What to Wear for Family Portraits

Kate Miller-Wilson
family photo

The clothing you choose for your family portrait is important to the overall look and enduring beauty of your image. Ideally, your outfits will coordinate on some level, giving your portrait a cohesive look while still showing off the individual personalities and styles of your family members. With a little prior planning and some handy tips, you can assemble a group of outfits that will be perfect for your portrait.

Inspiration for Your Family Photo Clothing

Before you decide on your outfits for your family portrait, it helps to get some inspiration from other successful ensembles. Depending on the mood you're hoping to achieve, you may find just what you need for your grouping.

Casual Autumn Portrait

casual autumn portrait

Fall is a popular time to take family photos, since you can use the portrait on your holiday greeting cards later in the year. If you'll be taking your family picture outside in the autumn and want to keep it casual, consider some of these ideas:

  • Choose autumn colors, such as brown, gold, green, and yellow.
  • Keep the adults' attire neutral, while providing pops of color and pattern with the kids.
  • Select comfortable clothing so everyone stays relaxed.

Fun Spring or Summer Photo

fun spring photo

Spring and summer are also great seasons for outdoor photos. To capture the beauty of your setting and the fun mood, keep these tips in mind:

  • Think about what you might wear to a family picnic. This lends a natural, fun look to this type of photo.
  • Have men and boys wear simple, collared shirts, and dress girls and women in spring skirts and dresses. This makes the photo a little more formal without being stuffy.
  • Choose spring colors, like green, blue, yellow, and pink.

Formal or Holiday Photo

formal portrait

For a formal or holiday portrait, you can choose to match your outfits to your background or keep your setting plain and simple. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Dress women and girls in skirts, dresses, or pantsuits for instant formality. Similarly, boys and men should wear sport jackets and ties.
  • Choose one or two colors to carry throughout the photo, using these tones in clothing, accessories like ties and scarves, and in the background.
  • If you love the matched look, consider having the little boys match the men and the little girls match the women.

Tips for Family Portrait Outfits

In choosing your outfits, you'll need to consider the season, the mood, the setting, and the level of formality you have in mind for your image. If you select clothing that complements these essential elements of your photo, you'll have a portrait you'll love for years to come.

Choose Coordinating, But Not Identical, Outfits

The goal of any group shot is to direct the viewer's attention to the subjects' faces. No one family member should stand out or distract from the other members of the clan. To accomplish this goal, it's important to focus on coordinating outfits. This doesn't mean everyone in the photo has to wear identical outfits. Rather, the idea is to make sure one family member doesn't show up wearing shorts and a tank top when the rest of the group is sporting khakis and long-sleeved button down shirts. You'll need to offer instructions about outfits ahead of time.

Consider Clothing Color

Clashing colors can significantly detract from the beauty of your portrait, and other tones can make family members appear washed-out or cause people to blend into the background. Take some time to think about the best colors to wear for your family portrait, given the setting, family member's coloration, and the area in your home where you'll display the images.

Stick with Simple Clothing

With group shots, less is more. It's best to stick with solid colored clothing to keep the focus on family members - not their outfits. Clothing should be free of distractions or busy patterns, such as the following:

  • Stripes
  • Polka dots
  • Plaids
  • Checks
  • Paisley
  • Graphic designs
  • Company logos

Avoid wearing chunky or reflective jewelry that will distract from your face. Classic, simple pieces, such as pearl earrings or plain gold necklaces, are fine.

Remember the Setting and Season

In considering your clothing, it's easy to overlook the setting for your photo. However, some settings can really dictate what you wear. For instance, a beach shot would look silly if the family were wearing formal winter attire. In addition to matching the mood of the setting, you can also pick up tones from your background. Autumn-toned clothing looks great against fall leaves, and spring colors look fresh against a field of flowers.

Consider the Mood and Formality Level

The formality level and general mood of your portrait are also important. For fun, casual photos, jeans are perfectly appropriate. However, if you are taking a formal family portrait you'll want to choose more conservative ensembles like dresses for the women and girls and suits for the men and boys. Outfits need to coordinate with the overall mood but also with each other. For instance, you don't want one person in jeans and everyone else in suits.

Keep It Classic

You've probably looked back through old family portraits and laughed at the bell bottoms or shoulder pads that were trendy at the time the photo was taken. As much as possible, try to keep your outfits classic to keep your photo from becoming dated in years to come. Stay away from fashion trends like leggings, uneven hemlines, and unusual denim washes. Choose basic styles like turtlenecks, simple sweaters, or other classics.

Avoid Too Much Exposed Skin

Exposed skin can distract the eye away from the faces in a photo, so many photographers recommend subjects wear long sleeves, or at least three-quarter length sleeves during group shots. It's also important to remember that plunging necklines and super short hemlines will distract from the subject's face. V-necks, square-necks, and turtlenecks work well in group shots.

Don't Forget Your Feet

If your photographer is shooting full-length shots, then make certain your shoes follow the same color scheme as the rest of your outfit. Neutral shoes, such as buff, white, black, or brown are usually a good bet. Bare feet are fun in a beach photo or other very casual shot.

Stay Comfortable and Relaxed

No matter what you choose to wear for your family portrait, make sure everyone feels comfortable and relaxed in their clothes. This will lead to beautiful smiles and natural poses, and you'll end up with a gorgeous family photo you'll love displaying for many years to come.

What to Wear for Family Portraits