Let’s Zoom!

To those of you who responded to my last post, thank you for answering my question. We have a deal! I’ll keep posting, you’ll keep reading, and all of us understand that this blog is just a harmless way of connecting and amusing one another for a few minutes each day. We all deserve that.

Fun over. Now on to serious business. Let’s talk about Zoom.
I am a fan. I don’t want to spend more than an hour or two on Zoom each day, but I find it very helpful for large and small meetings and quite delightful for small social events.
I have a few tips.
Zoom Users: I have notes

What to wear, what to wear. Tap, tap, tap.
Screeeech! Before we dive into clothing, let’s start with first principles.
Why not conquer Zoom?
1. Your Appearance On Zoom Is A Self-Portrait. On Zoom, you are literally presenting yourself as a picture in a frame. Whether you take care or not, you are composing a picture that has a subject (which may or may not be you), a foreground, and a background. It may also include themes, symbols, and subtext. Therefore, you may want to choose everything that appears in the frame. Consider, if you will, the symbolism and signs in Van Dyck’s portrait of Isabella Brant.*
2. Dress Up For Zoom. It will lift your spirits. And, whether or not anyone else consciously realizes it (or articulates it), dressing up will raise the mood of the group. Wear lipstick — unless you never wear lipstick, in which case you don’t have to start now. But you might want to start now because lipstick is actually fun and easy. It’s one of the simplest pleasures of my adult life.

What to wear. What. To. Wear.
Now is the time to bring out your parade of pretty blouses, shirts, and tops.** In general, I think that bright colors, solids, and simple patterns (stripes, checks, polka dots, simple florals) read best on Zoom. Wraps or ponchos (in bright or pretty colors) also work very well over a white blouse, which, as you know, will provide a bright frame for the face. I also like a large printed or striped scarf wrapped around the neck a couple of times; this, too, will set off your face. An architectural Comme des Garcons top made out of three different black fabrics? Sadly, that may be read simply as a lumpy tee-shirt.
If you are wearing a solid top — particularly a sweater — a necklace or brooch is a nice touch. It needs to be large enough to register . . . which might mean that it needs to be, objectively, large. Very delicate jewelry is less likely to be noticed.
Even if you think you look best in profile, you do need to look at the camera; you are permitted, however, to turn your face 10-20 degrees off center

One reader has already asked: Are “statement necklaces” too much for Zoom? I don’t think so. But I would not wear a statement necklace with a patterned blouse in front of a busy background. That would be too much activity. As crazy as this might sound, in a two-dimensional format, when you are reduced to the size of a baseball card, the background is actually one of your layers.
While very little of you will appear in the frame, you must be fully dressed! You never know when you might have to stand up to get something and forget to “Stop Video.” I recommend presentable but comfortable pants: action slacks in a neutral color, khakis, or jeans.
As to the rest of your picture, here are some suggestions.
1. Make sure that you are positioned in front of your camera so that your head, entire face, neck, shoulders and upper chest are in the frame and take up one-third to one-half of the space in that frame. You need to be facing the camera directly (with permissible 10-20 degree angle, if you do not want to look head-on at the camera), but you do not need to be perfectly centered in the frame. Your head should not be disembodied, resting on the bottom of the frame. Neither your nostrils nor your ceiling should be visible. If you are typing, no one should be able to see your hands. You may have to put a few books under your laptop or monitor to get the camera at the right height.
2. Make sure that you are properly lit. Ideally, you should have an even light shining on your face — natural light from a window or artificial light. If you do frequent Zoom meetings with performative elements (hearings, presentations, pitches, speeches), you should buy a couple of clamp lights that you can move around as needed.+

On a recent rainy day, I thought sunny yellow with navy would brighten a Zoom meeting

3. If you are using your own house — kitchen, dining room, home office — as your backdrop, do take a quick look around to see what might appear in the frame. A piece of art is a treat! Clutter should be removed.
Final Note: Do remember that if you mute the audio on your computer, your colleagues will not hear you yell at your spouse or children, but they will see you yelling. You must “Stop Video” or cover your camera.
Great Balls of Blue Leather

So now I have to ask: What is the funniest/strangest thing you have seen on Zoom to date?
* I am kidding. But at the same time, this is kind of true. I am loving the idea of people setting themselves up for Zoom calls holding and surrounding themselves with symbols of their interests and values — e.g., sextant, peacock feather, kettlebell, scissors, golf clubs, piggy bank, binoculars.
** Because so much of my wardrobe is grey and black, I have made an effort to bring all of the colorful clothes out. For some reason, this makes me think of The Bourne Identity, when Conklin tells his team to bring all of Treadstone’s deep cover assassins into the pursuit of Jason Bourne: “Get everybody up. Do it now. I want them all activated.” I have activated all of the colors.
+ The Photographer set lights up for me. He had several clamp lights, having purchased them years ago to take indoor photos of me for this blog, and two light stands. Right now, the clamp lights are affixed to dining room chairs.

19 thoughts on “Let’s Zoom!”

  1. I organized a big zoom meeting yesterday to discuss parental concerns about the fall semester at Barnard College, where my daughter is a rising junior. I deliberately straightened my hair, wore a flattering top, and positioned myself in front of the bar area of my amazing and recently gut renovated kitchen for some great visual appeal. I agree that for important zoom meetings, a little extra thoughtfulness helps.

  2. Fine pinstripes may not be Zoom ideal. I wore a JCrew fine-striped shirtdress for a student conference, and on the camera the pattern seemed to vibrate slightly! I totally agree with the rest of your recommendations about frame and color and scale. Your insight about the background being ‘one of your layers’ is a point I hadn’t thought of and well-put (as always!) besides. Thank you.

  3. My weekly Wednesday happy hour crew have had several Zoom nights. The best was the night we all played with Snap camera filters and changed ourselves into potatoes and such for hours. Much laughter ensued!!

  4. All of my Zooms have been with camera on mute. Clearly there is a whole method to getting it right. Pet invasions provide comic relief, I have noticed.

  5. A fun thing about Zoom calls is getting little insights into other people’s homes and lives. One person, at our urging, took her laptop in search of her cat to show us, and I’m sure we all peered curiously at random glimpses of kitchen/hallway/bedroom as they went by.

    And yes, pet invasions are fun. Philo always jumps in my lap during Zoom calls. I’ve gotten better at keeping him out of view (it gets to be a distraction) but his black tail is often seen moving from one side of the screen to the other when he decides to turn himself around.

    It really amuses me how the clamp lights we bought years ago for our indoor shoots have found a new life as floodlights for Tory’s Zoom calls. They’ve got high-temperature bulbs in them, something like 4000K (I’m talking about color temperature, not heat) so the light is kind of harsh and blue. I should try putting warmer bulbs in them to see if Tory thinks it makes her look better.

    • After about a month of WFH, my assistant decided to critique each team members’ background and Zoom setup. It was suggested that my child’s framed finger painting might look unprofessional to some. So I replaced it with a cartoon-like painting of a flower. I’m left wondering about the books on my office book shelf, most of which are dryly academic and some both dry and possibly controversial. I’ve left them.

    • I forgot to say! It’s Marni and I bought it second-hand on The RealReal last year. I actually found two — one for me and one for my best friend.

  6. The key is to have light in front of you, not to the side or behind you. In my home office I have floor to ceiling windows in front of me and a large window to my left. So I open the blinds to the front and close the blinds to the side. I’ve never had to use a lamp or lighting during the day. I wear light makeup and bright lipstick. Zoom is generally flattering, especially as compared to FaceTime. Under advanced options -> video, Zoom even has an option to touch-up your appearance. I wish I looked as good IRL as I do on Zoom.

  7. Love the comments… now reconsidering my sartorial choices today… zoom meeting in another hour. Wish I had the necklace you’re wearing. Thinking I have time to iron a nice shirt with a leopard print… the shoes are great!

  8. Early on my cat decided she wanted to be included in my Zoom meeting. Since then, before every meeting I heat a towel in the clothes dryer and put it in her bed. She jumps in and sleeps on the warm towel for my entire meeting. Problem solved.

    I have used Zoom and other conference services for years because of being involved with ASL. The big difference being with ASL we were encouraged to dress in dark plain clothing so our hands could be seen clearer. Backgrounds undecorated to not be a distraction. Now using Zoom for church services I like to dress in colors and prints. We adapt to the circumstances.

  9. I love your yellow gingham shirt, so cheerful and springy! And the necklace is an amazing piece. Is it heavy?

    I keep my Zoom outfits very basic, relying heavily on J.Crew tippi sweaters in prints and solids for instant polish. Now that we are finally enjoying some warmer weather here in the Great White North I will need to pull out a suitable cotton replacement. The thought of ironing any of my usual work shirts seems like too much effort for my relatively brief Zoom appearances.

    My cat hasn’t made any visual appearances during my calls, but she did manage to wander through at the right time to have her plaintive cries to be let outside captured on a lesson I was recording for my students. Undeterred by my indifference, she then wandered downstairs to yowl at my husbands feet during his conference call, making her 2 for 2 on disturbances in the space about 3 minutes. Very admirable catting!

      • Oh Shopgrrrl — So good of the cat to make you seem unfeeling and unresponsive in the face of her crying on Zoom — when I am sure she’s living the life of Riley! But as another commenter observed — pets are the superstars of work meetings. They cheer everyone up, no matter what they actually do on camera. The necklace (answering your question very late) weighs almost nothing.


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