Before You Pick Out Your Clothes: Priming for the Imaginative Landscape that is your Portrait

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How did you develop your essential style? For most of us, three fundamental processes guided our evolution.

One: aspiration. We looked at books, watched movies, studied our mother and our best friend’s mother, we looked to our friends, to movie stars, and we examined individuals on the street.

Two: experimentation. We gave things a shot. This started early. Today, if you put a hat on your head, you’ll look over and see your toddler is putting a washcloth on her head. Her face says, “so this is the kinda thing you like, huh?” She’s seeing if it’s the kind of thing she likes too.

Three: we internalized limits. Your father wouldn’t let you wear a cape to first grade, a friend sneered at your well-worn back-pack, a bride in a movie admonishes her ostentatious bridesmaid. By the time you were in middle school the routine of asking what each of your friends would wear prior to any event had become codified tradition.

As you grow up, demands that you dress for the context of the experience become ever more direct. A luncheon with colleagues specifies, “business casual attire” in the invitation. As a thought experiment: why? What good comes from the constant (often self-imposed) group-think around dressing for an event? That’s a question for you, I’m not following that thread of thought because I have another agenda today: your style, on the day of your portrait session.

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If you extract one idea from this post, let it be this: style your session from a blank slate. Wipe your mind clean of the image of your neighbor’s coordinated flannel ensemble from last year’s Christmas card. Can you dress your family in matching white shirts and jeans for the day? Yes. Should you? No.

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Instead, grab a copy of a fashion magazine. I’ve begun the work here for you. Flip through the editorial images. Stop and take a closer look at the images that appeal to you. What details are you responding to? How can you use these?

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Consider the sheer imaginative possibilities if you stepped back and viewed your upcoming portrait session as a creative opportunity to playfully style yourself, and family, in the most enterprising, romantic, inspired, original way you can. Get generative. Pretend you’re dressing for a float in a parade. It isn’t a competition, the point is to awe, attract attention, and delight. Blending in is the opposite of the point.

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To this end, three suggestions:

First, no jeans. Not because jean’s are bad but because they are a contemporary shorthand for, “I don’t want to think about it.” Of course, if the most originative you is visualizing a heavily Americana inspired shoot, complete with cowboy boots and leather accessories agleam with patina: then, yes, break out the jeans.

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Secondly, during a photoshoot, a long skirt is practical. This seems counterintuitive because a chiffon gown, or floor length maxi would be challenging if you were, say, taking the bus to the grocery store. But in this situation, a long skirt provides a clean backdrop for photographing your little ones. Also, it allows you to sit on the ground, stand, bend and lift without need to exert valuable mental energy on the modesty of your pose. Finally, in your photographs, I can utilize movement of the fabric to a beautiful end.

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Bonus points: flowers. There’s a reason they’re de riguer at weddings. They’re beautiful, whimsical accessories that can fit into any thematic vision. I don’t care if you’re styling the whole group in post-apocalyptic inspired ensemble, there’s a way to incorporate flowers. Keep them in mind.

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