How to Pick Out Clothes for Family Pictures

What to wear for family pictures

Every year I fight the “what to wear for family pictures” battle. I get family pictures taken every single year, it is something very important to me. Often, it is the only time that I am represented as a member of our family because 99% of the time, I am the one taking all of our pictures. 

I also take a lot of family photos for other people. The number one question after they book is almost always, “What do we wear?”

I get it. It is an important decision, especially because family photos are an investment. You want to like the final product, and liking what you are wearing goes a long way in the happiness you feel when you get your pictures back. 

There are a lot of theories out there about what to wear for pictures. Some photographers prefer that you wear solid colors as to not compete with each other and make the images timeless. Some want you to avoid patterns and stripes. Some like the classic jeans or khakis and a white shirt. 

That isn’t my style. (If you are a khaki and white shirt kind of family, then by all means, where whatever you like. They are YOUR pictures and you need to feel comfortable and happy.)

What to wear for family pictures

I want the pictures I take (and am in) to reflect who we are right now. We wear bright colors. We wear patterns and stripes. (The only thing I do avoid are large logos and big graphics on a t-shirt.) We like hats and accessories. Layers. I like chunky statement necklaces and boots. (This year everyone’s outfit revolved around my new Frye boots. Just being honest.) 

Which brings me to my next point. Start with mom. I choose my outfit first and then work from there. When mom is comfortable and feeling good about herself, it makes the entire process better. (I go with the “fake it ’til you make it” approach on this one. Especially when you have family photos the day after you get home from a cruise. What was I thinking? When you really need a boost, get a blow out or your makeup done if possible, it goes a long way in the confidence area.) 

What to wear for family pictures

The most important thing that I can say about this is that it isn’t really that big of deal. My favorite year was the year that I forgot about pictures until the night before and picked out our clothes that morning. I didn’t buy anything, I just used what I had and that was clean. What I love the most about those pictures is that we look so happy and in love with each other. It didn’t matter what we were wearing, it could have been paper bags all around and I would still love them.

What to wear for family pictures

My point here is that we are trying to capture the connection that you have with your family. The love between you. When you are happy and comfortable, it shines through in pictures. Don’t sweat what you are wearing so much. That being said, I still have a few tips. 🙂

What to wear for family pictures

Here are some of my best tips for picking out picture day clothes:

  1. Think of it as one big outfit instead of individual outfits. I lay out everything (even jewelry) out on the bed so I can see what it all looks like together.
  2. You don’t want to be too matchy-matchy but you don’t want to clash either. Coordinate and complement are the words I like to use.
  3. The photo above was my base that I pulled from my closet. I wasn’t 100% happy with it, but most of it worked and most importantly – fit. I snapped a picture on my phone and took it shopping with me. It was so much easier to imagine how it would all look together with a photo for reference. I did end up changing a lot of it, but this incredibly helpful.
  4. Don’t be afraid of bright or bold colors. Children look amazing in reds, blues, greens, purples, orange.
  5. Tweens looks great in layers. My oldest son likes a t-shirt with an open button down over. This adds interest and is something that he already likes to wear. Tween girls like accessories. They love hats and scarves. Tweens are my favorite and something I have noticed is the better the feel, the easier it is to get a great picture of them. You can also add these things after you get the money shot (the family picture of all of you together).
  6. If you are anything like me, you probably wish that you had lost some lbs. before your session. There is absolutely no need to put that pressure on yourself. That being said I know the feeling all too well. Avoid going the baggy route, instead wear something more fitted. I promise, it will look a million times better. Wear a solid color and add a chunky necklace or big earrings, it will draw attention away from your bottom half.
  7. Wear just a little more makeup than you would normally wear. You don’t want to look like a clown, but a little pop of color on the lips or eyes looks great.
  8. Be comfortable! I cannot stress this one enough. If your kids are wearing things that are itchy or so fancy that they don’t feel comfortable moving around, choose something else. Husbands also need to be comfortable. I will always pick casual over dressed up for this reason.

What to wear for family pictures

What to wear for family pictures

I used the orange stripe and the blue from my sweater and pulled orange and blue into the kid’s outfits. I wore a little more makeup than I normally do and made sure to have lipstick, not a sheer gloss. These were iPhone snaps. I like to take an iphone picture to see how my makeup is going to look in a picture.

Below are the last three years of family photos. Blue Lily Photography has done them for us 4 years in a row, they are the best!

What to wear for family pictures

2012

What to wear for family pictures

2013

What to wear for family pictures

2014 – The year I picked out the clothes morning of.

My best advice is to just relax and have fun. It’s all that really matters anyway.

Need some more inspiration or to book a holiday session? Come over and look around.

What to wear for family pictures

Bree Hester | Family Photographer | Cape Cod, Massachusetts

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17 Comments

  • We’re getting ready to have our first family photos taken by someone besides me next week. This was just the thing I needed to read to relax about the wardrobe. Thank you, Bree!

    Reply
  • Thank you Bree!! This was so helpful! I always struggle trying to pull clothes together for everyone!

    Reply
  • Bree,

    Love Love Love your style. What great ideas and put together in such a realistic and honest way!!!

    Thanks so much – Kelly 🙂

    Reply
  • Not a fan of bare feet in pictures, unless it’s on the beach. But a family just sitting around all barefoot when it looks posed? Looks fake. No one wants to see Grand Pop’s feet!

    Reply
    • You might not want to see bare feet, but pictures represent who the family is. Maybe grandpa doesn’t really like shoes. It is personal preference.

      Reply
      • I think that studio photography generally calls for bare feet. When I photograph families in the studio, I always insist that everyone takes off their shoes and socks. Some people are reluctant to do so, but it’s good to have clear rules there, this makes it easier to persuade people. In the end, usually everyone agrees and in the photos, it always looks so much more natural and in harmony if you see everyone’s bare feet instead of ugly socks or shoes.
        Do you also ask your customers to have bare feet for the session? I would love to hear about your experience. 🙂

        Reply
        • For newborns and babies maybe, but I would never dissuade a client from wearing what they want. I might encourage, but ultimately, I am there to provide a service to them and give them the product that they are looking for.

          Reply
          • I think bare feet is not just for babies. It looks great on almost everyone, especially on young people like young parents, young adults, teenagers etc. It looks just so much more natural and fresh than shoes or socks, and at the same time it helps with the symmetry of the pictures (hands are bare, too, after all). Although it’s just one detail, it makes a lot of difference in the pictures.

            In my opinion, it’s precisely because I provide a service to my customers that they should trust me to some extent and follow my instructions. I’m not going to ask them to be naked or anything. But having everyone remove their shoes and socks isn’t crossing any boundaries in my opinion, and it really does help creating amazing photos. Especially for families and groups, it is a must.
            It’s true that some people are a little shy when it comes to being photographed in their bare feet. In that case I try to persuade them and I tell them that feet won’t be the focus and they won’t even be visible in all the pictures. So I do ask them to remove their socks, but if they don’t like the photos with bare feet, they can just choose the others instead. However, in the end, they usually get the point, so they choose the full-body shots as well…

            Reply
            • I totally agree with everything that Zelda has said. I took my family to a photographer recently and she surprised us by asking if everyone could please take off their shoes and socks. My husband was reluctant to do so and my daughter, who is somewhat shy about her feet, also said she would like to keep her socks. But our photographer insisted that everyone needed to have bare feet due to the casual style of the photos.
              At first I found it a little strange, but of course I also trusted her skills as a photographer. When I saw the results, though, I completely understood why she had to insist. Those pictures are just amazing and yes, our bare feet do make a huge difference. I can’t even tell why, they just do! I am so grateful that she didn’t give in to the hesitations of my husband and daughter, who in the end also had to admit that those photos turned out great. After the shoot, she also mentioned that sometimes people are unsure about having bare feet in those photos, but when they see the results, they always love them, so she always insists and asks her customers to trust her on this one. 🙂
              I think she is right to do so and I’m already looking forward to our next photo shoot.

              @Bree, of course you are free to handle this as you see fit, I just wanted to add my experience and suggest that when it comes to portrait photography, by accepting what people claim to prefer, you might not be doing them a favor. In the end, the photographer should have the final word and everyone should accept his or her decision.

              Reply
  • I recently had a client who did the who “theme” matching outfits. Yes, they looked like a magazine, but the mom’s skirt was so short she could only stand and always looked uncomfortable. Also, not a fan of all white shirts, unless they are the same material and brand the whites can look off.

    Reply
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