I’ve had a number of clients come to me and ask what to wear to a portrait session. Obviously I’m not qualified to pick out everyone’s outfits for them (you’d all wear jeans and black t-shirts if I were a stylist, and I shudder to think about how boring that would be), but I do have some tips from my experiences with photo shoots. So here’s the M. Davidson-Schapiro Style Guide. Let me know if you have any ideas to add or if you know where I can get Wolf Howling at the Moon t-shirts in bulk.
1. Coordinate, don’t match.
When you are considering what to wear for a photo shoot, a lot of people have a tendency to think about matching. Matching, while super cute for tiny babies, is not ideal for couples or families (unless, of course, you’ve got a particular idea in mind for an amusing holiday card involving everyone wearing the same Wolf Howling at the Moon tee shirt from The Mountain). Instead, you want to pick outfits that complement each other. So if your girlfriend wants to wear a cute sundress, you probably don’t want to wear ripped jeans and an old t-shirt. Likewise, if you’re planning on wearing your favorite bright pink dress shirt, she might want to avoid wearing all earth tones. Think about finding common ground in your outfits–same level of fanciness, colors that don’t clash horribly. And please, no white shirt and jeans family uniforms. You’ll thank me later.
2. Dress up, dress for your body
You want to pick something that is flattering to your body and is also a little snazzy. That does not have to mean black tie, however. T-shirt and jeans are totally fine, but I would recommend clean jeans and a neat-looking tee. A nice way to class up your comfortable jeans is with an Oxford shirt. For folks who land on the femme end of the spectrum, it doesn’t need to mean dresses. Dresses are great, but what you want to do is pick clothes that flatter your body. Nothing super tight or super baggy. Think about what you might wear if you were going out on a date; you want to look good and feel good, but you don’t want to be so dressed up you’ll be uncomfortable. Pick something that makes you look great and feel awesome.
3. Don’t be afraid of color!
Many people automatically shy away from color in their portraits, instead grabbing the nearest white collared shirt or black dress. This works for some people, but I’d argue that you’re better off bringing some color into the mix. Think about how nice that blue shirt looks on you, and how well it brings out your eyes. Or that pink scarf that adds some pop to the black dress you love so much. Same goes for pattern. Fear not plaids, stripes, or polka dots. A little pattern goes a long way in photos, so as long as you’re not planning a full suit of pink and purple polka dots, you’re probably okay.
4. Even if you’re Michelle Obama, bring something to cover your arms
Even though your arms are totally strong and look great when you are moving around, there’s something about still photographs that often emphasizes the upper arm area in a way that is not true to life. If you are thinking you’ll want to wear something sleeveless, I’d advise bringing along a cardigan or another sort of arm-covering garment just in case. If you’re really lean or know that you love the way your arms look, bare them freely! T-shirts and other short sleeves work great as well. Truly, you know your body best, so don’t stress!
5. Bring a backup!
This advice is particularly relevant for kids, but it works for adults as well. It might be that when you arrive, you realize your green shirt is the exact shade of the tree you want to stand near, and it makes you look like you’re one with the leaves. Or maybe we do some intense choreographed dance photos and you get a grass stain on your elbow. Having another shirt on hand is a great idea, especially for small children with propensities for mess-making.
It is, after all, you we want to capture in these photos. Don’t wear a dress and cowboy boots just because you saw someone wearing it on Pinterest if you’re really a jeans-and-t-shirt kind of girl. Don’t make your children wear matching dresses and bowties if they are rough and tumble kids who love wearing Red Sox shirts and mismatched socks. Find an outfit that is a nice, clean version of your favorite thing to wear. You’ll appreciate it years later when you look back and say, I love how well this captures us at that moment, rather than What was I thinking with that outfit?
Any questions? Just ask!