Dressing For The Camera

March 15, 2013

By Gabrielle.

While browsing through this almost yearbook style look back at street-style stars before they started dressing for the camera, two thoughts kept battling in my brain. Were their drastic style progressions a product of being snapped by Tommy Ton and other famous street photographers plus a desire to keep their fashion flames burning, or did their daring wardrobe risks simply evolve naturally over time? (Three thoughts: Wow. That hat!)

I wonder. And then I look inward. Do I dress a certain way or think hard about my kids’ outfits so that we’re always Design Mom or Olive Us ready? Or is it just the designer in me expressing my long-held belief that clothes and all that we surround ourselves with are our palette, and why not paint our own little sections of the world prettily?

I’m sure it’s a bit of both. Before I started blogging, I already had 5 kids, plus a long history of attempting to outfit them in clothes that looked great. But I’ve also been known to adjust someone’s scarf or hat just so, before I snap the instagram of the day.

It’s a concept I think about a lot with all of my online endeavors. Am I taking on projects because someone else is watching, or because I’m always on the lookout for ways to develop my skills and stretch my talents? Whether I’m thinking of myself as a mom or a designer or a blogger or a conference creator, I’ve always thought of myself as a work in progress. So I hope I’m just constantly trying to be a better me.

Tell me: If you’re a blogger, an Instagrammer, or otherwise immersed in the virtual world, do you dress differently for the camera? Or do you present your kids only in their sunshine moments? Do you take more risks or even more time before presenting your image to your audience? I’d really love to hear your thoughts.

P.S. — I suppose this is an extension of  last week’s discussion about selfies.

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bonnie @ the pin junkie March 15, 2013 at 8:10 am

I hate being photographed for any occasion. I always feel like the camera captures every unflattering angle and facial expression. It drives my family crazy because I’m in very few family photographs.


2 Bonnie @ the pin junkie March 15, 2013 at 8:18 am

So no, I don’t dress differently for the camera!


3 Sandi March 15, 2013 at 8:48 am

This brings up an idea I’ve wrestled with for a long time…my concern is not so much for the physical image I present to the world via photos on my blog, but the image I’m creating of my life through my blog.

It’s natural to want to share only the good things, but it started troubling me that this wasn’t an accurate reflection of my real life, and it seemed dishonest. However, virtual friendships are not the same as real ones, and I do not feel comfortable being more honest about the dark side of my life with the entire world via the internet.

I’ve become a much bigger fan of bloggers who aren’t afraid to share the good, the bad and the ugly. :)


4 Design Mom March 18, 2013 at 4:15 pm

“virtual friendships are not the same as real ones, and I do not feel comfortable being more honest about the dark side of my life with the entire world via the internet”

I think there’s something very true about that.


5 Rachel Schindler March 15, 2013 at 8:51 am

One of my favorite things about your blog is your family’s style. I always look forward to the outfits you have put together for the holiday’s. And yes, I am much more aware of what I, we look like in pictures because of social media and making adjustments. It drives my family crazy. I am also holding up my head just a little higher in pictures, to get rid of the double chin that has come with age, haha.


6 Cheltz March 15, 2013 at 8:55 am

I have a different philosophy than you about dressing kids. Even if Mom has great taste, I feel like it’s an area where a kid can safely express themselves, experiment and have some fun, if they chose. I do give instructions to change when things are not weather or occasion appropriate or modest.

As a result, I do nothing to change my kids clothes when I photograph them. I feel like their beauty is in their faces, and often in the movement of their bodies or the things that they’re doing — even if it’s in their pajamas with bed head!


7 Janie March 18, 2013 at 8:05 am

I love this beautiful perspective. Real, genuine pictures of children are becoming increasingly rare in the blogging world and I fear that the huge rise in mom photographers (I’m one!:D) is making every photo a stylized one. I’m heartily sick of it.


8 mandi@herbanhomestead March 18, 2013 at 1:41 pm

I’m with Cheltz. My children have been dressing themselves since they were able to. It is more important to me that they are comfortable and feel like they can express themselves than that they look stylish. I also do not put thought into what I have on before snapping pics for instagram or the blog. I’m more into capturing the moment than styling the moment. Maybe that’s why my blog only has 100 followers. Haha!!!


9 Design Mom March 18, 2013 at 4:21 pm

So do you let your kids pick out the clothes at the store? Or just put on what they feel like in the morning?

Until they’re 7 or 8, I typically don’t let them have much say at the store. Mostly because I have strong opinions about avoiding things like cartoon character sneakers.

But in the mornings, that can pretty much pick out whatever they like as long as it’s weather appropriate. But like I said in the post, I confess that I might adjust someone shirt or tuck hair behind an ear to “improve” a shot.


10 Marille March 15, 2013 at 9:19 am

I very rarely take pictures of myself, so it doesn’t really apply to me in that sense. However, I have a very strong desire to be “on my game” whenever I’m in public. I’m the person who would put on makeup when I had the flu because I needed to run to Walgreen’s. I’ve been trying to teach myself lately that the world won’t fall apart just because I’m not wearing foundation, that it’s okay to just wash my face and brush my hair and go to class. That said, sometimes it’s really fun to spend a lot of time on my hair and makeup and clothes just because it’s Tuesday. It’s about finding a balance.


11 Design Mom March 18, 2013 at 4:25 pm

I think women here in France seem to be so good about looking their best whenever they leave the house. I’ve honestly avoided errands on days that I haven’t made time to put on a properly ironed outfit + accessories. I feel like it would be so rude here to show up in town wearing sweats.


12 Jenni Bailey March 15, 2013 at 9:20 am

I don’t know that I dress for the camera but I sometimes turn the camera away if the dressing hasn’t been done particularly well (on me). I am one of those yoga pant moms most days and I am certainly guilty of saying “Oh nonono. You’re not getting a photo of me looking like THIS.” But I almost always regret missing that opportunity later.
As far as my girls go, I try to keep their clothes simple and interchangeable so that, in a sense, they are always ready for whatever. We love Olive Juice kids for basics and more stylized pieces from Roxy or Billabong (because we live in Florida and beach style always works here). So unless something is outgrown or dirty to the point of being seriously unflattering I pretty much let it go and snap away.


13 Joy March 15, 2013 at 9:41 am

We don’t dress for the camera, but everyone in our family, at least those individuals over 5ft tall, dress properly on their own. We don’t force the 7 year old to change out of his Darth Vader costume, unless it’s for the Christmas card shot….sometimes he has no shirt and only boxers, so any clothes at all seem like a blessing. His time will come.


14 Linda March 15, 2013 at 10:27 am

I love your self-reflection and your candour. Along with your deliberate positivity, this is what makes Design Mom such a pleasant place to visit! I became truly hooked on your blog after reading this in your site faq: “One more thing. Please keep in mind that on this blog I attempt to keep things very positive and showcase the best and prettiest things happening in my life. That doesn’t mean there aren’t bad days and failed projects and lost tempers. At the end of the day, blogs are a show. I suppose that’s why we like them so much.” This sort of transparency is so welcome.

I don’t blog, but I can only imagine how much more “intentional” many aspects of my life would be if I did. There may be some downside, but as your reader I appreciate the obvious upside of intentional living. You are decidedly you…you’ll always find your way to authenticity even if it does involve lots of styling and wardrobe changes for you and your loved ones!


15 Design Mom March 18, 2013 at 4:27 pm

I really love your thoughts on how blogs can make your life more “intentional”. I’ve found that to be true.


16 Rebecca Alexis March 15, 2013 at 10:45 am

I think that what is most important is to have the introspection. Truly, that pause of self-awareness is so important.

When I was younger, my mom always dressed us in clothes from her high end children’s boutique, and it became something I was teased about so then I loathed it as I grew older. So for now I try to just go with AS IS for the boys. My middle has a super sense of style, while my oldest has none… as for my youngest, well he is the youngest.

I do snap away at photos, but because I have my own designer’s/artist’s eye I really edit, anymore, what I post. I don’t care what we are wearing, but the photograph/instagram has to be just so -look right and visually pleasing. I am picky that way. But I don’t want it to influence the kids negatively. I am a relative newbie to blogging, and I am always concerned about how my posts look, how they come across. Are they visually appealing as well as literary? I also think that Design comes into play so much more than it used to. It is not just written content anymore, but the visual as well. I just don’t want the boys to say to me in 15 years, “mom all you really cared about back then is how we looked for your blog!” Especially now that I have a teen, who is super, but doesn’t always want to be photographed while he is eating his breakfast.

How are your teens entering into these online years? I am sure you are doing a beautiful job. Thanks so for the thoughts and a bit of self -reflection. xxoo


17 Caroline A March 15, 2013 at 10:48 am

Not so much with my children…I may take the picture a couple of times to avoid the “eyes closed-glazed over like they’re on something which isn’t just apple juice” look but I really don’t change their outifts or adjust anything. For kids, it’s a live in the moment picture. They don’t yet focus wholly on self image or weight or any of the stereotypical things so I try to just let them be kids. Soon enough, they will feel those pressures so there is no need for me to not let them be who they are.

In terms of myself, most definitely. I usually only take pictures of myself when I’m having a good hair day or I feel that my outfit is especially pretty. And in saying that, I find that I still take 3-5 different shots to get “that one” that makes me look slim or cool or whatever. I find it refreshing to see all of the “live without pretending” photos…the real, in the moment, my life isn’t all sunshine & roses pics but I find it harder to take those ones…harder to let people see “me”. But I’m hopeful that in the future, for our young girls, that these will be the more prominent pictures on social media. Because when we see those, we all feel a comradery with each other & maybe gain the confidence to take that “no makeup, in my jammies” pictures & hit send.


18 Design Mom March 18, 2013 at 4:30 pm

“For kids, it’s a live in the moment picture.”

I love that. I want to be better about doing that.


19 Monica March 15, 2013 at 10:59 am

I think I carefully think about what I look like before taking pictures of myself, but that doesn’t really extend to my children. Sometimes the way my daughter (who is five) dresses makes me cringe – she loves mixing patterns and colors when she dresses in the same way she loves mixing them when she draws and she rarely matches – but I encourage her to wear what she feels good in and what she loves. There have been times when I wish she looked a little more…put together, but the way she dresses so clearly represents her colorful and artistic personality that I hate to stifle it in any way.


20 Design Mom March 18, 2013 at 4:32 pm

I’ve been thinking about this and realizing how much moving to a different culture has changed my habits here.

I remember being at the grocery store with Oscar when he was about 3 years old. He was wearing Maude’s pink sequin leotard and not much else.

But here, I would never let my kids wear something like that (girl or boy) to run errands. It would be so inappropriate here. Different cultures. Different expectations.


21 Sara March 15, 2013 at 11:10 am

I definitely put extra care into choosing special vacation and holiday outfits, when I know lots of pictures will be taken.


22 Brooke Fiorillo March 15, 2013 at 1:32 pm

What a great topic to bring up. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one thinking this way! I do find myself putting more time/effort into my outfit/hair/makeup if I know pics will be going up on facebook or instagram! For my blog, I try to keep it as real as possible, dressing for the day and then photographing the outfit for the post. But, some days if I’m just running errands, would I have put that much time into my makeup if it wasn’t going up on my blog? At this point it’s hard for me to know! Thanks for bringing this up!


23 Katy @ All Sorts of Pretty March 15, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Oooh fascinating topic. I would say YES I do dress differently for the camera (if I know I’m going to be photographed). But you know what? I find this is the motivation I need to look more put together and always makes me feel better, more confident. I wish I had the motivation of being photographed every day so I would look a little more polished on the days I get so busy and don’t make it out of my gym clothes ;-)


24 Design Mom March 18, 2013 at 4:34 pm

“I wish I had the motivation of being photographed every day”

I’ve totally felt the same way. When I do myself up, I feel so confident and am more cheerful to the people around me. Why in the world don’t I dress as if I’m going to be photographed every day?


25 Sarah K March 15, 2013 at 5:27 pm

I definitely think about my kids’ outfits when I pull the camera out. And am guilty of avoiding including myself in the shot bc I’m in yoga pants and haven’t washed my hair. But switching a photo to black-and-white covers a lot of sins, I find!

About that slide show: With few exceptions, I actually preferred the before shots. They look like clothes for real people. Preposterous fashions don’t appeal to me. Which probably means fashionistas everywhere would despair of me!

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with curating your life a bit for Internet consumption. But I also greatly appreciate regular forays into honesty. I think the prettiness we share online should be encouraging and cheering rather than defeating in its unrealistic idealism. I think that requires balance, and posting both about things that are simply aesthetically appealing and things that are more deeply meaningful. And I think designmom strikes that balance well!


26 Design Mom March 18, 2013 at 4:34 pm

I preferred the before images, too. They just feel more wearable, and less costume-y.


27 erika urthmama March 16, 2013 at 12:41 am

I let my children dress themselves (ages 6, 3, and 1) – yes, even the one year old chooses her own outfits. That being said – I do choose what goes into their wardrobes, so their options are limited. But the combos they come up with are ALL their own! Haha.

We get quite a few very nice, couture, designer hand-me downs…and so that’s fun to watch them pair the LV sneakers with the gap sweatpants – the one of a kind Italian designer dress with the beat up pedipeds…

But I figure it’s one area of their lives they CAN control…so why not let them have fun with it?

As for me, I am still figuring out how to get out of my yoga pants. Sad, but true! Haha. :-)



28 Design Mom March 18, 2013 at 4:36 pm

As teenagers, we weren’t allowed to have unusual piercings or any tattoos. But we my parents allowed us to do anything we wanted with our hair. They figured hair grows out, or can be cut. So why not let us have some freedom?

Your comment reminded me of that.


29 Holly March 16, 2013 at 5:00 am

Hi Gabrielle,
I love this post–thank you so much—you are so very honest and insightful. I too am a firm believer that as artists and designers and creative people, we are constantly creating a “painting” as you say, out of all the things around us. Making beauty/beautiful things is a continuum in life and we don’t draw the line at using art supplies!

Every so often I feel self critical and vain for caring so much about the way my house appears or loving clothes so much….but I do always come back to this idea, that if you are passionate about the way things look and feel, you don’t discriminate about what medium you are using and the world truly is your palette. I also feel incredibly fortunate to have this view, and as a mother of young kids, I think is it wonderful that when family is very demanding and I cannot get to my paints or sewing, I can feel fulfillment in creating beauty in these other ways!

This post has been so great for me—to hear that so many other women experience life this way! Thank you so much for bringing this conversation to us. Happy Day!


30 Design Mom March 18, 2013 at 4:38 pm

“if you are passionate about the way things look and feel, you don’t discriminate about what medium you are using and the world truly is your palette”

I feel like that. I think it really became ingrained in me in design school.


31 Sarah March 16, 2013 at 9:24 pm

I pop pictures on fb once in a while, but I haven’t been blogging regularly and have never used instagram (I don’t even have a smart phone) but this is my two cents. I find myself often looking at my kids and thinking of all the things I need to do. Today, for example, I stared at my boys and thought they’ve needed hair cuts for a while, it struck me that it was really beyond time for it! I find it a challenge to stay on top of everything, so while I love it when everyone looks nice in terms of hair, clothing, etc., I am just not too hung up on it. (I’ve probably kind of given up!) A fun aside, I was chatting with Jim Blair today when he stopped by, and I asked him if he was related to Ben Blair, so that was a fun connection to make. (We live on their street.)


32 Design Mom March 18, 2013 at 4:38 pm

Lucky you that you live near Jim Blair!


33 Lindsay March 17, 2013 at 6:50 pm

I will preface this by saying that I love this blog and visit it often. I feel that it truly reflects how a lot of us moms feel everyday. Though the one subject I find myself wrinkling my nose at is kids “fashion”. Do we really want to teach them at such a young age that what they wear matters at all? In front of the camera or not? I know there are appropriate clothes for certain occasions, but beyond that, can’t they just be kids and get dirty. And can’t we as parents shop off the clearance rack or thrift store just to cloth their naked bodies and allow us to live within our means? Shouldn’t we teach them that beauty is in what we are and what we can create? I am not perfect in this area by any means, but these are questions that I find myself thinking about a lot lately, especially when I find myself comparing myself and my kids to others I see.


34 Design Mom March 18, 2013 at 4:50 pm

I hear you, Lindsay. And I certainly don’t claim to have the answers.

It’s so tricky. I certainly don’t want my little ones worried about “fashion”. At the same time, I also feel like it’s my responsibility to help them understand what’s appropriate clothing for church versus what’s appropriate for the playground.

And clothes are absolutely one of the ways we show respect to the people around us. So I can’t pretend clothes are completely unimportant or meaningless either.

As for shopping off the clearance racks or at thrift stores, I’m certainly a big fan! In fact, we were clearing out too small clothes from Olive’s closet this evening, and she noticed how many items were hand me downs from our neighbors in New York. Yay for recycling clothes!


35 Shannon { A Mom's Year } March 18, 2013 at 7:54 am

Great conversation…again! I’ve embraced the FlyLady concept of “getting dressed to the shoes” every day so you’re ready for anything that might happen, and I’ve tried to pass that on to my kids.

But they don’t care about fashion at all. I’ll admit that sometimes I wish they did because I understand that clothes can be a type of armor to protect them. When my 12-year-old daughter goes off to school in her jeans and Dr. Who T-shirt, I have to tell myself to chill and trust that my brainy little artist will manage just fine. (And, anyway, I like the concept of “growing from the inside out.”)

As far as blogging goes, it’s been fascinating to watch this new genre develop. Do “mom blogs” need to be true? What IS true, anyway? Is the truth of our lives the beautiful parts or the messy parts? Do we go online looking for people with equally messy lives to commiserate with or do we want to be inspired to get our acts together so our lives look more like theirs?


36 Design Mom March 18, 2013 at 4:41 pm

I think I’ve only read one flylady article and it was about putting on your shoes to demonstrate your intention of getting to work. One article, but I’ve always remembered it! And I think about it on the days where I want to get lots of stuff done.


37 Sarah Sloboda March 18, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Interesting post! I agree with you — it’s the culture of knowing that I might be photographed that keeps me wanting to look my best. Not that I necessarily drop everything and change because a camera might be there, but that I make wardrobe choices knowing in advance that a camera might be there, and that way I’m always prepared. It’s kind of trippy the way the possibility of showing up on Instagram has shaped the way I go about my days. But then again, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look one’s best!


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