October 9, 2020

Don't Stress: A Quick Guide to Choosing the Perfect, Budget-Friendly Outfits for Portraits

Tips & Tricks

"We haven't had photos done in 3 years because I dread trying to pick outfits."

I actually had a client share this with me this week. The actual cost of the portraits isn't too much for her family's budget, but when you add in boutique prices of cute clothing for her 3 kids, it's just too much. And isn't just the cost. It's the headache.

"I'll find something I love for my daughter, but I can never tell if it's going to look right with what I have for my sons."

She's lost 3 years of professional photos of her family - years she can never get back or recreate - simply because of the headache and cost of wardrobe choices for kids. And do you know what? She isn't alone. I find that choosing clothing is one of the hardest parts of sessions for families. As a mom, I've been there too, covering the floor with items from each family member's closet, trying different combinations until nothing looks right anymore. Before you throw the towel in, check out the guide below for planning that wardrobe.

#1 - Go for Timeless, not Trendy.

Society places a lot of value on being in style and on trend. And those hip outfits are totally adorable now. But will they still be "in" when the photos resurface in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? Are they timeless enough to keep framed on a wall for that long? Or will looking back on those outfits make you cringe? There are some kinds of outfits that don't go out of style. Go with any of these timeless looks, and you'll be sure that your photos will age well.

Tip: When deciding if an outfit is timeless, ask yourself this. Can I envision a child wearing something similar 10 years ago? 20 years ago? 50 years ago?

Classic Ruffle Bodysuit - $14.99 on Amazon

Timeless Linen Romper - $13.99 on Amazon Add a white long sleeve tee underneath for cooler weather.

Seersucker Gingham Romper -$29.99 on Amazon

Classic Smocked Dress -$35.00 on Amazon

#2 - Limit the patterns and prints for group photos.

The boutique style clothing that is popular right now (especially for girls) is full of prints and patterns, often with multiple prints on each piece. I think these outfits are adorable for solo shots (I'm a HUGE Matilda Jane fan as you'll see below), but they make it so much harder to plan coordinating outfits. If you decide to put your son in plaid, don't wear stripes! If your daughter is going to be in polka dots, don't wear floral! It's totally okay to have patterns (who doesn't love buffalo plaid in fall), but don't overdo it. Pick one accent pattern/print and work solids and complementary colors around it.

Accent piece? Mom's striped cardigan

Complementary solids? Dad's sweater and the son's outfit are simple and work nicely with mom's cardigan.

Complementary Solids - $15.99 on Amazon

Accent Pattern - $22.97 on Amazon

Complementary Solid - $24.00 on Amazon

#3 - Add in Accessories

Even if you aren't normally an "accessory" person, hear me out. Adding in a little something extra can absolutely make an outfit. It's also a great way to take simple clothing pieces and give them an extra something. Even as adults, adding in an accessory can boost our self esteem, elevating ourselves to "Instagram model" status when we look in the mirror.

Suspenders can take a basic basic button down & trousers and turn them into pure style and class.

A hat can give a mom or daughter an extra glamorous touch, adding confidence and boldness to any session.

A scarf is a great way to bring a lot of outfits together in family photos. It also gives an extra bit of style to plain sweaters and jeans.

#4 - Bargain shop

So...You know how to style. You know how to pick timeless looks that will survive the rise and fall of trends. But there's one issue - this stuff is expensive. You can go to Wal-Mart and pick up a graphic tee for $3, but those smocked dresses? Well, one look at Strasburg Children's prices will make you want to head straight to the Wal-mart clearance section.

I've linked a lot of Amazon items above. It's true that Amazon has great "photo ready" items for last minute shoppers, but many items have that "Did I order this from Wish?" cheap feel. They will absolutely work for photos, but in person, they often look cheap and may not survive a few washes.

I highly recommend shopping used when you can. It's cheaper, better for the environment, and usually means better quality. If something has already survived another person's child, it's likely that it will last though yours, too. There are a few options for this:

  • Yard sales
  • pros: super cheap prices, meeting your neighbors
  • cons: lots of junk to sort through, lots of different yards to hopefully end up with something decent in your child's size
  • Facebook marketplace
  • pros: you don't have to leave the couch to search for items
  • cons: people who price their items ridiculously high, don't show, arrive late, or sell it to someone else after committing to you
  • Thrift stores
  • pros: super cheap prices, the thrill of hunting for a bargain
  • cons: damaged items, sometimes nothing of decent quality in an entire store
  • Consignment stores & events
  • pros: well organized, already checked for flaws, lots of options in one place, great prices and brands, the chance to resell your own items and have money to spend at the event
  • cons: events only happen a few times a year and prices vary, since consigners set them (but I use this to my advantage since those overpriced items often don't sell until half price day when I can jump on them)

Where should I go in Springfield?

Here are some of my favorite spots:

  • Once Upon a Child (consignment, kids only - large selection, lower priced)
  • Haute Tot Consignment (kids and adults - excellent brands, slightly higher price)
  • Uptown Cheapskate (adults, large selection, lower priced)
  • Plato's Closet (juniors/adults, large selection, lower priced)
  • Red Racks Thrift Shop (kids and adults, large selection, higher priced)
  • Goodwill Thrift Store (kids and adults, smaller selection, lower priced)

Some finds on my own little one:

This Strasburg Children's Smocked Dress was just $7. Retail is $149!

I snagged this Smocked Auctions floral romper for $6!

This timeless little bonnet was $6. It added such a classic feel to the photo.

This might be my favorite find ever. I got this Eleanor Rose Floral Medallion Dress for $14. It's like new.

#5 - Plan what you can, then let it go.

Planning your wardrobe is a must for portrait sessions. But even if every detail has been ironed out for weeks, something is bound to go wrong the day of the session. A drink spill all over a dress, forgotten bow ties, daughters refusing to wear hair bows, these are all real (even likely) situations. They can be so frustrating to the person who has been planning every detail. However, it's important not to let the inevitable last minute issues ruin your session. Improvise, roll with it, and find a way to laugh about it. At the end of the day, remember that we are photographing people, not clothes. Show up with a great attitude and don't let your frustration stress out the rest of your family. You've done your part, and it's time to let the photographer work the magic from here.

This beautiful family followed all the guidelines for wardrobe planning - timeless styles, limited patterns, complementary solids, and accessories. But the best part? They were relaxed and ready to have fun.

MMH Photography clients,

Do you need help planning outfits for an upcoming session with me? Reach out. I'm happy to assist.