How To Dress For Social Media

Upgrade your social style and watch your online clout soar

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Illustrations: Amber Pretorius

You probably obsess over this already, but in case you’ve been living in North Korea, or you’re my nan, the photo that you choose to represent yourself with on social media is vital in sending out the right message.

The right profile picture is important, as it not only humanises what is a pretty cold form of communication, but can also mean getting those covetable ‘Likes’, double-taps, retweets, the job, the object of your affections… or not. Consider how much body language and tone of voice play in traditional communication, then take away these subtleties, and you’re forced to focus on the superficial. Your perfect comedic timing and warm hugs mean naught online. However, cheekbones that you could open envelopes with should definitely be highlighted.

Some general rules that go across platforms are:

Go for the headshot

The majority of profile photos appear as thumbnails in a feed, so if you opt for a pic of you and your posse not only will viewers not know which one is you, but you’ll be too small to be recognised. ID style photos work best. Just make sure that your social pic looks better than your actual ID pic and you’re golden. 

Keep it current

Your profile picture should be one that was taken recently. Yes, you looked great after those 12-weeks of Kayla Itsines’ workouts, grrrl, but be honest, you no longer look like that, and you’ve changed hairstyles 17 times since then, too. Keeping your profiles updated and constantly reviewing them is the foundation of a successful social media presence. So be honest.

Steal from celebrities

Notice how Paris Hilton is always photographed with her chin down and her mouth slightly open? This is because Paris knows what angles best show off her attributes and will position herself accordingly whenever someone asks her to say 'cheese'. Likewise, you should find out what colours work on you and ensure that you’re wearing them when you snap your profile pic. Now is not the time to try and pull off Marsala just because you heard it was the Pantone colour of 2015. Wear your most complementary colour, avoid patterns and remember that brights attract attention. Most importantly, you should feel comfortable and confident in whatever you’re wearing. People can spot that a mile away.

Okay, so now that you’ve got the basics down, here’s how to dress for the following social media platforms.


LinkedIn made the profile photo larger and more prominent, putting more emphasis on the way a person looks – which makes sense, as it’s not always the best person who gets the job, but the best-looking. It should also be noted that LinkedIn profiles with photos receive 50-70% more inquiries than profiles without. So dress for success. LinkedIn is a professionally orientated platform and your photo should reflect that. Dressing professionally means dressing cleanly and simply – avoid caking yourself in makeup, eschew distracting hairstyles and skip the bling jewelry. The Hawaiian flirt-shirt you pull on every Friday? Not here, pal. Don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want. In a world where men roll to work in flip-flops and can barely remember how to knot the corporate noose, it’s the perfectly put-together man who stands out. Last thing: Before you have someone snap your pic – no selfies, please – roll back your shoulders, straighten your spine and lift your chin up. In the same way that a suit commands respect, so does the way you carry yourself. Who cares about the state of your CV? You’ve got this!


It’s not a case of  “don’t be that guy” – but more, don’t be “those guys”. You know the type, douches with their waxed chests and pouts or the great humanitarians of Tinder posing with snotty-nosed street urchins that one time they did a township tour. What you need here are one or two pics that reveal who you really are. Don’t use that one good pic that was taken of you back in 2008, the one that when viewed from a certain angle and in a certain light makes you look like Charlize. Save that for #TBT and instead present a selection of pics that show off your interests, which will go a long way in selling yourself as a well-rounded and interesting individual. Otherwise, a smile is always better than a pout, bedroom eyes should be saved for the bedroom and, when it comes to how you dress for your pics here, no matter how great your body is remember to leave some things up to the imagination. Or the second date.


The T-shirt that was handed out at your last Google corporate team-building exercise will do just fine. What, you don’t work at Google? Then fret not, you can wear whatever you like, nobody is ever going to even see your profile pic here.


If Tinder is a platform on which to find your soulmate/casual no-strings hookup, and LinkedIn is there to climb higher up the corporate ladder, then Facebook is the place where you can do both of these things. Both potential lovers and employers will use Facebook for a background check, so bear that in mind if you think you can get away with using it as an outlet to show off your zanier self. Look, we’re not saying that you need to suit up and brush your hair into a side parting, be yourself, but be a more presentable version of yourself. So that’s no pics of you in the Borat unitard you wore at Rage, and you shouldn’t even own clothing with innuendoes on them, let alone have photos of yourself wearing them.


Unlike the other social platforms on this list, your Instagram profile doesn’t necessarily have to be a pic of you. In order to diversify your social media portfolio, use this as an opportunity to employ something a bit more abstract. Just remember that because Instagram is consumed via mobile, that little disc is going to be indecipherable if you opt for a heavily detailed pic. Think about what defines you. A knolling pic of your most recognisable outfit works. As does a close-up of the tattoo on your sockless ankle. Got good lips and a septum ring? There’s your pic right there.


Hi Tom, long time, man! We see that you’re still using that same profile pic of your smiley self looking over your shoulder. That white T-shirt is timeless. Unlike MySpace.


The thing about Twitter is that anyone can follow you here. Sure, when you walk to your corner café to grab some bread and milk on a Sunday morning you can go in your ratty tracksuit pants and whatever shirt smells the cleanest. Now imagine you lived on the same street as Ryan Gosling – would you dress the same way? Doubt it. Respect yourself, respect others and dress as nice as you can because you never know who’s watching.

So there you have it. Now you know how to dress for social media! Failing that you could always just do whatever you want.