Updated: May 2
I get this question at least twice a week. It's a GOOD question. You want to look stylish, but still be timeless. You want to be comfortable, but not compromise style. You want to wear things you feel attractive in, but not clash with your loved ones. You don't want to get everyone a new outfit... but you want to get everyone a new outfit.
The last time we had family photos I changed my clothes four times on the way from my bedroom to the car. So I've stressed out on this topic for you and here are my top ten tips to help you narrow your possibilities.
This is us and our latest outfit choice for family photos!
1- FAMILY FEUD: Debating the details isn't worth the tension that comes with you into the shoot. Try, try, TRY to compromise on the details of outfits as much as possible, because what each person wears reflects their personality, and isn't that exactly what you want reflected in the photos? Additionally, tension from pre-session arguing in the car comes into the photoshoot with you so try not to sweat the details.
2- "EVERYONE SHOULD XYZ": If you at any point find yourself saying things like "all the guys should wear scarves!" or "all the girls can wear their hair up!" or "we should wear white t shirts and blue jeans," you should reroute to allow more individuality into the session. Making that type of style restriction usually ends up with several people feeling cramped by the dress code. You also need to be very careful about looking too "dated" if you over-match.
This is a great example of each person wearing outfits that reflect all my tips! Layers, wearing complimentary colors that don't clash, and not having clashing patterns.
3- TO BUY: I have two completely opposite opinions on this topic.
Either, I advise against buying something new just for photos. Go in your closet to your favorite few shirts and accessories because someday you're going to get rid of even your favorites. You're going to have these pictures forever so you probably want to be wearing something you actually loved at the time, not something that was a prop for a session.
Or... I advise splurging on that new dress and heels you've been thinking about so you can wear an outfit you feel positively radiant in! If your setting is very natural and rural, perhaps you should lean in to a more casual look. If your setting is more romantic or urban, perhaps you should dress up like it's a date night!
Carrie and Rodney picked a location with lots of texture and they kept their overall look quite casual. Carrie wore a pretty paisley dress and Rodney wore a handsome blue. They are very light outfits because it was a hot day so they didn't wear layers, but Carrie's dress has ruffles and that combined with the print of her outfit and the texture of the wildflowers made for a very interesting and beautiful aesthetic.
4- SHOES: Consider your setting. Don't wear shoes you don't want to get wet or dirty, or shoes that hurt your feet.
Decide if you need reliable and comfortable shoes. If you do, but you choose to wear impractical shoes, you'll be preoccupied or unable to participate if we do something lively. If we decide we want to run through a field or climb some rocks, if you have to worry about protecting your shoes you are missing out on a fun and beautiful set of photos.
If you want to dress up and wear heels, make sure we're shooting in a place where heels are going to allow you to walk comfortably, and bring bandaids just in case you have blisters come in. I also recommend bringing a backup pair of shoes!
Kayla and Jesse stuck to a formal black and white theme and also wore light outfits because the day was hot and the solarium is essentially a greenhouse. But Kayla's dress had ruffles and a pretty tie and the bold color blocking of the black and white made the outfits interesting. They are also timeless outfits because black and white will never go out of style!
It's also important to note that the background where we were shooting that day is green- green rolling hills and a green solarium. Don't wear the same color as the background!
5- DON'T WEAR: Avoid things that you have to tuck/adjust/pull. If you have to think about keeping a bra strap hidden, cleavage from showing, tight clothes from clinging too close, etc, that's the wrong shirt to wear. If it's itchy, don't wear it. You don't want to have to fidget.
I am the poster child for wearing nonsensical things in photos. I wore a strapless dress and shoes that pinched my pinky toes for my wedding day. So just trust me when I tell you about being distracted or fidgety from poor wardrobe choices, because I learned the hard way.
By Rachel Struve
6- DRESSY OR CASUAL: If you want to bring more than one outfit, have one be more casual and one be dressier. Women, have one outfit be jeans and the other be a dress.
Lindsay is the poster child for wise wardrobe choices! The whole family was all comfortable and no one needed to fidget with anything. Really adorable combinations of colors, patterns, solids, and textures!
7- LAYERS: Definitely put several people in layers to keep things stylish. A vest. Cardigan or kimono. A huge scarf. A jacket. Socks sticking out of the top of boots. Hats. Look at a magazine- you'll always see more than one person wearing some form of layers.
Here are several example pictures of outfits with layers because I think this is the most important aspect of a stylish & comfortable outfit.
8- SOLIDS/PRINTS: Adhering to themes is great because it avoids a clash, but if you take it too far you can neutralize individual style and personality the pictures will be less timeless. Put some people in patterns and some in solids. Diversified prints add a lot to the overall look of the gallery but avoid having everyone in only one matching pattern. It can be a lot on the eyes. (I'm looking at you, plaid. You're a lot to handle).
David and Jess kept it very simple and neutral but David was rocking plaid and Jess had a neutral dark shirt so there was no clashing.
This is one of my favorite outfit choices- John Paul is wearing a puffy dark green vest, a charcoal sweater, and a plaid shirt. His outfit has many layers and it's very interesting with all the textures and pattern choices, but the color palate is fairly uniform- it's just charcoal and dark green with lots of different pieces. Aubrey wore a black shirt and a textured, cinnamon colored cardigan to keep warm.
9- COLORS: Pick 3-5 complimentary colors for your theme, and add in the different solids and patterns from that mutually agreed-upon theme. If you need help picking specific colors for your photos, I will guide you.
Here we are back to my family photos- I promise you we didn't plan it, but we all have various shades of blue and a warm light brown/orange-ish. Orange and brown go well together but each blue is different from the other blues and each orange is different from the other oranges.
10- TEXTURES: Don't forget about textures! Textures add appeal to a solid color, it's a way to use a simple color palate without being boring, and it's a way to add style without adding a clash factor. Lindsay stuck to a very simple palate then added gorgeous textures and a patterned scarf. Such a classy and cohesive look. Here's their 2019 Christmas card photo- check out their whole vibe again.
The next year Lindsay showed off her talent for building family outfits once again! She added a little bit more color but kept the layers and the mild textures integrated for a very pleasing family aesthetic, without forcing the kids into outfits they hated.
Throwback! These are Zach and I from our engagement photo session in October 2016. In picture 1, you see us being dressier and wearing a pattern-on-pattern (fine for couples, complicated with more people). I added a solid scarf to break it up a little and we kept our shoes and pants solid and neutral. We wore our favorite shirts at the time.
By Rachel Struve
In this second picture, we were more dressy, kept a simple color palate, and added some textures. We did buy Zach a new jacket that day but it's mostly because he needed one for the upcoming winter. Otherwise we wore things we already owned and liked.
By Rachel Struve
As far as seasonal colors and styles and colors I recommend avoiding- that's a whole other topic. I have a lot to say on that but it's very individual so we'll need to chat about your session individually if you have more specific questions.