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Mastering the wardrobe mix | Toronto family photographer

As promised, here's the final of three posts about putting together a great wardrobe for your family session. I spend a lot of time with my families discussing wardrobe because a well coordinated wardrobe is one of the things that elevates your family photos from everyday snapshots to something special. But we don't usually dress with a mind to coordinating with our kids or spouse, so what guidelines do we follow to create a look that is coordinated but is not matchy-matchy? This is where the magic mix comes in.

A great wardrobe mix is simply a balancing act between busy and boring. First, we balance our colours and neutrals so that we have just enough colour to be interesting without being busy. Second, we balance solids, patterns and textures so that we have just enough of each (depending how many people are in your shoot) to provide visual interest without being either too busy or too colour-blocked. To master the mix, we take a queue from the interior design world. Interior designers are geniuses are mastering the mix for our living spaces. They balance colours, neutrals, textures, patterns and solids in a way that makes a space feel pulled-together without being too uniform. And very often, they start with a pattern.

Take a look at the space by Sarah Richardson Design at this link. The designers take the large painting in the living room and pull both colours (blue and yellow) and neutrals (grey and white) from it to use in the rest of the room. They then repeat the blue and yellow in the upholstery, while the neutral grey and white are repeated in the paint colour, rug, table top, drapes and upholstery. The designers also mix some patterns (in the other artwork and pillows) with solids (upholstery and pillows) and textures (the rug, wood and table base) to create visual interest. The result is a well coordinated space that isn't at all matchy-matchy.

We can take the same guidelines that interior designers use to create a beautifully coordinated group wardrobe. Start with a patterned item and pull your colours and neutrals from it. (Neutrals include greys, khaki, black, brown/tans, white/ivory, and also some blues, such as navy and denim.) Then balance solid, patterned and textured pieces in those tones to create a coordinated look. For example, if you are a group of four and start with a dress with the blue/ivory/burgundy pattern on the left below, you could pull the burgundy for your colour and keep the denim blue and ivory to use in your other solid and textured pieces.

Example of wardrobe mix for four people

If you had two more people to your group, you might add in another pattern using the ivory and blue, as well as another textured item in ivory.

Example of wardrobe mix for six people

Your eye can usually tell if you have too many colours or patterns competing for attention. And remember that the ratios between them aren't cast in stone -- some textures are very subtle (such as narrow stripes) as are some patterns (such as small checks or polka dots), so they won't result in the same visual "busyness" as a floral pattern or larger plaid. In the group of eight below, we added a blue fabric with discreet dots on it -- up close it will read as a pattern, but from a distance, it looks like a solid. We also added a textured, lacy burgundy to balance the colour mix so that it isn't dominated by the neutrals.

Example of wardrobe mix for eight people.

If you have a larger group, adding a second colour to the mix is a good way to keep it from looking boring. Just start with a fabric that has more colours in it, and work out from there. In the example below, the floral is our starting-off pattern, and we pulled both orange and yellow from it to complement the neutral white and blue.

Can you do a wardrobe with only neutrals? Absolutely. Neutrals can provide a very muted, soothing look. Just be sure to balance warm and cool tones, and remember that the patterns and textures take on greater importance when you don't have colours to add interest, so be sure they're included. Look for stronger texture such as a chunky fisherman's knit and patterns that are visible from a distance.

Now how do you know if an item doesn't "fit" with your colour scheme? If you start with a patterned fabric, simply see if your wardrobe item shares a colour from that pattern. If so, chances are that it's good. But if a colour strays too far from the ones in your starting pattern -- such as a blue that is more aqua than denim -- it is likely better left out. Another good check is to see whether the colour of one item is shared by at least one other item. If it isn't, it may not be a good fit. A simple way to tell is by throwing all the items on a bed and seeing how they look together. If something clashes, it will stand out. If you're doing wardrobe coordination with a larger group -- such as an extended family -- a Pinterest board is a great way to see items side by side as you narrow down your choices. And if in doubt, I'm just an email or text message away -- and always happy to help you shine on shoot day!


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