As a portrait artist that specializes in children and family portraits, one of the questions people ask me most is about how to choose clothing that will really make their child shine. The truth is, it all depends on what kind of portrait you’re looking to create. If you want something whimsical and light-hearted you’ll want to dress you kids in a different way than if you’re going for a timeless portrait look. Both can be stunningly beautiful. But, if you’re planning to make a piece that you’ll proudly display in your home for many years to come, you’ll want to spend some time thinking through the look you’re trying to achieve before you even start thinking about how to dress your children for their portrait session.
Choose Your Portrait Style
There are many different ways to do a child’s portrait: Playful or traditional. Modern or vintage. Artistic and original or cookie cutter photo. If you don’t spend time thinking through what kind of portrait you want, you might be disappointed with the outcome. Plus, if you don’t know what you what kind of image you want, it will be nearly impossible to buy clothes that go with your vision.
Some things to consider when you choose a portrait style:
What’s the style of you home? Think, especially, about the look and feel of the room where you plan to display your portrait.
How long do you plan to display your artwork? We believe in family heirloom's that you pass down from generation to generation, for this reason we recommend you go for a more traditional, timeless, look.
What’s the personality of your child and your family? If your family is more whimsical than serious, you might want to capture this through your portrait. A good portrait artist will be able to help you find a portrait style that will complement both your home and your family’s personality.
Once you settle on what you want, make sure you spend some time finding an artist whose work reflects the kind of portrait you’ve been envisioning!
How to Dress Your Child for a Portrait Session
Keep it simple.
You don’t want the clothes to outshine your child and their personality. So, avoid big prints and lots of crazy colors--especially if your portrait will be taken in an outdoor setting. Solid colors and simple lines make for the most beautiful, timeless portrait photographs. Consider going with neutral or jewel tones for a look that will never go out of style.
Make sure sibling and family outfits go together.
You don’t have to go crazy with matching everything. (Please don’t, actually, because getting TOO matchy-matchy is boring.) It IS a good idea to at least give some thought to how the outfits look next to each other. If you have two sisters in a portrait, for example, they could wear he same dresses and it would look beautiful but when its an entire family its a great idea to offset the colors. Its important above all else that they have the same general style. A great way to know if you have selected the right clothing is to lay ALL the clothing out on your bed - take a picture with your phone . . . does anything stand out? If it does - replace that item! No sure? E-mail it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to help you!
Think about the background or location.
Good photographers and portrait artists are masters at making sure the background is fitting for your photo--whether you’re having the photos taken in a studio or on location. But if you know you’re doing a portrait session at the beach, dress your kids in something that goes with the location. (Beach: Light blue, yellow, whites and off white) If you know you’re planning on a syudio background, dress your child simply in a classic outfit. Your portrait artist will love having input. Artists are passionate people who love their craft! They want your image to be as perfect as you do - and they know best!
Draw from photos you love for inspiration.
If you’ve done your homework, by now you know what kind of portraits you like. So, why not use those examples of portraits that you’ve oohed and aahhhed over for inspiration for your own. Pull together some of your favorites and lay them side by side. What do they have in common? How are those children dressed? Use that for inspiration and choose clothing that is a similar look and style of that other photograph you love. Send these to your portrait artist. Giving them ideas of what moves you will help them create the feel you love so much!
Make it sentimental.
Did your great grandpa wear a certain type of hat that your 3-year-old would look adorable in? Maybe you could capture his photograph wearing the hat (or if it’s too big one that looks a lot like it). Do you have a string of pearls that’s been passed down from generation to generation? How sweet would it be to let your granddaughter wear them in her portrait.
One of my favorite portraits I’ve done all year was of this little boy Benjamin (pictured above). His mother lovingly made this outfit by hand - every stitch! That in itself makes this whole portrait just that much more special! (Not to mention that since she made it herself, she could make it look EXACTLY the way she wanted.) The result was beyond beautiful - a whole new level of family heirloom - and I’m positive that this family will cherish this portrait forever. Working on this portrait - because of the multiple levels of emotional value also gives me a heightened sense of pride. The mother made the clothing, Benjamin (age 4) was the perfect subject and I was blessed enough to be the artist to get to create to final piece. Finishing a painted portrait like this one is like finally finishing the memory a family will have - well, forever. After many years this piece will take a mother back to a place she aches to go again, that hurt when your heart aches when you miss the past - the tiny fingers, the sticky hands, the dirty faces. This portrait will be a powerful reminder - far more powerful than a memory alone.
Call in the experts.
Still stumped? You aren’t alone. So many people struggle with dressing their children for portraits. Know that you can ask your portrait artist to help guide you on how to dress your child. Or, better yet, find a boutique store with carefully curated children’s clothing that matches your own style and ascetic. Here in the Charleston, SC area, my go-to is Southern Belles in Mount Pleasant because I know they have tons of adorable styles that will be perfect for portrait sessions. I also feel great about sending clients there because the kind ladies who work there are so great knowing my vision here at Castelo Portrait Art - they will help you find exactly what you need!
More Quick Tips for Finding the Perfect Outfit for Your Child’s Portrait
Have a couple of outfits ready to go. Even if you don’t use everything, it’s great to have options!
Go easy on the accessories. Oversized hair bows are adorable for everyday wear. (In the South we say: “The bigger the bow the closer to God!). But choose something a little more understated for a portrait so that the focus is on your child’s face, not her accessories. This is KEY. I will be honest that I refer portrait without bows!
Go for simple, clean lines in neutral or jewel tones for a classic, elegant look that will never go out of style.
Don’t overthink it. I know, I know. I’ve just given you a ton to think about in this blog post, but when it comes right down to it, the clothes are a small part of what makes a portrait amazing. The artist and her vision, the set design, the editing process, and your child’s personality are all more important components in creating a beautiful work of art featuring your child. If you’ve chosen an artist who shares in your vision, you’ll probably turn out with a good portrait no matter what your child wears.
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