It was – of course – only a matter of time: Vogue’s feature on Zoom-tailored looks (that are de rigueur up top and generally scanty below the belly button) joins the UK Guardian’s feature on what on-screen bookshelves say about the those who bought the books, to generic articles on keeping it simple, smart and well-lit during face time.
The fact is we’ve been reluctantly moving towards this moment for decades: when how you dress at the office/from that trendy bar/cab is no more (possibly less) important than how you look during a conference call. Kendall and Kim and all influencers have been dealing in this truth for how many years?
But now it’s our turn. Don’t lament the lost oportunities to stroll through Central Park or into that seedy bar, or to sweat it with the masses in a cavernous nightclub wearing Balanciaga or Adidas Collabs. Those times will (possibly) return, and we’ll love them all the more when they do, but the truth is – to paraphrase Amy Grant’s Big Yellow Taxi – that version of New York is being gated over and you’re too hooked to your phone to notice it, while the bars and clubs (haven’t you heard) are being turned into yet more gated communities.
The new you – the one that matters – is the version people see online via ubiquitous social media channels and – increasingly – on video. It’s already happened. Here are seven pieces of style advice to help you shine there.
We keep returning – not to Gigi or Bella or Kim – but to Kendall. Anyone who really digs style and deep fashion (over the taudry images on every fashion site of glamour models in risque swimwear, or in athleisure coming from the gym, or applying makeup in a YouTube tutorial) and who hasn’t heard of Mika Schneider, knows that Kendall and Kaia Gerber rock because yes, they do all the taudry stuff, but they do high contrast (white skin/dark hair) which emphasises their slim physique, but ultimately draws attention to their face. No you are not Kendall (or the male equivalent) but it’s cleanliness and high contrast (sharp and clean in whatever you’re wearing) that lets people know you mean business.
Photographers wax lyrical about a photo being a dud just because there is no light in the subject’s eyes. Now, your modified I-phone at home is not gonna provide you with the same quality of picture as a professional studio and a Red camera. You’d also need powerful lighting, reflectors and someone to do your hair and makeup. So what can you do on a budget? Draw your curtains and import a couple of standing lights, then navigate the room until you get the shot that best captures the YOU you’d want to get to know.
For even better results invest in a light ring. These beauties have been THE go-to tool for photographers wanting flatter lighting instead of a classical shadowy portrait. You think Kendall’s photograher doesn’t use one? Take a look at the first picture above – no shadows under her eyes, nose or chin, and her eyes are lit like a crystal ball.
Fashion is HARD. It’s enjoyable, but rich people spend lots of time at the shops because they genuinely can’t find what they’re looking for. The rest of us pretend we don’t care and slum it, or chase the dream on a budget.
One thing that rich and poor (but rarely the slummers) have figured out is that black is the great leveller. To be frank, a twenty dollar black shirt is gonna look the same as a two thousand dollar version through your laptop unless the latter has Balmain giveaways and – to be honest – fantasy (pretending it’s a Balmain) is one of the joys of an online presence.
Start with black and go from there. Why? Partly it’s because monochromatic shades are organically photographic, and Zoom and Skype are ‘photographic’ in the sense that composition and lighting play such an important role. And yes, black can work with lighter hair colours because online conference cameras have the tendency to film in high contrast anyway.
To be honest, if you love fashion it’s hard to see why you wouldn’t want to dress up for a conference call, although it’s easy to see where the tendency to bum around in your gardening clothes comes from. You’re at home, probably with people you don’t dress for, and after your meetings have finished, you’ll have nowehere to go but back to the kitchen or lawn.
But in terms of presentation, those thirty minutes online count just as much as five hours in the office used to (now that we’ve ‘flipped’ our working ways).
As the New York Times has pointed out, getting it right can be a task: there’s a line to be drawn somewhere between dressing like a Gap advert and for the Met Gala. The former is fine if you’re a gamer/influencer, while the latter is good for Emily Ratajkowski, but what you want is black, grey, with maybe a little (shock) brown or army blue thrown in. Now you’ve got the look of someone who walks for thirty seconds from your car, up your gravel driveway to your front door.
As you’ll have noted, dressing for the digital age is nine tenths fantasy. The great thing is that, because this fantasy world exists only within the confines of your spare bedroom for – say – thirty minutes a day, that fantasy (its perimeters and who you share it with) is much easier to manage.
And because of that, you might want to start experimenting with looks you might never usually try. How about some glasses or braids, or a number one for the guys with that mop you’ve been too lazy to trim back for a month.
Glasses are a good place to start. They can look GREAT when slipped on halfway through a conference call as you’re ‘checking your notes’. When people comment that they’ve never seen you in them before, just say you only wear them when looking at a screen. There you go, an alta-ego. Is it wrong? Not if it looks good, and it’s a heck of a lot classier than a fake tattoo. Just make sure you use plain glass.
Life as Simulacrum
When it comes to designer labels to sit down to, you’re obviously gonna need something high contrast that has plenty going on up top and that draws attention to your face.
This is probably NOT the time for a gender binary Sacai camouflage outfit or an Undercover trenchcoat. You wear one of these outfits to an online conference call and people will question why you’re not at a UN meeting, or you’ll look like the part-human overlord from some dystopian sci-fi art movie.
Art – in a sense – is what you want to achieve. Fashion shows and editorials are all about narrative and themes and – unlike the world you have little direct control over – the visual elements of the interent are completley at your disposal, thus favouring the story you want to tell.
While you don’t want to look like a sci-fi villain, the internet is still something very much of the future, so you DO want to look like you’ve come from there.
Artists leave traces. Leonardo Da Vinci’s musical score or anchronistic oranges in his Last Supper painting; Caravagio’s hidden self-portrait. Of course, you’re not painting a still life, and you’re not one yourself, but you are creating a tightly marshalled composition, within which your mug, plant or choice of scarf should say as much about you as your lack of extruding facial hair.
Guidelines for mugs: Go for portraits of a cultural notable; play against your gender type and against your race. Play against someone who has likely appeared on a University dorm room poster (Bob Marley, Che Guevera, John Coltraine, Kendall) and play black and white. Or, if you’re stuck, just buy a black mug or cup. It’ll go with your shirt!