What TV Extras Should Wear To Set: Always Look The Part

When you are hired to work as an extra you are expected to wear appropriate attire for your scenes. So, how do you know what the right outfit is for this set? Casting directors make it easy.

Actors working as extras will be given specific instructions of what to wear and what additional clothes to bring to set. Your outfit for each shoot may be very different; but, you will most often find yourself wearing your own clothes.

No matter what you’re required to wear, your clothes should be clean and wrinkle-free; all garments should be free of logos; and generally the color white should not be worn. Despite the current styles, jeans you wear on set should not have rips in them.

If you want to work consistently as a background actor, having a wide variety of the right kinds of pieces can help you get more jobs. There are some pieces every extra should have in their closet.

Choosing Your On-Set Outfit

When you’re given instructions on what to wear for a scene, you may be told to follow a certain dress code like “business casual”, “formal”, or “casual”. But what do those phrases really mean? Here are some examples of the types of clothing items that fall in each one of these categories.

CasualClothes: jeans, khakis, t-shirts, polos, button-down shirts, sweaters, jackets
Footwear: boots, sneakers, loafers
Accessories: hats, shades, watches, belts
Clothes: sundresses, skirts, jeans, t-shirts, blouses, sweaters, jackets
Footwear: sneakers, boots, flats, wedges, sandals
Accessories: scarves, purses, jewelry, shades
Business CasualClothes: dress slacks, chinos, khakis, button-down shirts, sweaters, sports jacket
Footwear: dress shoes
Accessories: ties, belts, dark dress socks
Clothes: skirts, dress pants, blouses, blazers, sweaters
Footwear: closed-toe shoes
Accessories: jewelry
BusinessClothes: dark-colored 2-piece suit, button-down shirt in muted colors
Footwear: black or brown dress shoes
Accessories: ties (required), dark dress socks, belts (same color as shoes)
Clothes: skirt suits, pant suits, blouses, button down shirts (neutral colors like navy blue, gray, brown, or black)
Footwear: closed-toe shoes, heels or flats
Accessories: purse, watch
Business FormalClothes: tailored suit (dark colors) and button down shirt
Footwear: dress shoes
Accessories: conservative ties
Clothes: tailored pant suit or skirt suit (with stockings), collared shirt
Footwear: closed-toe shoes (flats or heels)
Accessories: stockings
Cocktail WearClothes: tailored suit, semi-formal blazer with dress pants
Footwear: dress shoes
Accessories: ties (colorful or patterned are ok)
Clothes: mid length dresses, skirts, dressy pants (vibrant colors are ok here)
Footwear: dress shoes (can be shiny and bold)
Accessories: jewelry, clutch, shawl, winter scarf
Formal WearClothes: black tuxedo
Footwear: black dress shoes
Accessories: bow ties or neck ties, black socks
Clothes: floor length evening gowns
Footwear: dress shoes
Accessories: jewelry, clutch, shawl, winter scarf

Based on these categories, to maximize your work opportunities, you should invest in some key wardrobe essentials.

Men should get a black belt, a brown belt, a pair of black dress shoes, a pair of brown dress shoes, at least a couple of conservative ties, black dress socks, brown dress socks, and button-down shirts.

For women, I recommend getting a pants suit, a skirt suit, a pair of black low pumps, a pair of black flats, a few blouses, a few pairs of stockings, a cocktail dress and a coordinated pair of shoes.

Should You Wear Your Outfit To The Set?

The night before your first day on set is the ideal time to decide what you will wear. A review of the casting director’s details will guide your wardrobe decisions.

You may be instructed to come to set camera-ready. On these occasions you will have to wear your outfit to the set. Be careful not to spill anything on you while en route.

Also, consider wearing a material that does not wrinkle easily. Additionally, try to select comfortable clothing that you won’t mind wearing for several consecutive days.

In addition to the set of clothes you wear, you will often be asked to bring alternate wardrobe pieces. If this happens, wear your favorite outfit. But if the AD prefers one of the other outfits to the one you wore, you will be asked to change.

The Best Colors To Wear On Set

As an extra you should not stand out on set. Bright colors will cause you to be too noticeable. Colors like yellow, red, orange, and lime green, for instance, should not be worn.

Surprisingly, white is another color that is not ideal for an extra to wear. On camera, white sticks out in a very noticeable way.

With bright colors and whites out of the picture, that leaves dark and neutral colors. The best colors for background actors to wear are blue, black (but not all black), gray, khaki, and brown.

Also, if you’re going to be working in front of a green screen, don’t wear green (for obvious reasons).

Of course, if you’re asked to wear a certain color (regardless of whether it’s white or a bright color), you should wear that color.

Are Extras Ever Outfitted By The Wardrobe Department?

Yes. There are times when you will wear a costume provided by the production company. When this happens, you will attend a fitting before your filming day.

Wardrobe fittings can be a bit awkward, so here are a few tips to get through these wardrobe fittings:

  • Be on time for the fitting;
  • Wear clean, appropriate under garments;
  • Don’t be afraid to give feedback about the fit of the costume; and
  • Be honest about your sizes and measurements.

Keep in mind that in most cases you are being paid to participate in the fitting; In other words, this fitting is part of your job. Maintain your highest level of professionalism even through the discomfort or awkwardness of fittings.

Tips For Taking Your Wardrobe Selections To Set

As a background actor who is responsible for your own wardrobe, it’s important to choose options that work for the specific scene(s) you’ll be in. Now that you’ve taken the time to make these selections, it’s important that you make it to set with everything you need to pull these outfits off. Here are a few tips that should help:

  • Carry your outfits in a hanging garment bag to prevent wrinkling and staining – using a garment bag is a great alternative to wheeling around a big suitcase;
  • Carry complete outfits as your additional selections;
  • Be sure to bring accessories that can dress an outfit up if desired;
  • Choose a pair of jeans or slacks that can be worn with multiple different outfits – the fewer items you have to carry the easier it will be on you; and
  • Be sure you can mix and match your pieces in a way that will create several different outfits.

Practical Tips For Choosing Your Outfits

It’s the night before your first day on a new set and it’s time to decide what you’ll be wearing. Your personal style may not be the best choice for a film or show set in another era or on another planet.

Here are a few suggestions for how to pick clothes that will help you blend into the set.

  • If you’re going to be working on a television show, watch the show to get a feel for the show’s style.
  • If you’re doing a commercial, spend a little time reading about the company to understand its culture.
  • Spend some time on Pinterest getting ideas for coordinating outfits and accessorizing especially with dress codes you are not familiar with.
  • If you’re doing a scene doing something you don’t know anything about (for example, a fan at a hockey game) find out how hockey fans usually dress at games.

Related Questions

Are extras responsible for doing their own hair and make-up?

In general, background actors are expected to come to set camera-ready. Being camera-ready includes having your hair and make-up done. However, some touch-ups may be done if your appearance requires it.

Do background actors get paid for wardrobe fittings?

SAG members always get paid for wardrobe fittings. Also, all extras are paid for fittings when working on SAG productions. However, non-union members are not guaranteed pay for fittings; although they are usually paid.