Everyone always asks what to wear for family photos but asking what NOT to wear for family photos is just as important. Capturing what makes your family special in a single frame is an art that takes careful consideration and planning. The right clothing choices can enhance the beauty of your family portraits but the wrong choices can create cringeworthy memories and possibly future memes. That's why it's essential to also ask what not to wear!

As a Chattanooga-based photographer who specializes in family photography, I've been blessed to have many clients who know how to dress themselves and their families well! I've also seen my fair share of fashion faux pas during photoshoots. In this What Not To Wear guide, I'll share insights on what to avoid when selecting outfits for your next family photos.


All of the What Not To Wear example photos in this post are stock photos and not images of my clients. I added the emoji faces to keep the focus on the clothing choices. Plus I think it makes them funnier.

awkward family photo of 4 in identical matching sweaters with dog also in matching sweater

What NOT to wear:

Matchy-Matchy Outfits

Ah, the classic white shirts and blue jeans family photo. One common mistake I see families make is going overboard with matching outfits. I get it, who doesn't have a white shirt and a pair of jeans? It's easy and while coordinating colors can create a harmonious look, identical outfits come across as cliché and lack individuality. Instead, aim for a color scheme that complements each family member while allowing for individual personalities to shine through.

extended family photo dressed in white shirts and blue jeans with emojis covering faces

What NOT to wear:

All White or All Black

Wearing all white or all black can be problematic for family photos. Not only does it also fall under the matchy-matchy fashion no-no but in the hands of an inexperienced photographer, all-white outfits can lead to easy overexposure. Not to mention white is great at reflecting the green from the grass or other colors in your surroundings. Wearing all-black attire can lead to dark and muddy photos where details get easily lost. It's better to mix these colors with complementary shades to achieve a balanced look. However, the monochromatic look is very trendy (in 2023 when this was written) and while I generally advise my clients to avoid trends, if you're a family that enjoys following trends and you get photos often, it can be a fun way to look back on your photos years later and remember each time-period. If you don't get photos done very often and want photos that you can display in your home for years without them feeling outdated, sticking with timeless and classic styles will serve you best.

outdoor family photo of 7 all wearing navy blue in awkward poses with emojis for heads

Or in this case, all blue.

What NOT to wear:

Too Many Busy Patterns

Loud and busy patterns, like big stripes or bold plaids, can be distracting in family photos...especially if there is more than one pattern fighting for attention. Bold patterns draw attention away from the subjects of the photo and create chaos in the composition. It's best to stick with one person in a pattern and opt for solid color accents or subtle, small-scale patterns on other family members that won't overpower the image. As with most rules, there are exceptions and the right way to "break" them but if in doubt, it's best to err on the side of less is more.

a grandma, mom, and daughter each wearing a different loud, colorful clashing prints with emojis for heads

"You get a pattern! You get a pattern! Everyone gets a pattern!!" - Oprah, probably.

What NOT to wear:

Logos and Graphics

Avoid clothing with visible logos, graphics, or slogans. These can date your photos and make them feel less timeless and lend a more casual vibe. Opt for classic pieces instead that won't distract from the faces and emotions captured in your family portraits.

What NOT to wear:

Neons and Bright Colors

First, I love color and I love incorporating a lot of color into my photos. I love it when families aren't afraid to use color in their outfits! But as with everything, there is a best way to do it. Bold colors can sometimes dominate the image and don't fit every location. This is especially true with neon or overly bright colors as these can cast unflattering reflections on the skin and make your family appear unnatural. If you like bright, bold, or neon colors and want to include them in your photo session, choose a location that works for those colors! Otherwise, a safe bet is neutral colors and the colors found in nature at your chosen photo shoot location.

family with emojis for heads dressed in neon pink and white hug each other outdoors without shoes

Where are their shoes? Bonus tip: don't forget shoes.

What NOT to wear:

Ill-Fitting Clothes

Clothing that doesn't fit right can detract from the overall appeal of your family photos. Baggy or overly tight clothes can make your family members appear uncomfortable and less confident. Ensure that everyone's outfits are well-tailored and suited to their body types. For example, jumpsuits and rompers will never look good on me. 2 of my sisters can wear them and look adorable but that is one fashion trend that I personally need to stay far, far away from!

awkward family photo of family holding hands in unmatching and uncoordinating outfits with emojis for heads

awkward family photo of man in suit holding young son in casual clothes. other family members do not match

What NOT to Wear:

Mixing Casual with Dressy

Some items of clothing can easily be dressed up or dressed down but that's not what I'm talking about here. Examine the example above: the Dad is wearing a suit and tie, the sons are in hoodies, Mom is in a nice sweater and the daughter is in a casual dress. This family is all over the place! If casual is more your speed, there is nothing wrong with having everyone dress casually. If you want to dress up, just make sure everyone is dressed up to the same level!

Inappropriate Attire

This can mean clothing that is inappropriate for the season in addition to clothing that is awkwardly revealing. For example, wearing summer outfits during a winter photoshoot can make the pictures seem out of place. Dress according to the season to maintain coherence. It's also important to maintain a level of modesty and decorum at your family photos so avoid clothing that is too revealing or inappropriate for the context of a family photoshoot.

Distracting Accessories

While accessories can add a personal touch to your outfits and are even encouraged to add visual interest to your photographs, be cautious not to overdo it. Excessive jewelry, hats, or accessories can divert attention from the family's faces. Keep accessories simple and meaningful and make sure they coordinate with the rest of the family's outfits.

awkward family photo of 7 family memebers dressed in black and white and 1 in bright plaid

This family was doing a great job mixing their neutrals...but little bro missed the memo.

What NOT to Wear:

Baseball Caps

This one is a bit of a pet peeve of mine and I'll be candid. My personal opinion is that they are too casual for the type of family photos I prefer to produce. Plus, they also cast a shadow over the eyes of anyone wearing a baseball cap! Editing the shadow lighter can look unnatural but leaving it can mean only seeing half of a family member's face! There are of course exceptions and hats of all kinds can make for great accessories, but in general, I suggest leaving the baseball caps at home.

In Conclusion

Capturing the uniqueness of your family in a photograph is a worthwhile endeavor and as a photographer, I highly encourage it! I know that by avoiding these common clothing mistakes, you can ensure that your family photos are timeless, genuine, and filled with whatever it is that makes your family unique. As a family photographer, I've seen first-hand the difference that thoughtful clothing choices can make in creating stunning family portraits. Remember, it's not just about what you wear (or what you don't wear;) it's about how you feel in what you wear, and that emotion will shine through in your photos.


Now that you know what NOT to wear, check out this post about what TO wear!


While this post highlights the best pracitces for fall, it also includes general what to wear tips that work for all seasons and sessions! I also provide a Client Experience Guide to all of my clients that includes a what to wear section with genral tips and tricks for dressing your family best for your photo session.

Still not sure what to wear or would rather wear something special and unique for your session without having to find and purchse something yourself?

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