It’s November. And that means every family photographer you know currently has a diet consisting of coffee and Halloween candy and hasn’t showered in approximately six weeks (don’t worry, we all have backup deodorant in our car).
As a photographer, one of the questions I am asked most often — basically hundreds of times a year — is “What the heck am I supposed to clothe myself in that will not make me look like a huge hag, and how am I supposed to find a million matching outfits for the minions who live in my home?”
It’s a fair question. Pinterest is full of perfect families where the moms wear stilettos and tulle skirts and children are all perfectly clean with no snot on their faces and their hair in elaborate braided up-do’s. (Here’s the secret: those people all have staff to do things like personal shop, style their hair, and mind their children. Don’t feel inadequate – they need a team to look like that.)
So here’s the deal. If you abide by a few guidelines, this process will be much less stressful. Here are my five simple rules for a great family picture wardrobe.
1. Moms: put yourself first. Always start with what you want to wear. Women are the most critical of their own appearances. We never look at pictures of our children and mentally criticize their flab roll or their double chin, but we are very quick to do that to ourselves. Choose what you want to wear first. You should feel like it flatters your body type, and you should feel great in it.
Make sure you can move in the outfit. I am not a fan of fitted skirts in pictures, because it seriously messes with your tickle-fight-with-your-four-year-old mojo. You want to feel relaxed and comfortable, not like you have to continuously mess with your outfit, pull it down, make sure straps are tucked in, hope you aren’t showing off your muffin top, or generally stress about how you look.
Add some accessories. Accessories are what take an outfit from “I found this in the dryer, I’m pretty sure it’s clean” status to “Hey, I look great today.” Use accessories as a chance to really show off your personal style — find a statement necklace or scarf you love and rock it.
Also, wear cute shoes (or plan on going barefoot at the beach). They will probably show in some pictures. I don’t mean you need to prance atop the boulders in your Manolos, but Crocs or dollar store flip flops are not your best bets, either.
2. Kids come second. Kids look cute in whatever you put them in. Don’t worry about finding the most expensive or fanciest outfit and realize they are going to be adorable no matter what. The next step after dressing yourself is to find something for one of your children. I suggest a layered look, or something with a cute print – maybe a plaid for a son or a print for a daughter? Bottoms can be neutral — jeans, black, gray, or khaki pants look good on boys or girls.
Once you’ve chosen something for one child, move on to the next tiny human. If you chose a print for your oldest, choose a solid color in a complementary shade for the next.
I can’t stress this enough: children’s clothes do NOT need to be fancy or even dressy. The focus will be on your child’s face and your family relationship, not their $500 outfit.
3. Dad: last but not least. I guarantee you that your significant other already has something he can wear. Nice jeans and a gray top. Boom. It matches everything. If you want to be more coordinating, you can, but remember this rule: all neutrals go together. Brown, gray, cream, and denim all match, all the time. (Pro tip: make sure your guy isn’t wearing white socks or shoes, as your eye is drawn immediately to them in pictures.)
4. Consider the season. Here in Minnesota, it’s cold 350 days a year. Remember that young children don’t have any ability to think to themselves, “Well, it’s really cold right now, but this is almost over, so I will pretend to have a good time and smile.”
No. If a child under two gets cold, it’s hell on earth. It starts with whining and progresses to shivering, sobbing, and screaming.
Repeat after me: I WILL DRESS MY CHILD APPROPRIATELY FOR THE WEATHER, NO MATTER WHAT. It doesn’t matter how cute an outfit is, if you wouldn’t send your child out to play in it without bundling them up first, they shouldn’t show up for their photos in it. As a mom and photographer, I would rather have happy faces wearing a hat and mittens than crying while dressed in their holiday finest any day of the week. Err on the side of keeping your child too warm with layers – you can always take them off. Bring along mittens (little ones love to put their hands in their mouth, and then their hands get extra cold because they’re wet), and a blanket to wrap them in as you walk around.
5. Things should not match – they should “go.” Gone are the days of family sessions where everyone wore jeans and white shirts. Families shouldn’t match. But the colors of their outfits should complement each other.
This is where people get hung up. They think there is magic to creating the perfect coordinating-but-not-TOO-coordinating family look. If this is intimidating to you, keep it really simple. Pick ONE color and everyone can wear various shades of that color. Mix in some neutral bottoms (remember: all neutrals go together) and some accessories, and you’re set. Alternatively, dress your entire family in neutrals. I love a palette of cream, gray, and tan, it’s one of my favorites. Girls can wear colored accessories if they want. Or not, it’s up to you.
Here are a few fail-safe family palettes:
- Guys in navy, girls in cream or literally any shade of blue whatsoever. All shades of the same color go together, and everyone has blue in their wardrobe.
- Gray with any jewel tone. There is a lot of burgundy in stores right now, and it looks fabulous with gray. But I also love sapphire blue, topaz yellow, or emerald green with gray.
- Pale neutrals and pastels. If everyone in your family wears white, cream, light pink, pale blue, light brown, or light gray, you’ll all look fabulous together.
I hope this has helped. Any specific wardrobe questions I can assist you with? Drop them in the comments below!