‘Preplan your outfits like meals’: a screen stylist’s tips for looking perpetually polished

Last Updated: June 13, 2024By

How to Dress Like a Star: Tips from Top Stylist Ntombi Moyo

Costume designer and celebrity stylist Ntombi Moyo splits her time between New York and Melbourne and is currently back in Australia as the head costume designer for the SBS series Swift Street. With eight years of experience in film and television under her belt and superstar clients including Beyoncé, Adele and Rihanna, Moyo knows what it takes to put together an outfit and ensure it looks good on screen.

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Here she shares the professional hacks and styling advice she uses to make sure the talent she works with look and feel polished – including some you can use every day, or for special occasions.

A Clean Start

It almost goes without saying: the first step to looking and feeling polished is to make sure your clothes are clean and pressed. “We wash and fabric-mist new and pre-existing garments before they are on any actors,” says Moyo. Follow this up with a good iron or steam.

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As Forrest Gump said: “You can tell a lot about a person by their shoes.” Moyo recommends cleaning shoes with a wet wipe and ensuring they are buffed and smooth by polishing them too. And switching out worn or dirty laces for fresh ones is another quick and simple way to make sure things look polished.

Replacing shabby laces is a quick way to spruce up shoes. Photograph: Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images

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Tailored, Swiftly

In the lead-up to a shoot, fittings are important as they allow enough time for garments to be altered, and well-fitting garments go a long way towards making an outfit work. “Our bodies are all different and some cuts do not sit the same on all of us,” says Moyo. “Honouring the desired look but tailoring to your own measurements and body shape allows for the designer’s vision to be carried out.”

For on-set styling, when busy schedules don’t leave enough time for tailoring, Moyo recommends buying a size up and being prepared to do alterations by hand on the fly. This might involve a quick hand stitch on the inside of a garment to bring it in at the waist or cutting and hemming skirts, trousers or sleeves that are too long. If your skills with a needle and thread are a bit rusty, Moyo suggests using safety pins instead.

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“We often have to shorten straps on tops and dresses by cutting the fabric and placing at desired length then stitching both ends while the garment is inside out,” she says. “There are times when a garment for screen can have a lot of construction happening underneath that is unseen to the audience.”

Avoiding Wardrobe Malfunctions

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Double-sided tape can help pin down an unruly tie. Photograph: Raimonda Kulikauskiene/Getty Images

It’s easy enough to get an outfit looking good when standing still in front of the mirror, but making sure it stays neat and in place when walking (or dancing) is another skill entirely. “We rely a lot on double-sided tape on set to ensure ties are sitting correctly and any fabric that may have movement stays put,” she says.

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To keep sleeves or trouser legs cuffed, she suggests a clean, neat roll, making sure the fabric is smooth beneath each fold, followed by a quick hand stitch on the inside, at the top and bottom of the cuff.

For unruly shirts and tops that don’t want to stay tucked into trousers, she says cutting the length of the shirt can help reduce bunching. If you don’t want to cut up a piece of clothing, you can simply wear a belt.

Out Damn Spot

Since on set there are often scenes that require talent to handle food or other messy substances such as fake blood, stylists have to become adept at on-the-spot fixes for spills and stains. “We rely heavily on sourcing multiples of the same piece,” Moyo says. “But we can also quickly reset by doing a quick spot clean that is fast-drying.”

Blot a stain, then apply water or detergent to lift the substance, says Ntombi Moyo. Photograph: Halyna Romaniv/Getty Images

For spot cleaning, Moyo uses wet wipes or a cleaning solution such as Dr Beckmann. The art of the spot clean is to first control the stain by blotting, not rubbing it with a cloth or sponge, and then applying water or detergent to lift the substance out of the fabric and leaving it to dry.

Have a Game Plan

Off set, professional styling hacks can be used to put together every outfit, Moyo says. “I think preplanning your outfits like your meals is really helpful. Sort the looks, photograph them and pop them into a document for your personal reference.”

The Smell of Success

Moyo’s final tip is also the least visible one. “I consider smelling good an important part of your presentation,” she says. “Use a fabric spray or mist as a neutral base [for your garments] then apply a complimentary perfume or cologne that pairs well.”

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