Hari Patience-Davies shares how a wardrobe challenge changed her work uniform.
I’ve written before about how what you wear can impact your virtual presentations, but I hadn’t given much thought to going clothes shopping in support of our new online reality. After all I had my plain blue t-shirt and my plain black t-shirt and on Zoom no one can see your lower body – what more did I need?
Then I read this article about wearing the same dress for 100 days and became intrigued with the company that created the challenge, Wool&. I dithered for a while, but ended up buying a red short sleeved woollen dress and spent 100 days in over the summer.
Having worked, presented and taught while wearing the red dress, I realised a few things about outfits for virtual use.
A big epiphany for me was that while black is a classic colour for professional office wear, when we’re on screen it can make things look really really dark. Here I am in my favourite black t-shirt presenting in our old colourful office.
As you can see the black t-shirt and the dark blue walls are an unfortunate combination – the eye is drawn instead to the white shelving unit which is reflecting light from the window behind me. I needed to stand out more against this background – something my red dress was ideal for.
Using my clothing to provide a splash of colour – specifically of strongly contrasting colour to the background behind me – made the whole video feed look brighter and more eye-catching – and as the whole point of having a video feed while you present is to keep the audience’s attention, eye-catching is an advantage.
I’m now working out of a new space, one with white walls I have neither the permission nor energy to paint. So I set up my background carefully, using a bookcase, a retro poster and an artificial plant to add depth and colour.
But just because I have less dark colour behind me, doesn’t mean I want to fade into the background – the red dress is still my go to outfit for teaching.
But it’s not just the colour that makes this dress perfect for virtual calls – it’s that it has no pattern. Patterns can overwhelm and confuse the eye – especially over webcam, so my advice is always to stick to block colours.
There’s something to be said for the quality of the material – the dress is a fine wool weave and it hangs well which means it displays well on camera. The material is substantial enough to not turn translucent under a ring light but fine enough not to bunch in an unfortunate way. And as a bonus I think that this neckline is ideal for virtual presentations for women – low enough to provide a good shape to the upper body, but not so low as to display too much skin.
As I completed my 100 day challenge I earned a $100 gift voucher and have just bought myself a new Wool& dress – this time in black with a v-neck. I’ve also splashed out on a mystery dress in their recent sale – who knows what colour that will be – but I do hope it’s not black so I have another shade to wear when presenting!
Images – all images by Harriet Patience-Davies.