Jori sent this question via e-mail:
Recently at an airport I noticed a woman walking toward me from some distance away wearing what appeared to be an odd combination of colors. But when she got closer I could see her dress was not actually a solid color but rather had a very detailed print that wasn’t evident from far away. There were colors in the print that actually matched other parts of her outfit, so up close she seemed very put together. So: I was wondering if you had any thoughts about how to dress if you’re going to be seen from a distance – for example, anyone who gives presentations in a large room. (And also how to “test” how you will look from a distance, since most of us stand fairly close to our mirrors when we get dressed in the morning.)
I get a little panicky when I know I’m going to be on-camera or speaking to a group because there are lots of parameters in my head for what I should and shouldn’t wear. (The outfit shown above was worn to a speaking engagement several years ago, and I felt like it actually worked.) And although I eschew style rules overall, I’ve learned that these ones are worth noting because they can impact how you appear to observers. And not just from a taste perspective. If you wear the wrong thing to a photoshoot, you may look ill or like you’re vibrating or any number of other undesirable and easily avoidable things. Here’s what I consider when dressing to be seen at a distance:
Many people make a practice of ALWAYS keeping their most flattering colors closest to their faces. And although some of the subtleties of color/complexion interplay will be lost if you’re 20 feet from an observer, it’s a good idea to reach for your best colors anyway. Black and white are very, very few people’s best colors, so do try to select an actual color, if possible.
From afar, contrast will be amplified. So if you’re wearing a white blouse and black skirt, where they meet will become a natural focal point for those observing you from a distance. Consider this, and place points of contrast, hems, and breaks where you want the eye to rest. (Assuming your whole figure will be seen, not obscured by a podium or similar.)
Small, regular patterns can wreak havoc under certain photographic circumstances, and may look blurred or as if they’re vibrating if seen from a distance under certain lights. Larger patterns can work, but use them sparingly. Solids will be less distracting to audience members. Consider using jewelry and accessories as accents instead.
The only way I know of to “test” how you look from a distance is to get help. Ask a friend to stand a half-block away and observe your outfit. Have someone take your photo from a ways off. Most people don’t have extra-long hallways with full-length mirrors at the end, so to get a true picture of how you look from afar, you’ll need to enlist the air of a trusted buddy!
The woman in Jori’s example probably hadn’t gone to such lengths. And that’s fine. On most days, most of us WON’T be on-camera or speaking to a crowd of hundreds from a raised, lit podium. But when and if you do, consider color, contrast, and pattern when you get dressed.