"What should we wear?" That's a question I receive often when helping a family plan for a portrait session, and there's no one right answer. And, there are exceptions to every rule. With that in mind, below are a few things that I've found are generally best to avoid.
My wife tells me that for guys, shoes make the outfit. It's true… I can be wearing the same jeans, the same black t-shirt, but if I wear my black leather Clarks I'm going to like how I look more than if I throw on my New Balance sneakers.
2. Sleeveless shirts
I know, it can get hot out there, but even if you seriously look great in tank tops or other sleeveless shirts, in pictures they're just not that flattering. Short sleeves will work, long sleeves will be even better.
3. Loud patterns
What can I say? I love Jimmy Buffet as much as the next guy. (Okay, that's a lie.) But unless you're having a margarita-themed family session in Key West, I can promise you that you'll appreciate having left the Hawaiian shirt at home. Your kids will, too. Now, I do love bright colors, which can work wonderfully, provided they don't clash. (See the picture below for an example of bright colors that work really well.)
4. Identical outfits
Yes, I've taken my fair share of pictures on the beach of everyone in white shirts and khakis. You know what? That's fine, and if this is what you've been envisioning for your session, no problem, we can work with it! But one thing I strive for with these shoots is to capture people's personalities, and clothing is a part of this. In 10 years, your pictures will look less dated if you dress in clothing that complements -- but doesn't copy -- what others in your family are wearing.
5. Printed T-shirts
I'd imagine there are quite a few people out there who regret wearing their Woodstock '94 t-shirts in their family pictures 20 years ago. If it proclaims band or brand, best avoid it. The exception is probably if you want to proclaim your love for the Phillies and make that somewhat of a theme.
What, then, should we wear?
If you make your living building custom motorcycles and you spend your weekends at rock festivals, you're probably going to pick different clothing than the family down the street who have a permanent croquet court in their backyard, and that's okay. (If you're the type who builds custom motorcycles and is on the national croquet team, kudos to you for transcending boundaries and breaking down walls!)
It also depends a bit on whether you're going for casual or formal. Some sessions, such as engagements, allow for some variety, and I'll recommend my clients start the shoot wearing something casual, then halfway through change into something they'd wear if they wanted to look dynamite going out on the weekend. Typically, though, with a family shoot you won't want the trouble of changing midway through, so choose wisely. Some families show up in suits and dresses, others in jeans. Take the time to think through ahead of time the overall look and feel you want. As most of my sessions are outdoors on location, my clients tend to veer toward casual most of the time. For women, fun and flirty works well too. The bottom line is that you should wear what you feel comfortable in, what you look best in, and not try to change your style to fit what you believe a portrait session should look like because you saw a picture in someone else's home.
Yarwen and her family, in the picture above, did a great job in selecting clothing. The colors are bright and go well with the location, the outfits are tasteful, and they're all dressed differently from each other, yet in a way that goes well together.