Los Angeles Celebrity Stylist Kim Apodaca Reveals How to Dress Well for Zoom Calls

UPDATED: April 3, 2024
PUBLISHED: April 4, 2024
Stylist Kim Apodaca on How to Dress for a Zoom Meeting

In March 2020, we learned how to dress for Zoom calls from the shoulders up. In June 2020, we learned to morph a sweats uniform into summer work-casual athleisure, and in June 2021, we finally gave away most of those stuffy, in-person business suits. Now, four years after the pandemic changed how we work and dress, many people know whether they might be remote or hybrid workers—at least for the foreseeable future. It’s time to dress like it.

Researchers have tried to determine whether the “look sharp, feel sharp” motto carries any weight. Turns out, it does—giving stylists more credibility. “Fashion is your virtual business card,” says Los Angeles-based celebrity and executive stylist Kim Apodaca. And for those of us whose business cards are gathering dust, it’s time to level up.

What you wear makes an impact

In a 2020 article published in The Wall Street Journal, Hajo Adam and Adam D. Galinsky’s 2012 research into “enclothed cognition” was examined again in the midst of work-from-home orders. It holds the test of time, showing that what we wear impacts our performance. The reason is twofold. There’s both a symbolic meaning of wearing certain clothes, such as the meaning a doctor’s white coat carries, in addition to the physical experience of wearing them, the study concludes. Participants in the study were asked to wear white coats. In one experiment, people were either told they were doctors’ or painters’ coats. Those who thought they were wearing doctors’ coats performed better on attention tests, scoring “superior” results.

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In a 2023 UK-based study published by the Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, participants felt what they wore while they worked directly impacted their overall job happiness and behavior. Additionally, in a 2020 survey by Harvard Business Review, the way you dress and the background you use on your Zoom can actually impact how your audience perceives you.

“Clothing has a scientific connection with our minds,” Apodaca says. “What is going to happen to all of us if we just end up working in our sweats all day? What are we communicating and what is it doing to us?”

Here’s how to be better than your sweats, at least most days.

How to dress for remote work: Your clothes send a message

If you’re grumpy, nervous or tired, you might choose sloppy clothes, comfortable clothes or even your softest clothes. But we have the power to alter our own mental state by dressing just the opposite, Apodaca says, and by choosing clothes on purpose to fit the mood and presence we want to have, not the one we currently feel. 

It’s called “mental priming,” she says. Apodaca asks her clients, “What is your objective today? What do you want to communicate and how do you want to feel?” Other factors to consider, she says, are whether you are leading, presenting or part of a group. Are you needing to be seen? Or do you need to blend in?

For example, for those on-camera or in-person days, women may want to choose a structured top with a seam near the shoulder, rather than a droopy sweater.

Some clients notice they are missing promotions, even though they are reliably doing their best work.

“Are you showing up in black every day? Are you on the computer working so hard, up all night, turning everything in but showing up in sweats? People don’t imagine you for that leadership role unless you dress the part,” she says. In addition, getting dressed should be a moment of mental prepping, getting yourself in the right mindset, not just to look OK on Zoom minutes before your call starts.

Choose your colors on purpose

It might seem like most of your body is hidden on Zoom, but you still have an opportunity to get noticed on your top half. Your virtual call window should hit around the mid-bustline, so you do see some of your outfit, Apodaca says.

Wear some color, especially if you are looking to stand out and lead a group. “Last year, we had an infusion of these dopamine colors, and this year, we are moving into more subdued hues of grays and black, but we are seeing lots of red. So, there’s this infusion of color here and there,” she says. Women can also ease into colors by choosing a neutral blazer but infuse color in a tank or T-shirt under it, or integrate a fun color into their makeup.

What to wear on Zoom meetings: Ditch the sweats

Sure, nobody will see them. But, you will know. Apodaca says that our drive for comfy pants comes from our stress in other areas. “People are overwhelmed; people are stressed. They can’t cope and not feel comfortable, so it’s just another level of discomfort and anxiety,” she says. So, she recommends keeping the comfort but losing the sweats. Instead, stretch and versatility are key.

She believes we are moving into a permanent state of Casual Fridays, or what they used to be. “If we can bring back work-from-home as Casual Fridays and not ‘I’m falling off the cliff and just rolled out of bed,’ that’s going to help.”

Dress your background and feet on purpose, too

But color doesn’t just have to be on you—it can be around you. A plant (alive or artificial) can add a sense of life and freshness to your Zoom window. In addition, you can use color in your background if you are otherwise a minimalist dresser who prefers white and black, she adds.

While she’s on the subject of items beyond the Zoom screen, she is not a fan of wearing slippers or sneakers with your work outfit. Instead, swap taller heels for kitten heels or other sturdy shoes. “These really alter your posture and make you feel different.” Additionally, she recommends higher-end sneakers as an alternative to your running shoes.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photo courtesy of Kim Apodaca.