Close

Picture Perfect: How to Dress Your Kids for Holiday Photos

Whether you're taking pictures at home or in a studio, here are tips on how to get your kids dressed -- and keep them looking spotless -- for great photos.

By Jessica Hartshorn

What to Wear

Kids at the holidays -- what could be cuter? Everyone loves girls in fancy dresses, little boys in suits, and babies who look sweet enough to eat. But while you'll want to make your child look like the angel he or she (sometimes) is, it's obviously necessary to stay practical. Here are some commonsense pointers.

For starters, don't get too attached to the idea of your child looking "just so." The best you can hope for is that he or she arrives at Grandma's looking close to perfect, and that may mean putting on the outfit right before you head out the door. After that, remember that part of the charm of seeing children dressed up is watching them get a little disheveled. You'll also be able to relax more if you stash a spare outfit in the car. Think of it as a potential opportunity to showcase yet another barely worn ensemble!

The clothes you should choose depend partly on age. Some tips:

Brand-New Infants

  • As you surely know by now, outfits don't last more than a few hours without spit-up stains unless you keep baby in a bib. Consider buying a new, clean bib that's as nice as baby's outfit, so you won't feel like it takes away from his clothes.
  • Save a lace gown or little suit for portraits. For a long event, such as a day at a relative's house, keep an infant's outfit simple -- a holiday-theme one-piece suit, for example.
  • One great holiday-colored accessory, like a red hat, goes a long way toward making an infant look festive.

Little Crawlers

For girls in the crawling stage, those beautiful big skirts don't work well -- they get caught under hands and knees and can even rip. Consider a pants outfit or a very short skirt paired with leggings.

Shoes rarely stay on a crawling baby, so skip the precious penny loafers or Mary Janes for now. Instead, keep it simple with bright, clean socks.

Active Toddlers

For these newly independent kids, avoid clothes with collars (magnets for food and juice stains) and long sleeves (sure to land in the gravy boat or at least get dragged across your child's plate).

Put toddlers in good shoes for holiday portraits or church, but give them a break with comfortable sneakers if they'll be playing with cousins at a relative's house or waiting in line to see Santa.

Portrait Pointers

The holidays are prime time for studio portraits -- photos make great gifts and greeting cards. But parents tend to go overboard when dressing children for a sitting. "Remember, you'll likely be in the studio for 20 to 25 minutes, so kids have to be really comfortable," says Lisa Berman, president and CEO of Picture People, which has 300 locations nationwide. Consider something dressy but casual; khakis, corduroys, overalls, or a jumper.

"The easiest way to help a photographer capture a child's personality is to have that child dressed in whatever she's most comfortable in," Berman says. "Ask yourself, 'What clothes represent my child's personality?' Chances are it's not a tuxedo or a crinoline."

Keep the focus on your child rather than on what he or she wears. "Avoid something like a Santa suit, which dominates the picture," Berman says. And don't try anything radically new, like putting a bunch of barrettes in your daughter's hair if she doesn't normally wear them. Need to calm baby? A prop that means something special, like a favorite teddy bear or toy, will look good -- mainly because it will get a smile.

What Do We Know?

For Boys:

  • Buy soft button-down shirts that look cute untucked, since they inevitably will be.
  • Elastic-waist pants allow for the quickest diaper changes and easiest trips to the potty. Button fly and zippered pants are the hardest to get kids into.
  • Expect your little man to tug at a bow tie -- it won't last!

For Girls:

  • Skirts rarely stay down -- use a diaper cover or cute tights to keep diapers from peeking out.
  • To ensure that tights aren't constricting, buy a size up -- bunched tights look fine on girls.

For Both:

  • Look for shirts with stretchy neck openings for easy dressing.
  • Shoes with Velcro fasteners are the easiest to get on.
  • Stains show the least on denim.
  • Once kids can pull hats off, they will.

Mom's Bag of Tricks

We know, it's exhausting to get ready for every possible scenario when you leave the house. But at holiday time, it pays to be over prepared, since shops may be closed and activities are frantic enough.

Suggestions:

  • Always take an extra outfit for each kid, or at least a spare T-shirt and sweatpants.
  • Pack portable stain wipes to treat clothes quickly.
  • Also stock up on travel packs of wipes to clean baby's face and hands.
  • If a visit will stretch into the evening, take your child's pajamas so he can change and fall asleep in the car on the way home.
  • Pack a child's hairbrush for a quick sweep right before picture-taking.

Get the Picture

You'll be taking plenty of photos yourself at this time of year. Here are tips from the experts:

  1. For an infant, have someone hold him or her upright, then get close and snap.
  2. Give your baby a safe ornament or present to explore. Take a picture while she touches it, smells it, or tries to eat it.
  3. Try an action shot, such as one of baby rolling over or taking wobbly steps.
  4. Go outside for some family photos. You can get wonderful ones in front of evergreen bushes or trees.
  5. Here's a cute way to get everyone in the picture: Arrange yourselves so that your faces are stacked close together, then have someone take a close-up.
  6. Is there something you can say or sing that makes baby smile? Do it right before the camera clicks.
  7. To get one great picture, expect to snap a dozen or more shots. Load up on film and keep clicking!

Originally published in American Baby magazine, December 2003.