ETA August 2020: The affiliate links below are from fall 2019, so unfortunately most items are no longer available. I hope the color inspiration will still be useful to you!
If you’re a family photographer, you’re more than welcome to share these boards with your own clients – I’m happy to help! However, I ask that you please link directly to this blog post or share to Pinterest instead of downloading the boards. Credit to my website is greatly appreciated. Thank you very much! 🙂
More than any other question, clients always ask what they should wear to their family session. Coordinating your outfits can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be! This post covers tons of tips to help you with styling.
To kick things off, here are some sample clothing boards and color palettes to jump-start you as you plan your family’s clothing. For fall, I’m loving warm tones like blush, burnt orange, and mustard! Keep scrolling for more general clothing tips below the boards.
I designed these for a family of four in order to cover options for women, men, boys, and girls – but I just wanted to add that I think families are beautiful no matter what form they take. The color palettes below will totally work whether you’ve got two people in your family, six people in your family, two moms, or two dads (and girls don’t have to wear dresses, either – I just included lots because I love them!) If you get stuck figuring out how to use these sets for your own crew, please feel free to reach out! ♥
If you’re stuck, ask for help!
Many stores offer free styling assistance (J Crew and Nordstrom are two great options that have clothes for the whole family). I also love helping my clients choose their outfits. Just text or email me photos of different possibilities and we can solve the puzzle together!
Mom: White Pom Pom Sweater + Ankle Boots
Dad: Men’s Maroon Pullover Sweater
Girl: Girls’ Pink Bell Sleeve Shirt + Girls’ Corduroy Pinafore Skirt
Boy: Boys’ Oatmeal Shawl Collar Sweater + Boys’ Gold Pants
Mom: Sweater Dress + Women’s Riding Boots + Women’s Skinny Jeans
Dad: Men’s Cable-Knit Cardigan
Boy: Brown Boys’ Shirt + Boys’ Gray Jeans
Girl: Girls’ Ankle Boots + Forest Green Dress + Mustard Romper + Girls’ White Shirt
Mom: Women’s Taupe Coat + Women’s Skinny Jeans + Ankle Boots
Dad: Men’s Cable-Knit Cardigan + Men’s Ivory Henley
Girl: Girls’ White Skirt + Girls’ Ruffle Shirt
Boy: Boys’ Ivory Pullover + Boys’ Gray Jeans
GENERAL CLOTHING TIPS
Want a fail-proof formula?
Put most of the family in different neutral shades (i.e. ivory, gray, beige) and then add a few pops of coordinating color. See the sample palettes further down this post!
Start with one person.
It’s way easier to visualize the whole puzzle once you know what one piece looks like! Try starting with mom or daughter, since women’s clothing tends to have more colors and prints.
Complement, don’t match.
The day of all white shirts and khaki pants are long past! We want colors that generally complement each other: so for instance, soft colors (light blue, gray, blush) or warm colors (brown, orange, burgundy), If you want colorful images, then you should choose a more vivid color scheme for your outfits!
Generally, solids work best.
Pops of pattern can definitely look great, but if you’re looking for a fail-proof family combination, go with solids. To keep things from looking boring, include textures (think chunky knits, tulle, lace, etc). Avoid tiny prints, especially small plaid and small stripes.
What I love: mama’s colorful print + the girls’ tulle adds a touch of whimsy + baby brother’ chunky ivory sweater
What I love: the modern patterns and pop of pink make this set extra fun! One bold pattern (large stripes) paired with one small pattern (tiny polka dots) works really well together.
What I love: these bright hues are so cheerful, and I adore that mustard skirt!
Stick to one outfit.
Don’t make things more complicated than they need to be! All you need for an awesome family session is one outfit for everyone. Changing outfits will take time away from your shoot and can put your kids in a grumpy mood.
Consider your home decor.
If you’re planning to hang your images in your living room that’s decorated in all white, you probably don’t want your clothing to be dark. If you’re hanging them in a colorful nursery, then wear vivid outfits.
Plan for the weather.
Nothing is worse than being miserably uncomfortable in a perfect outfit. If you’re planning an outdoor session in November, think about coats, gloves, and hats. In the summer, dress in layers that you can easily take off if you get too hot.
What I love: shades of mint and blue tie these different patterns together. Cute shoes, too!
What I love: these warm hues worked perfectly for fall + mama’s coat kept her warm and stylish + the twins’ neutral chunky sweaters
Don’t forget shoes!
These are often the forgotten last element, but they can really make or break your outfits! If you can’t find shoes you love, consider going barefoot (just bring walking shoes to get from point A to point B). Steer away from athletic shoes and bright white sneakers.
Try on your clothes well in advance!
Check your outfits from all possible angles in the mirror, not just the one you like best. Try sitting, squatting, leaning forward, etc. The kids’ clothes should work well in motion so that we can play during your session (think flying, tickling, and hanging upside down).
Let the kids have input.
If your daughter hates wearing dresses, don’t force her to wear one for picture day. If your son thinks that bowtie is uncomfortable, ditch it. Happy kids make for happy photos!
What I loved: blush + burgundy look beautiful for fall photos! You can’t see that well in this photo, but her daughter’s dress was velvet and added a beautiful touch of holiday texture!
What I love: the primary shades and Converse sneakers kept this super fun! Mama started with her favorite dress and then planned the boys’ hues around it. Always a great strategy!
What I love: the girls’ whimsical patterns kept things fun!
SAY YES TO:
Above all, if you feel good, you will look good! Choose clothing that gives you freedom of movement, keeps you warm/cool, and won’t require a lot of maintenance throughout your session.
Add some visual interest to your images with unique fabrics. Some examples: lace, cable knits, chambray, tweed, herringbone, chambray, faux fur, wool
Don’t be scared of patterns and prints! They can work great in moderation. Try one statement piece (for instance, a colorful floral dress for mom) and one subtle pattern (maybe polka dots for baby girl), and then keep the rest of the family more simple. Large prints and patterns work best – I recommend avoiding small plaid/stripes.
What I love: the shades of pink and blue complement each other well without being super matchy-matchy. Understated prints for big sister + brother add interest. Mama’s maxi skirt = comfy AND stylish!
What I love: the modern yet understated patterns + muted colors
Layers and Accessories
These are the quickest way to take your outfits from average to amazing! Think scarves, blazers, cardigans, belts, jewelry, fun socks, and hats.
We don’t want your clothing to be too baggy or too tight. Properly fitted clothing looks put together and will show your shape. For women, your upper half and lower half should be balanced: so for instance, blousy shirt + skinny pants, or tight shirt + flowing skirt.
Try to steer away from current trends, since they’ll date your photos 10 years from now.
What I love: This family came prepared with lots of layers for a chilly day (baby girl’s sweater, mama’s vest). Ankle boots worked really well for walking on those tricky cobblestones!
What I love: that mustard dress (it’s one of my favorite colors for photos!) + baby girl’s embroidered detail + dad’s khakis keeping things light!
SAY NO TO:
Let your clothing match your surroundings. A tuxedo or formal dress will look out of place in the woods.
If you love white, try off-white or ivory instead.
Black and dark navy/brown/gray should all be avoided, since they tend to darken the overall feel of your photos and keep them from feeling bright & airy.
These create skin tone/color cast issues.
Very Saturated Colors
I.e. bright red, bright yellow, etc. Instead, try more muted versions of the same color: so for instance, replace bright red with dark red; replace bright yellow with mustard, etc.
What I love: these solid colors are offset by a little pop of pattern (daughter’s dress) and texture (mom’s lace sleeves).
Logos & Text
Words will draw attention away from your faces.
If you wear glasses every day, please wear them in your shoot! However, lens glare and shaded lenses will keep your eyes from being seen. You can have anti-reflective coating added to your lenses or wear just the frames.
What I love: these warm hues looked beautiful for their fall session! Different shades of solids look great together.
Even if you’re planning to use these images for your holiday cards, steer away from holiday-colored clothing and let your card design incorporate those instead. That way you’ll be able to enjoy your images year-round!
Button-down or structured shirts with thicker material generally look better in photos. If you have a t-shirt you love, try layering a cardigan or blazer on top.
Tiny Plaid, Small Stripes, & Complicated Patterns
These don’t always translate well in-camera.
What I love: mama’s classic A-line dress looked beautiful on her! This family used two main accent colors (green and pink) and tied the rest in with neutrals.
Say yes to:
- maxi & midi dresses
- fitted tops tucked into long skirts
- A-line dresses/coats
- skinny jeans
- tunic-length shirts, either fitted or flowy
- cardigan/blazer over fitted shirt
- ankle boots
- riding boots
Say no to:
- very dark colors like black and dark navy
- strapless/sleeveless tops and dresses (unless you love your arms)
- heels (hard to play in – if you decide to wear them, stick to chunky heels or ankle boots)
- dresses above knee-length (hard to play with the kids and keep it pulled down)
- short shirts + low-cut jeans (same thing)
- stripes and plaid
- low-cut shirts
- baggy clothes (fitted is generally more flattering)
- very chunky knits (they can make you look larger than you are)
- cheap/flimsy fabrics
- necklaces (hard to keep in place – earrings are a safer bet)
What I love: maxi dresses are always flattering, and the lace texture in this one adds interest. I also love that she dressed her twins in coordinating shades but kept them from matching exactly.
What I love: the shades of blue tied this all together. The off-the-shoulder flowy top looked great on mama (you can use fashion tape to keep the shoulders in place). Pastels and white helped keep things bright for spring photos.
What I love: this set looks casual and effortless but still chic! The soft lavender sweater was great for cuddling with her daughter.
What I love: the light, bright hues + mama’s comfy chunky heels. She wore a jumpsuit, which was great for running around and playing with her daughter!
What I love: that flowy pastel skirt paired with other light shades! The lightweight material helped it flow really well in the photos.
Say yes to:
- shirts designed to be worn un-tucked (it’s really hard to keep shirts tucked in when you’re playing with your kids)
- chino pants/shorts
- button-downs with sleeves rolled up to elbows
- sweaters layered over collared shirts, especially if they’re textured (think chunky knits)
- slim-fit jeans
- leather shoes/boots, boat shoes, Converse & Vans
Say no to:
- short-sleeved polos (instead try short-sleeved button-downs)
- small prints like plaid and stripes – solids are a better choice
- formal button-down shirts – keep it more casual with untucked button-downs & relaxed fabrics
- baggy shorts/pants
- athletic shoes
- cargo shorts
- white t-shirts and shirts
- undershirts that show
- phones/wallets in pockets
What I love: these warm shades look perfect for fall photos! Mama also added lots of texture, especially with her daughter’s lace shirt and dad’s knitted sweater
What I love: mama’s blush blazer, that chunky ivory sweater, and dad’s shirt (a muted solid color, but still with a touch of texture for interest)
What I love: baby boy’s suspenders + the way the daughter’s coral dress ties in with the coral stripes in dad’s shirt
Say yes to:
everything listed for mom, plus these optional accessories: headbands, hats, bows, rain boots, tights
Say no to:
visible diaper/underwear (try shorts or bloomers under dresses), neon, athletic shoes or character shoes
What I love: this adorable bubble! Since the day of the session was a little chilly for baby, mama added tights and a little cardigan on top. Worked perfectly!
What I love: pink and blue look great together, and their daughter’s pattern adds a nice pop of interest!
What I love: all of those cozy textures, especially the faux fur and knitted hats! She chose blush as their main color and then added soft neutrals around it (beige and ivory).
Say yes to:
everything listed for dad, plus these optional accessories: suspenders, bowtie, caps, high-top sneakers/Vans
Say no to:
tank tops, neon, shirts that have to stay tucked in (look for shirts designed to be worn untucked), visible diaper, athletic shoes or character shoes (Disney, etc.),
What I love: the hat is a perfect accessory! Chunky-knit ivory sweaters always win. And the little pop of color in his bowtie is perfect!
What I love: that dapper blazer and bowtie!!!! His teal pants also worked well as a contrast to the warm autumn leaves
What I love: those Converse sneakers helped him have fun in style!
What I love: I mean, are you kidding me with those suspenders and that hat?!
What I love: their son’s suspenders looked adorable AND they were super practical because they stayed in place while he played!
Favorite brands for children’s clothing:
- J Crew
- Janie & Jack
- Hanna Andersson
- Alice & Ames
Sample Color Palettes
If you’re overwhelmed by all of the advice I just gave you, here are some sample color palettes that you can use as a starting point. I based all of these sets off of two or three bright colors, then filled in the rest with neutral colors like beige and gray.
Of all of those colors, here are my favorites! These all photograph beautifully:
Did you find this post useful? Please feel free to use the pinnable image below to save this to your Pinterest board!
If you’re a family photographer, you’re more than welcome to share these boards with your own clients – I’m happy to help! However, I ask that you please link directly to this blog post instead of downloading the boards. Credit to my website is greatly appreciated. Thank you very much! 🙂
(For the previously posted clothing boards from 2016, click here!)