A Guide to Formal Looks

NOVEMBER 1, 2021
Formal looks in Dynasty.
Dynasty (The CW)

When you work as a Background Actor with Central Casting, you have the opportunity to portray a range of roles, like a café patron in Call Me Kat one day then a gala attendee in Dynasty the next. One of the keys to being successful is being able to put together a variety of looks and outfit options. If you're looking to build up your wardrobe with formal attire, this guide can help you get started.

Formal attire

Formal dress codes can range anywhere from cocktail to white tie and can depend on the time of day the event takes place. If you are creating a formal look for set, your details will include all the information you need to create the perfect outfit. The production's definition of formal will likely depend on the scene, so a formal outfit you wore on one show may not translate to your current show. That's why it's important to always read your details carefully and fully to make sure you show up to set as expected.

Generally, formal means slightly less strict than black tie, with more options on dress lengths and suit colors while still retaining an air of elegance. Dresses should be floor length, but midi to knee-length may be acceptable depending on the occasion. While a tuxedo works for formal looks, tailored dark suits with white shirts and conservative ties are also appropriate.

Black tie

Black tie events (think evening weddings, charity dinners, award shows) have stricter rules for what is acceptable attire. Dresses should be floor length, but you have options for sleeve and neckline styles. Color and material should be sophisticated, no tropical prints or over-the-top patterns. Tuxedos are the standard for black tie and are usually worn with a black bowtie, vest or cummerbund, and patent leather shoes. In some cases, it may be appropriate to wear a black necktie with a tuxedo, but it's more traditional to stick to a bowtie.

White tie

The most strict formal dress is white tie. This attire is normally reserved for state dinners and ultra-fancy events. Ball gowns must be floor length and elegant. You can play with jewelry and accessories, but your overall outfit should have an air of sophistication. Tuxedos must have tails and be worn with a white shirt, white vest, and white bowtie. White gloves were traditionally part of this look, but are less popular for modern white tie styles.

Examples of formal looks in TV shows.
Station 19 (ABC) | Dynasty (The CW) | The Equalizer (CBS)

Formal hair and makeup

The key to creating your own formal hairstyle is to opt for something clean that makes you look put together. Keep in mind that you will need to maintain the look throughout the workday, so it can help to stick to styles that will not only hold while filming, but that are easy to touch up. For specific looks, especially when working on period shows, you may be asked to come to set with your hair in rollers. Then after you arrive, the hair department may instruct you how to finish your look.

For makeup, remember that it's easier to add than remove. When you're not sure how elaborate your makeup should be, it's best to go for a more conservative look then add based on any instructions given by the makeup department while on set. If you need inspiration or tips on how to achieve a formal hair or makeup look, YouTube tutorials can be a great resource. Don't forget to bring any materials or products you need to set with you to maintain your look throughout the workday.

Online profile

A great way to show Casting Directors that you can portray formal looks is to upload additional photos to your online profile. A good rule when adding photos is to only upload unique and distinct pictures; there's no need to upload multiple examples of your formal looks. Just pick the one that you feel best represents you. If a Casting Director needs to see you in other wardrobe, they will likely ask you send a selfie or upload a specific look to your profile.

You can learn more about putting looks together for set in our guides Preparing Looks For Different Time Periods and Hairstyle Basics for Background Actors.

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By Meghan Dubitsky

Article Category:

Hair & MakeupWardrobe