Clothing a Clan: The Dread of Family Photos
By Marah Grant on in Family, Lifestyle, Personal with 4 Comments
We’ve all been there. We’ve decided that a new family portrait is in order. Six new children have been born since the last photo, it’s definitely time. We’ve chosen the date, the photographer, and obviously all the family members. Then we realize with a weighty sense of doom that we still have to make the hardest decision of all. What to wear! I occasionally see other photographers blog clothing ideas for family photos. (Personally, my favorite ideas come from this photographer.) I don’t necessarily think that styling is my forte. Especially since I second guess (or third guess) every item of clothing I ever buy and I’m never satisfied with my own outfits. I try hard to be a fashionista, but I’m pretty sure that with any given outfit I really only ever get it 65% right. (I’m aware that number is a little generous, but for my ego’s sake please don’t correct me.) Since I’m obviously more of a fashion observer than a fashion expert, instead of putting outfits together and showing you my attempt at styling I’m going to offer a few guidelines and then wrap up this post by pointing to a great example of styling. I’ll pepper these guidelines with a few examples of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Hopefully this post will help you the next time you have to play stylist to your family. Whether you’re dressing a family of 3 or a family of 30, the basics remain the same.
ok, so we’ll dive right in with the guidelines. In no particular order except for this first one. I think it’s a biggie:
1. There is NO pressure to “match”
The first thing I’d avoid is the SUPER matchy-matchy look for photos. Trust me on this one, your children will hate you for it down the road. I mean, I think we can all agree that these children below have a right to be, and should be, justifiably bitter. Is this the family uniform???? Are they traveling troubadours? Do they WANT to look like the Von Trapps? Do they ever wear these outfits around the house for fun? Are they required to wear these “things” every night for dinner? Maybe just for Sunday dinner? And maybe the most important question in my mind… do they itch terribly?
And what’s going on here??? I mean, I know you’re excited about your family vacation, but… I can’t even pick out the faces from the loud print! It’s all just a messy blur to my neeeeeeeearly perfect 20/20 eyes. I haven’t had an eye exam in years, but I’m pretty sure that’s still true…ish. Ok, FINE! I CAN tell the people from the shirts, but let me ask you this: What’s the first thing you see when you look at this photo? A happy family? Or Hawaiian shirts?
Instead of THOSE kinds of eye sores above, pick a color scheme and personalize outfits within the palette.
You can always choose one patterned item for a child and then pick solids that would match that pattern for the rest of the family. Here’s a real client example. This family had a cream, blue, tan, and brown color scheme and the whole family fit right in. They took their color scheme from the skirt that the little lady in the front is wearing. They look cohesive, without looking like they are…. you know, part of a cult. It says, “we’re a family” without saying “we want to make your eyes bleed”.
2. Wear color!
For a while it was really popular to have family photos where everyone wore a white shirt. This can be done well and look really classy, but more often than not it was all wrong! Unless you’re the cast of Modern Family, I’d avoid the all white look. I mean… you have GOTTA have proper undergarments to pull that off. I mean… all around. Pristine understhirts. Great bras. It ALL has to be ON. POINT. There’s a huge risk of stains at any time. And then, to boot, the lighting has to be AMAZING. Because, if you are all wearing white shirts outdoors in a lush green environment, sometimes the green can reflect on the white and visually tint your shirts a little. Sometimes they make you look like you’re all albinos. It can just go horribly wrong in SO many ways. (For the record, the all black is JUST as bad, so don’t think you’re off the hook with that one. Who do you think you are, The Addams Family?)
Here’s proof that even the richest of the rich sometimes look a little weird in this colorless scheme. Is Kim wearing a slip? Why are some of the family bare foot yet Khloe is wearing knee socks? Some of the family is loaded up with winter layers, some are seemingly in skimpy jammies. So much of this photo puzzles me, but let’s stick to my point: the color, or lack thereof. Is it just me or does everyone look a little dingy and possibly ill? (P.S. I spent WAY too much time trying to figure out if one of these people is Brody… AND, I secretly suspect that Santa is Ryan Seacrest. But wait, hmm… I know he probably didn’t even know the Kardashian-Jenners then… Nope! Scratch that, I’ve got it!!! It’s O.J. Simpson! I just know it!)
Here’s another example of colorless family torture… remember those photos where people were all wearing the same denim shirt? EW! Again, I have to ask: Is this the family uniform??? Because I expect them to say, “What can blue do for you?” Also, am I the only person who can’t stop staring at the tan belt? Why do they all love this hideous fabric so much? Is it really so luxurious that they have to wear it from head to toe, or do they really just want to look like Jay Leno? The bizarre pose aside… this denim has GOT to GO!
When picking colors, it’s great to remember that jewel tones are universally flattering. I didn’t make that up. I read it in Real Simple about five years ago and I’ve lived by it ever since. All skin tones look great in jewel tones. What are jewel tones, you may ask? Well… If there are precious gems in that color, its’a jewel tone. (Rubies, Emeralds, Sapphires, Etc.)
Look at how these ladies all pop off the background. There are several races and hair colors represented, yet they all look great in these colors.
3. Layers and accessories are great!
It’s important to understand that your outfits for photos will be forever immortalized in 2D. Not 3D. (In case you live in a cave, D = dimensions.) Layers add depth, interest, texture, and DIMENSION (D’s for short) to a flat photo. Scarves, jewelry, jackets, vests, pocket squares, and other pieces of interest should never be overlooked for photos. A thick cable knit sweater or a nice tweed jacket with a little more texture to it is a GREAT look for a photo. Even just the collar of an undershirt can do SO much. (And I should add… those undershirts should be fresh, because a stretched out yellowed tshirt collar can make a photo look a little cheap.)
I think we can all agree that some layers would have helped this photo. A jacket, a vest, a blazer, a scarf… SOMETHIING! Would have helped to make this photo oh-so-much more flattering. With layers, it would have looked richer and had more texture and dimension.
Don’t underestimate your shoes either! They can make or break a photo, in my opinion. You can’t afford new Jimmy Choos for every family photo, you say? Just cleaning up your shoes a little before a shoot can go a long way. I mean… let’s take the time to maybe rub the dung off of our barn boots before heading to see a professional photographer. Maybe throw on a pair of oxfords or ballet flats instead of your everyday sketchers shapeups or lime green crocs.
Here’s another great real client example. The layering here was awesome:
4. More than anything: PLAN AHEAD!
Part of your photo budget might need to include a trip to Target for new clothing items. The WORST thing you can do when choosing family outfits is waiting until the day of, or even the night before, to start organizing a wardrobe for twenty. This is the Achilles heel of all Shaffer family photos, so know that I speak from painful personal experience. We finally got it right with our last family photo, but… I’m pretty sure my family hated me for 6 months prior when I sent them constant email threats and reminders to shop for black, white, and grey layered outfits to match with their dark blue jeans. (yup! I’m the “family photo police” for my family. Surprise!!) There were literally 27 people in that family photo, and I didn’t want anyone stepping out of line with a tangerine top!
Finally: Look for Inspiration. I don’t mean that you should look through all your friend’s family photos either. Look in unusual places!!
Here’s where bring it home and get embarrassingly honest: This post was inspired by the new British boy band One Direction. I saw them for the first time while I was at the gym a couple weeks ago. I had my headphones in at the time, so I couldn’t hear them, but I saw a reaction from the crowd at The Today Show that oddly resembled Beatle Mania. (I wonder sometimes if they pay people to act like that for these apperances. I mean.. I’d NEVER heard of these people before! Where did they get a GIANT crowd of people to act THAT ridiculous???) Then I saw them perform on Saturday Night Live this weekend and finally got to hear them. The music is ok. I’d say good, not great. What I was really interested in was their styling. Check them out!
These perfectly coifed fellas would make for some AWESOME family photos… you know, if they were a real family and not people chosen based on auditions for their looks and a little bit of singing talent. Their stylist has obviously followed all of the rules: They aren’t too matchy. They have a clearly defined color scheme. They are wearing layers. There aren’t any crazy Hawaiian shirts… (I know that wasn’t a rule per say, but it was implied.) AND they planned ahead! I love the punches of red in the photo above, especially the red shoes!
Here are a few more shots of One Direction:
Style inspiration for family photos can very easily come from BAND photos. Check around the internet for your favorite rockers and see what their group photos look like. They were probably professionally styled, so I’m sure they’ll give you some great ideas.
Bands don’t usually do much color, but they’re pretty good at the layering!
TV shows with ensemble casts are also bound to have some amazing group photos. And you better believe you’ll never find them looking like a hot mess in match-matchy Little House on the Prairie style homemade calico numbers. That ONLY works for one thing… Little House on the Prairie! Instead, they’ll look classy and chic.
For the record, I’ve only ever watched one of the shows shown above. If you know me at all, it should be obvious which one. I say that to really drive home my point of looking in unusual places for inspiration.
When in doubt, simply ask yourself: Do we look like we might try to talk someone into drinking our “special Kool-aid”? If the answer is yes, go change. If you look like you’re wearing some kind of creepy uniform, go find something else from your closet.
And, if all else fails and you’re REALLY starting to panic. Ask your photographer for advice a few weeks in advance. Then she’ll probably ask her younger and cooler friends what THEY think and get back to you. Just always remember, there is NO pressure to look like the Von Trapps or the Ingalls-Wilders. It’s SOOOOO much better to just be yourself!
Comments and personal horror stories are always welcome! Happy Wednesday, everybody!