, have someone photograph you sitting
or standing, depending on which you will be doing during your interview. This
does not require a trip to the photo lab—you can use your cell phone
camera. Then share the photo with people who can give you an honest opinion of
how you look and be prepared to accept what you are told even if it is not what
you want to hear. Also, sad to say, remember the television camera really does
add 10 pounds to your appearance.
• If you are traveling by plane or
train to your interview destination, do not wear your interview apparel on the
way. You don’t want to be on camera sporting a huge coffee stain, broken heel,
ripped jacket, or run in your hose.
• Manage your makeup. Even men
should wear at least a little bit of face powder to tone down a damp or ruddy
complexion. Under hot studio lights, it doesn’t take long to break out in a
sweat. The networks have makeup professionals on staff to help reduce the
shine, but if your interview is in a small market, you won’t have a makeup
artist to help you, so carry a small compact to lightly coat your eyelids,
cheekbones, forehead, and nose. Men, if you are bald or you have a receding
hairline, apply powder on your head as well. A small amount will drastically
improve your look—greasy and shiny is definitely not attractive. Before
applying the powder, use a paper towel to soak up any moisture.
Be conservative with eye makeup.
You don’t want to look like a vampire with dark black circles under the eyes, or
like a deer in the headlights because eye shadow that’s too light gives you a
wide-eyed look. You will need to wear a slightly heavier eye shadow, liner, and
mascara than you normally would, but not too heavy. And don’t forget to tone it
down before you leave the studio after your interview.
• To avoid looking scrunched-up
and messy while seated, pull the back of your blazer or jacket down and sit on
it; this is one of the tricks of the trade. Then ask the studio people to tell
you if you’ve done it right.
Ellen Ratner, the bureau
chief of Talk Radio News Service, is the political editor and Washington bureau
chief of Talkers
magazine (the trade magazine for the talk-media industry) and an analyst on Fox
News. Kathie Scarrah is an independent television news producer. This article
is derived from their new Chelsea Green book, <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Ready, Set, Talk! A Guide to Getting Your Message
Heard by Millions on Talk Radio, Talk Television, and Talk Internet.
To learn more or order the book, visit www.chelseagreen.com.