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What to wear for a portrait session

You've booked your couples or family photo session and now you are staring into your closet wondering what on earth to wear. 

Here are some guidelines to help you figure out out.

Some photographers advise wearing 'whatever is comfortable' to a portrait session. I'm not of that school. I advise that you wear whatever is comfortable to Walmart. Wear what is flattering and timeless to a portrait session. 

Let's break this down.

What is flattering? 

Generally, dressing up a bit is universally flattering regardless of age, weight, gender or overall attractiveness. Yes, there are genetically gifted people out there who look fabulous in jeans and a t-shirt. But those people look good in everything.  

Dressing up is a secret weapon that automatically moves us average-looking people five rungs up on the attractiveness ladder. 

Men generally look most masculine and attractive on camera when they wear:

  • Long dark pants (other colors can work too as long as the pants are somewhat dressy)
  • Closed toed dark shoes
  • A tucked in solid colored dress shirt. (Neutral or warm colors are best. White is great.)
  • If you are going for a more formal look, a sports jacket or tie can be included. 

Women generally look most feminine and attractive on camera when they wear:

  • A dress (more so than a skirt and top and definitely more so than pants.)
  • A solid color (better) or an overall print 
  • White, neutral, soft, or jeweled tones. (Primary colors are a bit tougher to pull off.) 
  • A fitted or long silhouette. For example, a fit-and-flare style dress looks good on many women because it creates a defined waist. A sheath style dress can also work. A long dress, such as a flowy maxi dress or sheath dress, can also provide a longer leaner line in photos. You probably already have some idea of the style of dress that looks best on you.
  • For a more formal or urban look, heels are more attractive than flats. However, I like to move around quite a bit in a photo session so it helps if you can walk comfortably.
  • A V-neck or scoop neck is more flattering than a high neck.
  • Isn't it totally unfair that the men get four bullets and the women get six?

Children look best when they wear:

  • For girls, simple dresses in solid colors or white.
  • For boys, solid colored shirts with a collar and pants. 
  • Depending on the setting, shoes are optional if the children are small.

For an engagement shoot:

  • The lady may want to keep jewelry to a minimum so that her ring can shine.
  • The lady may also want to get her nails done since her ring hand will be photographed.

What is timeless?

The other goal to consider when choosing your outfit is to consider how it will look to you in five or 10 years. Your photography is an investment, and you want it to stand the test of time. You don't want to look at your outfit 20 years from now and think "Ewww, that was so 2017."

What makes an outfit timeless? Outfits that are dressy, classic in style and simple tend to stand the test of time better than outfits that are casual, trendy and accessorized. If you are not sure where to go with this, look at photographs taken in the 1940s through early 1960s. My parents were teenagers in the 1950s. To this day, their photos still look good. You could wear what they were wearing on the street today and look fine. The same cannot be said of my teen years in the 1980s. 

What is your overall vibe and location?

The third thing to consider is the vibe and location for your shoot. Photo sessions can generally be categorized into one of two styles that I call 1. classy or 2. breezy.

Classy - this is a more formal dress up style that looks great in an urban setting. But you can also rock it out in an open field or next to a stone castle. Think long formal gown or a fit-and-flare dress on the lady and dark pants and possibly a jacket on the man. Otherwise known as cocktail attire.

Breezy - this look works well in a natural setting for a more relaxed vibe. Consider a more casual long dress such as a maxi dress for a style that is slightly bohemian. The gentleman can get away with an untucked shirt with this look.

Check out this Pinterest board for inspiration examples of both types of shoots. 

If for some reason, neither of these styles appeals to you or if you just have questions about the outfit you are considering, please feel free to ask me. I've been through this myself and I understand how frustrating it can be to pick out a camera-friendly outfit until you get it figured out. Or you may be a rocker bride who can pull off leather pants, stilettos and a sequined t-shirt. Or maybe you want to come as R2D2 and C3PO. It's all good. The tips above are what works for the majority of people most of the time. But portrait sessions should also express your personal style (although R2 has an unflattering waistline, IMHO.) 

In the end, a portrait session is a fun thing. Once you have an outfit picked out that gives you confidence, you will enjoy this as if you were dressing up for a date. Which in a way it is. With your own personal paparazzi.