What To Wear (And Not Wear) For Family Photos

When you’re trying to create a beautiful and timeless family portrait it is important that you choose the right clothing. Just Google bad family portraits to see why. You’ll find lots of hilarious outfits and concepts which make great Facebook profile photos and future blackmail material. But when it’s time to tell your family story you really want to get it right, and you want it to last!

Not too long ago it was popular for the whole family to wear white shirts and blue jeans. In fact, your Google search will probably return lots of matching outfits in family portraits. These days, however, the trend is to coordinate, not match for a couple of reasons. First, this is the best way to show off each family member’s unique personality. And second, not every outfit looks good on every person. Those white shirts will wash out most skin tones, and not every cut works on every body.

So when my clients ask me, “What should we wear,” I feel their pain. It can be difficult enough dressing oneself, let alone making a small brood coordinate and look fashionable while taking into consideration the weather, the backdrop, and whether or not the young ones’ outfits will show grass stains. But don’t worry! I’ve outlined some simple instructions below to help you narrow down your wardrobe choices for your next family portrait.

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Bruce Peninsula family photograph

What to wear

  • Neutral, coordinating colours. Do not match! Like I said above, not every colour or fit works for every person. Mix colours that go well together but are not exactly the same. This is easiest done using neutral colours, which will also weather the years better than bright, bold colours.
  • Patterns like plaids, stripes, and florals. You can even mix-and-match them, and don’t be afraid to layer them with solid colours and denims.
  • Fitted clothes. Tailored outfits will always look better than loose-fitting clothing. If you feel the need, wear Spanx to smooth rolls (we all have them). Also, you should choose a cut that works best on each family member’s body type.
  • Closed-toe shoes. There are few instances when you should go barefoot or wear sandals, but in general most people should wear closed-toed shoes. This can include fashionable boots, dress shoes, and sneakers.
  • Jeans. It is not an absolute, but don’t be afraid of them, including torn jeans if that’s your style.
  • Sleeves. Of course take the season into account when choosing the cut of your top, but most people should wear sleeves.
  • Layers. Often my clients like to get a little bit of wardrobe variety in their portrait session, but let me tell you that with kids you won’t have time to change! Family sessions usually move along rather quickly as we try to fit in as many shots as possible while children are cooperating. So by layering rather than bringing a change of clothes you can quickly and easily change up your look.

GTA child photographer

How to dress your kids

  • Avoid dressing your little ones in short dresses as they have a tendency to ride up. If you subscribe to my tips in the last podcast episode about preparing your kids for your session, you will spend most of your session playing! Be sure that the outfit you’ve chosen to dress your little one in is play-time appropriate.
  • Use spandex shorts if you are putting your child in a dress just in case.
  • Try your best to hide diapers. Bloomer pants are a great choice, and a longer shirt (tucked in or not) will help as well. It is not absolutely imperative that diapers are covered up. I recommend that you do a wardrobe test-run and if you find yourself fiddling with your child’s clothing to cover up their mid-section, diaper, or underpants, choose a different outfit.
  • Be careful with accessories. Often children don’t want to wear hats or scarves and will remove them. In other cases they’ll use them to hide from the camera. Remember that the important part is not the outfit, but the moments that are captured of your family. Just go with the flow if your child removes accessories to avoid crying.

Family photograph from Blue Mountain, Ontario

What not to wear

  • Unfitted t-shirts. This includes any kind of loose t-shirt or sport top.
  • Anything with logos or graphics. In my experience the only acceptation to this rule is children who cannot yet walk (because they literally cannot object to being dressed in hilariously ironic and adorable clothing).
  • Ball caps or practically any other kind of hat. Though you’ll see fashionable hats on Pinterest, that fashionable hat will leave a shadow over your eyes and a red ring around your forehead.
  • Sleeveless shirts, strapless tops, or halter tops. This is not a hard rule, but I recommend that people wear sleeves. The brightest part of your photographs will be the most noticeable. Because our faces are generally always exposed to the sun and our arms often aren’t, the skin on our arms is usually lighter than our faces. This can be exaggerated in photographs, and result in a very distracting arm situation.
  • Anything that shows your bra straps or under pants.
  • Cargo pants.
  • All white or all black.
  • Velcro sandals, any kind of running shoe or skate shoe, or crocks.
  • Snuggies. (I’ve never seen it happen, but I thought I better put it on the list just in case.)
  • Hoodies.
  • Short dresses. A short dress can significantly limit your ability to pose comfortably for your photos. Test out your favourite dress to see if it’s appropriate for your session by sitting on the ground. If you cannot comfortably sit in it, it will be best to choose a dress that is longer or opt for pants.

Father and son photo in Grimsby, Ontario

Looking great!

You’re looking fabulous now! It’s easier to dress for family portraits than you might think. Practically any pattern and texture is great, and you can feel free to mix and match styles to show off your personalities. By focusing on cuts that look best on each individual family member, everyone will arrive at your session feeling confident. And when you mix neutral colours you’ll be sure that your family portrait will still look great 20 years from now.

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