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What to Wear for a Passport Photo: How to Balance Style and Compliance

a woman standing in front of a mirror trying to choose what to wear

Navigating the world of passport photos can often feel like a balancing act between strict legal requirements and the desire to present your best self. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the essentials of what to wear for your passport photo, ensuring that you not only meet the official standards but also feel confident in your appearance. Whether you’re renewing your passport for a business trip or preparing for an international adventure, this article is your go-to resource for creating a passport photo that is both compliant and aesthetically pleasing.

Understanding Passport Photo Requirements

The Basics

Before we explore the nuances of fashion and style for your passport photo, it’s crucial to understand the non-negotiable requirements set by authorities. These guidelines are not just bureaucratic formalities; they are designed to ensure your safety and identity verification across borders.

  • Size and Composition: Typically, a passport photo must be 2 inches by 2 inches, with your face occupying 70-80% of the frame. The photo should be in color, with a clear, full-face view directly facing the camera.
  • Background and Lighting: A plain white or off-white background is mandatory. The lighting should be even, without shadows or glare, to accurately represent your features.
  • Facial Expression and Head Position: Maintain a neutral facial expression. Your eyes should be open, and the head should not be tilted. Both ears, if visible, should be shown.
  • Glasses and Headwear: Glasses are not allowed in passport photos. Headwear is permitted only for religious purposes and should not hide any facial features.
  • Photo Quality: The photo must be high-resolution, with no digital alterations or filters. It should be printed on quality photo paper if not submitted digitally.

Recent Changes

It’s important to note that guidelines can evolve. For example, prior to a 2016 change you could wear glasses in your passport photo. This is no longer allowed.

Staying updated with the latest requirements is key to ensuring your passport application process is smooth and uninterrupted.

What to Wear: Detailed Passport Dress Code Guidelines

Navigating the dress code for passport photos can be tricky. While you want to look your best, it’s essential to stick to the guidelines to ensure your photo is accepted. This section provides a detailed breakdown of what to wear for a passport photo, combining the official requirements with practical style advice.

1. Choosing the Right Outfit

a passport photo of a man in a shirt with a loud pattern
  • Stick to Solid Colors: Opt for solid colors rather than patterns. Busy patterns can distract from your face, which is the focal point of the photo. Solid colors provide a clean, professional look.
  • Neckline Considerations: Choose tops with a modest neckline. High-necked shirts, collared blouses, or simple crew-necks work best. Remember, the photo will be cropped close to your shoulders, so the neckline will be prominent.
  • Avoid Uniforms and Camouflage: Any clothing resembling a uniform, including camouflage, can lead to your photo (and passport application) getting rejected. The goal is to look neutral and not affiliate with any profession or group.

2. Color Choices

  • Contrast with Background: Since the background of the photo will be white or off-white, wearing darker colors can help you stand out. However, avoid extremely bright or neon colors as they can create an unnatural look that may negatively affect your complexion.
  • Choose Flattering Tones: Choose colors that complement your skin tone. If you’re unsure, blues, greens, and purples are generally flattering for most people.

3. Accessories and Jewelry

  • Keep It Minimal: Simple accessories are best. A small necklace or stud earrings can add a touch of personality without distracting from your face.
  • Avoid Large or Reflective Pieces: Large, shiny, or dangling jewelry can detract from your face or cause glare in the photo.

4. Glasses and Headwear

a woman wearing glasses in a passport photo that will be rejected
  • Glasses: As a general rule, glasses cannot be worn in passport photos due to the risk of glare or obstruction of the eyes. Even if you must wear glasses for medical reasons, they must be removed for your passport photo.
  • Headwear for Religious or Medical Reasons: If you need to wear headwear for religious or medical reasons, ensure your full face is visible from the bottom of your chin to the top of your forehead.
    • Note: According to the U.S. Department of State, if you are wearing headwear in your passport photo,

      [y]ou must submit a signed statement that verifies that the hat or head covering is part of recognized, traditional religious attire that is customarily or required to be worn continuously in public or a signed doctor’s statement verifying the item is used daily for medical purposes.

      Failure to include this documentation will result in your passport photo being rejected.

5. Professional vs. Casual

  • Aim for a Professional Look: While casual clothes are acceptable, a more professional look can be beneficial, especially as your passport photo might be used for other official purposes.
  • Comfort Matters: Choose an outfit that makes you feel comfortable and confident. Your comfort can influence your posture and expression, which are crucial in a passport photo.

6. Special Considerations

an example of an acceptable child passport photo
  • Children and Infants: For children and infants, choose simple, comfortable clothing without hoods or hats. Ensure their face is visible and not obscured by toys or pacifiers. Clothing should be in a solid color to avoid distraction.
  • Seasonal Clothing: Avoid heavy winter coats or scarves that could bulk up your appearance or obscure the shape of your neck and shoulders. If the photo is taken in colder months, consider wearing a lighter layer for the photo and dressing warmly afterward.
  • Temporary Physical Changes: If you have temporary physical changes, such as a cast or facial injury, wait until these have healed before taking your passport photo. Your photo should represent your usual appearance.
  • Pregnancy: If you are pregnant, there are no special requirements, but comfort should be your priority. Choose attire that feels comfortable and provides a clear, unobstructed view of your face and shoulders.
  • Recent Surgery or Cosmetic Procedures: If you’ve recently undergone significant facial surgery or cosmetic procedures, it may be wise to wait until you’ve healed and your appearance has stabilized before taking your passport photo.

By following these detailed guidelines, you can ensure that your passport photo is not only compliant with the necessary regulations but also a stylish and accurate representation of yourself. Remember, this photo will accompany you for the next 10 years (or 5 years for a minor’s passport), so it’s worth taking the time to get it right and create a timeless image you can be proud of.

Hair and Makeup Tips for Your Passport Photo

Since your passport photo will be a permanent part of a travel document you’ll use for years, it’s natural to want to look your best. While keeping in line with official guidelines, here are some hair and makeup tips to ensure you look polished and photo-ready.

Hair Styling Tips

  • Keep Your Face Visible: Style your hair in a way that keeps your face, especially your eyes, clearly visible. Avoid heavy bangs or hairstyles that cover your eyebrows or cast shadows on your face.
  • Natural and Neat: Opt for a natural, neat hairstyle. Overly styled or extravagant hairstyles might date your photo quickly or draw attention away from your face.
  • Consider Hair Color: If you’re planning a hair color change, consider doing it well before your photo, so it looks natural. Sudden changes can make your photo look less like your everyday appearance.
  • Hair Accessories: Simple hair accessories are acceptable as long as they don’t cover your face. Avoid large headbands, hats, or other headgear that are not worn for religious purposes.

Makeup Guidelines

  • Natural Look: Aim for a natural, subdued makeup look. Heavy makeup can alter your appearance significantly and might cause issues with photo identification.
  • Foundation and Concealer: Use these to even out your skin tone. Be cautious with powder to avoid a matte or flat appearance under the photo lighting.
  • Eyes: Keep eye makeup minimal. Mascara and a light touch of eyeliner or eyeshadow can define your eyes, but avoid heavy liners or bright colors.
  • Lips: Choose a lipstick or gloss close to your natural lip color. Avoid very bright or dark colors that can dominate the photo. Also steer clear of overly glossy products may also create unnatural glare when photographed.
  • Contouring and Highlighting: Light contouring is fine, but remember that passport photos are not glamour shots. The goal is to enhance your features subtly and create a natural look.

Final Touches

  • Last-Minute Checks: Do a final check in a mirror or take a test photo to see how your hair and makeup look under different lighting conditions.
  • Comfort and Authenticity: Above all, ensure your hair and makeup reflect your usual style. Your passport photo should be an authentic representation of you.

By following these hair and makeup tips, you can create a look that is both compliant with passport photo regulations and true to your personal style. Remember, the goal is to look like yourself on your best day, ensuring easy identification as you travel the world.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Even with the best intentions, it’s easy to make mistakes when preparing for or taking a passport photo. Here are several common errors and tips to avoid them, ensuring your photo meets the necessary standards and saves you time and hassle of having to retake it and resubmit your application.

1. Incorrect Background

  • Mistake: Using a background that isn’t plain white or off-white.
  • How to Avoid: Always use a solid, light-colored background. Avoid patterns or other colors, as they can lead to photo rejection.

    While taking your own passport photo is possible, opting to have your picture taken by a service or location that offers passport photo services can help you avoid mistakes like these. Be sure to check out our guide on where to get a passport photo taken to find the closest and most affordable options for you.

2. Inappropriate Clothing

  • Mistake: Wearing uniforms, costumes, or clothes with distracting patterns or logos.
  • How to Avoid: Opt for simple, everyday attire in solid colors. Ensure your outfit contrasts with the background.

3. Facial Obstructions

  • Mistake: Hair covering the face, large or reflective glasses, and hats (unless for religious purposes).
  • How to Avoid: Style your hair away from your face, remove glasses, and avoid headwear unless it’s part of your daily religious attire.

4. Poor Lighting and Shadows

  • Mistake: Photos with shadows on the face or background, or under/overexposed lighting.
  • How to Avoid: Use natural light or soft artificial lighting. Ensure the light is even, with no shadows or glare.

    This is another common issue with the DIY approach to passport photos. The best way to avoid these types of mistakes is to get your photo taken by a professional.

5. Incorrect Facial Expression

  • Mistake: Smiling broadly, frowning, or showing other expressions.
  • How to Avoid: You must maintain a neutral expression with your mouth closed, otherwise your photo will likely be rejected. Practice in a mirror if necessary.

6. Outdated or Altered Photos

  • Mistake: Using an old photo or one that has been digitally altered.
  • How to Avoid: Use a recent photo (typically within six months) and avoid any form of digital alteration, including filters. A natural reflection of your everyday appearance is the ultimate goal.

7. Improper Photo Size and Composition

  • Mistake: Incorrect photo size or composition, with the head too large or too small in the frame.
  • How to Avoid: Follow the specific size guidelines (usually 2 inches by 2 inches) and ensure your head occupies the correct proportion of the photo.

By being aware of these common mistakes and knowing how to avoid them, you can ensure your passport photo process is smooth and successful.

Remember, a compliant and well-taken passport photo is an essential step in your travel preparations.


In conclusion, your passport photo is a crucial element of your travel documentation, serving as your key visual identifier in your global adventures. This guide has aimed to demystify the process, blending strict legal requirements with practical style advice to ensure your photo is both compliant and a true representation of you.

Key takeaways:

  • Understand the importance of adhering to official passport photo guidelines for smooth travel experiences.
  • Recognize the value of presenting yourself authentically in your passport photo.
  • Find the balance between legal standards and personal expression when making passport photo style choices.

Additionally, while DIY passport photos are feasible, remember that accuracy in meeting these standards is paramount to avoid delays or rejections in your application process. For those seeking assurance and quality, professional passport photo services offer a convenient and reliable option.

Your passport photo is more than just a requirement; it’s a snapshot of your identity as a global citizen. With this guide, you’re well-equipped to create a photo that meets all necessary criteria and reflects your individuality, ensuring a smooth start to your travels.

We will continue to update this article when and if passport photo regulations change.

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About the Author: For over 20 years, the U.S. Passport Service Guide team has helped hundreds of thousands of travelers with their travel document questions and shared advice about how to make traveling abroad simpler, safer, and more enjoyable.

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