Styling Yourself for Photo Shoots

Models, let’s talk about wardrobe! Some of you might get to work with stylists or designers, but for most of us freelance models, we act as our own wardrobe stylist sometimes with the help of the photographer. At first, it may seem daunting, troublesome, and expensive, but I’m going to help you with some tips to get started. This is a really, really broad topic so I’m going to try to keep things fairly general for this article. Also, while I’ll be mainly focusing on models for this article, photographers might find it useful too.

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I styled this outfit from an open cup body shaper from a discount store, a strapless bra I’ve had for years, and a costume skirt piece I got at Party City on clearance, plus some gloves from an antique store and a necklace from a local designer.

First, you need to think about what type of shoots you want to do so you’ll know what sort of wardrobe you’ll be looking at. You can, of course, be interested in multiple styles, but try to focus on one at a time. Once, you’ve narrowed down your focus you’ll need to start finding ideas.

My favorite program for this is Pinterest! I have all sorts of pin boards for different styles and inspiration. Let me take you through my usual steps.

  • First, I decide on search term. Let’s say I want to shoot some gothic fashion. So I’ll start with that as a search term.
  • I’ll skim the first few dozen results. If I see something I like, I click on it and pin it to a board I have (or make a new one). But before I go back to the rest of the results, I look under that photo because Pinterest will show you a bunch of related photos under that one and sometimes there are some great things there.
  • You can do this and repeat as much as you like, but you might also want to narrow things down a bit as you go. In my case, maybe I realize that while I love some of the super fancy outfits, styling myself in something a bit more casual works better for my budget. So I edit my search term to “casual gothic fashion” and then keep pinning.
  • Something else you can try would be to pick an item you already have that you like and search based on that. For example, I love my (faux) leather jacket, so sometimes I’ll search for “leather jacket outfits” or “how to style leather jacket.”

I’ve found that inspiration like this can really guide you, but try to think of it as just a jumping off point. You don’t need to copy things exactly. Maybe you just like the way a scarf is styled in one shot or the way the shirt is tucked in or even just a color combination. I love skimming through Pinterest when I’m sitting around on my phone.

With some idea of what you want, you can move forward into finding the pieces that you need. I do try to start with things that I already have some pieces for because it makes it easier and less expensive, but you might be able to spend more so I’ll leave that up to you.

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DVS and I created this dress from two pieces of lace held closed by safety pins, a bit of trim (at the top), and another piece of lace trim over my eyes.

Now I’ll tell you about some of the ways you can get pieces for your modeling wardrobe, focusing on keeping it afforable/low cost:

  • First, and as I’ve already sort of said, check your own closet! You’ll want pieces that are still in good condition so they’ll photograph well, nothing to worn or ratty generally.
  • Thrift stores are my #1 way to find wardrobe at great prices. I spend time looking through the racks looking for pieces that look usable, but that are also affordable. My biggest challenge is not buying every thing that looks good and fits. Instead, I try to only buy things that I can actually see myself using or really unique pieces that would be difficult to find again.
  • Amazon is a good place to get inexpensive lingerie and basic pieces. You might have to wait longer for them to ship, though, so pay attention to the shipping times. I never count on anything for a shoot until I have it in my hands. I also recommend reading reviews and sizing information.
  • Etsy is also fantastic for unique jewelry, accessories, and sometimes wardrobe, though it can be a bit more expensive, but still a very good option if you’re looking for one of a kind or more unique pieces.
  • DIY is great for accessories and such. I’ve made several make-shift dresses and skirts from pieces of fabric and I’ve made some of my own jewelry pieces. I’ve also seen models who make their own headdresses, outfits, etc. If you’re skilled at these things or willing to learn, this can be a wonderful option.
  • Clearance racks and discount stores are a good option for basics and lingerie.
  • Buying used pieces from other models can also be a great way to get certain things like latex, one of kind pieces, designers pieces, etc. Just be careful to ask about the condition of the items.

You can also try talking to any local designers in your area, but keep in mind that many of them cannot afford to just give you pieces to keep and they may be hesitant to loan things out as pieces often come back damaged or are never returned and, once they are returned, they can no longer be sold as new. Some designers do keep a small selection for use in promotional shoots, but you’ll need to be whatever size those pieces are. You will also want to make sure that the photographers you are working with are willing to send photos to the designer for their use.

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Here is an outfit that contains several pieces I’d shot in before: the boots, the thigh highs, the necklace, the skirt, and the underbust. But I pinned the skirt up (it’s actually just a normal long peasant skirt), and styled everything so these pieces look quite different than in any other photo they’ve been in.

Another topic I’d like to touch on is the idea of restyling pieces. Most models can’t afford to buy completely new outfits for every shoot, so I recommend learning to mix things up. I have some pieces that I’ve worn for tons of shoots, but I try to mix up the way I wear them. A great example would be this PVC underbust corset I was given as partial trade for a shoot. I’ve worn that over many different dresses, with lingerie, nude with different jewelry, and so on. You’ll also probably find that certain things like shoes, stockings, and basics (jeans, tank tops, etc) can be re-used a lot more if you mix them up with other pieces that the focus is likely to be on. For example, you could wear the same jeans, basic top, and even shoes, but if you add on a different jacket and jewelry, you can have a ton of different outfits. In terms of lingerie, it can be a bit more difficult to mix up a set of lingerie, but different jewelry and accessories (like gloves, sheer robes, etc) can help.

And finally, I’d like to end with a bit of bonus tip for you: when you’re putting together an outfit, make sure you try it on as a whole and see what it looks like. I usually will do this and then take a cell phone snapshot to send to the photographer in many cases, particularly if they seem to have a very specific look in mind. However, the main reason I advise you try everything on is to make sure it fits like you think it will. Sometimes when you are layering or matching things they look differently on your body than you imagined they would.

So that finishes out my basic styling tips for photo shoots. Keep in mind that I’m sharing what I’ve learned and that my experience has been mostly in glamour, conceptual, and art nudes, though I have worked on a few editorial/fashion type shoots.

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Styling Yourself for Photo Shoots

Side Note: Some of you may be wondering why I chose the specific image examples that I did. I chose these because they were shot by myself or my husband and thus there is no copyright complication if I choose to place advertising on this blog, to ask for donations to continue it, or to make money from it in some other way.

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  • In my situation, almost every model I use for a session, is someone who doesn’t normally model! So I am the one that usually does the shopping for the theme I’m going for. Amazon works extremely well for me for this, mostly because it’s convenient and easy!! If the outfit is something I can reuse for someone else – I’ll keep it. If not, then I give it to the model as a “bonus” for the session. I almost exclusively shoot TF* – so throwing in some clothes as a bonus to the already agreed upon arrangement is almost always accepted with a smile and a thank you!! 🙂

    Most of this applies to photographers in search of props to use too… I’m always on the look out for something to use in the studio. Again, Amazon works very well, but so do garage sales, thrift shops, and… occasionally… driving around the neighborhood on garbage day!!! LOL!!! It sounds terrible!!! But for props, most items don’t have to work any more – they just need to still look good, or capable of being made to look good. (And yes, I thoroughly clean and disinfect everything before I use it!!) 🙂 🙂 🙂