Another difference between "the good old days" and now. Wardrobe.

David Sim and his wife listening to the audio portion of his interview for Ottobock Healthcare.
Photo: courtesy of ODL Design / Toronto, Canada

I love this image from our video shoot earlier this year. David Sim (above, left) lost a leg in a tragic accident and was speaking about his experiences using the latest microprocessor-controlled prosthesis from my client, Ottobock. I had the pleasure of working with one of our VSL "family" while in Canada and he was gracious enough to make some behind the scenes photographs of our work process. It's fun to see what I look like when I am trying hard to look smart and thoughtful. It's an expression that is fleeting for me, at best.

I spent half an hour this morning doing some retouching that was required because we're losing some aspects/guidelines of public personal presentation that used to be more rigorously followed in the past than now. At some point in the not too distant past nearly everyone who had made it to the level in their field where a business portrait was required took some care to make sure their shirts fit, their ties were clean and properly knotted and that their suit coats or sports jackets were appropriately sized and well pressed. When someone from the legal, medical or business professions walked into the studio they were, for the most part, well polished. Their clothes fit.

Over time the casual nature of Austin (and I'll assume most other locales) has caused a loosening of standards. Now suit coats are more or less bought off the rack and worn without having the sleeves properly shortened or lengthened. Many men have jackets or suit coats they acquired back when they were twenty or thirty pounds thinner and which have not be altered or replaced. Some of these issues are easy to deal with but the harder one, for me, is a situation in which the man in front of my camera has a shirt which frankly, does not fit. People have become  ever larger without compensating for things like an increased neck girth and how it affects the fit of their dress shirts. 

My nemesis is the shirt collar that is now far too small to allow its owner to button it properly (at all). The shirt collar gapes wide while the necktie is tasked, unsuccessfully, with camouflaging the gap. The problem is that the camera sees everything. I've recently had to work with images that required me to create multiple layers, grab a wide flung collar on one or both sides and transform the grabbed collar image so that it fits over the initial gapped image and is more or less accurate and presentable. It's time consuming and nitpicky work but it has to be done if the image of my portrait subject is used publicly. 

There is a simple solution. Men could pay attention to changes in their size and upgrade their wardrobe to match the here and now. I wear a size 15 and 1/2 collar. If that collar becomes to snug to button I know that I need to head to the store and buy a shirt with a 16 or 16.5 collar. Whatever it takes to be able to comfortably button the collar and provide a nice nesting place for a good tie. I can handle a person showing up with a bad tie; I have three or four dozen on hand from which to choose.

Once you know your shirt's required sleeve length and your neck size buying shirts becomes more of a science and less of an art. You can order a shirt on line or call your favorite men's shop and specify what you want. They'll ship to you. Just about anyone will. 

You may find that you've gained a lot of weight and it may be that finding a shirt with the right sleeve length and neck size doesn't give you enough shirt to get around the middle. You should be aware, especially if you need to wear a coat and tie frequently, that there are companies that will make custom shirts to your size requirements. If you are not an average size this is something you should really consider since a good fitting shirt can really make a difference in the image you project to the world. A well tailored shirt starts at about $125 and can go much higher depending on the fabrics you choose. The efficient part of the equation is that once you are properly measured and fitted, and the custom tailor knows your preferences, you can order more shirts in the future over the phone. 

A shirt with a properly fitted collar gives the impression that you are trimmer than having shirts with collars that defy comfortable (attainable) closure. Not to mention that your tie will also be much better presented. 

This sounds silly to people who work in casual industries but it makes a big difference to people in a wide range of professional occupations where one is required to speak publicly, meet with the public, and socialize with peers and clients in business situations. Whether this requirement is "right" or "wrong" a poorly assembled shirt/tie/suit can be the difference between closing a deal or walking a potential client. Given that many of the people we photograph are working with transactions worth millions and millions of dollars it seems a bit careless (negligent?) to disregard sartorial standards when doing it right can be so easy. 

Don't get me started on shoes. Or shoes and belts. Or where a pant cuff should break. It's a slippery slope. 

Get three perfect shirts. Two white and one light blue. Keep them laundered and wrinkle free.  You'll be ready for your close ups at any time.


  1. Another thing I don't understand is perfectly illustrated in this shot. Most collared shirts, especially ones with sculpted tails are meant to be tucked in. That has changed of late. To compound it by wearing a sweater over the untucked tail just looks wrong to these old eyes.

  2. James. I can't fault David. This isn't a formal portrait and for our head and shoulders video interview he was perfectly attired. He's also giving a testimonial rather than trying to sell himself or a product. If we had done a portrait which showed him from mid-thigh up, or full length, we would have asked him to tuck in his shirt. I understand what you are saying and agree it would be most out of place in a business portrait.

  3. In my part of the world (SoCal Desert) my clients generally wear ties for weddings and funerals only.
    The only people who can be reliably depended upon to wear somewhat fitted clothing are financial professionals.

    Even then, it is hit or miss.
    Couple that with some subjects that feel your time allotment should be a fraction longer than it take to shoot a selfie and one is doomed to long hours in PP.

  4. I didn't want to fault him, it's just the style these days. I am even used to the untucked shirts everywhere. The sweater was just jarring.

  5. I remember "casual Fridays" that then evolved to "business casual" everyday. To buck the norms and have some fun, my friends and I have "reverse casual day" where we sport our rarely used ties. Give it a try ... we usually do Thursdays.

  6. Put a clause in the contract that specifies the additional cost for post processing... and make certain this is mentioned up front verbally to the client...

  7. I had to do the same shirt collar edit on a portrait I shot for a local church photo directory. It was an older couple and the husband had been in poor health for some time. He was on oxygen and had the clear plastic oxygen tubes positioned under his nostrils. Someone not familiar with how to fix the shirt collar and tie a tie had dressed him. With careful editing I was able to correct the collar and tie and remove the oxygen tube. The result was a nice portrait of the couple in the directory which turned out to be the last photo taken of him. Not my best portrait, but it remains my favorite.

  8. nicely put.

    men need to update their wardrobes, in a manner similar to women, not to conform to fashion but to present an appropriate image in any given setting.

    we all get old, and fat. But we don't have to look it.

  9. :) I enjoyed it very much... It took me a while to recognize that I do enjoy portraits more when the subjects have taken time to consider their clothing and dress. It doesn't have to look any particular way, but when people have a level of confidence in their appearance it often comes across in the final image.

    So, any chance of coming up north of the border any time soon?


Comments. If you disagree do so civilly. Be nice or see your comments fly into the void. Anonymous posters are not given special privileges or dispensation. If technology alone requires you to be anonymous your comments will likely pass through moderation if you "sign" them. A new note: Don't tell me how to write or how to blog!