When I first started doing photography I didn’t have a model closet or had any idea what a model closet was. I usually just used whatever clothes my models had offered to use in the shoot. Later on, I started to develop a certain style that I wanted to portray in my photo shoots. It was pretty easy for me since I’m a girl who loves to dress up, and happened to be “model sized” (not to mention my nasty spending habit). So more than half of my “model closet” actually ended up being just my clothes, but I do venture out to find things to add to “my wardrobe/model closet”. There’s certain places I tend to visit and select items like to go for that can work on a variety of levels.
Having an extensive model closet can be very costly and time consuming. However, having a set of basic items can help any beginning or advanced photographer with their clients. I also recommend this to aspiring models who are breaking into the industry. The key with building a model closet is to understand your brand/style and be on the constant lookout for things that match. You can be more glamorous with faux furs and jewels or be more edgy with denim and (my favorite) studded collars. It’s completely up to you and how you want yourself/your work to be perceived. Having a model closet is one good way to set yourself a part from other photographers or models in your field.
If you’re starting a model closet from scratch, here’s a list of basic items that can (and will) enhance your photo shoot, even if you don’t know what your style is yet.
1. Faux Fur Coat
My personal favorite item; adds a sense of glamour to any shoot (even with an edgy vibe). Colorful faux furs are pretty perfect for any type of shoot and has been requested of me from models on several occasions. I tend to pick up furs everywhere that I go (I’m always on the look out for furs; this is key). When it’s spring/summer, go to the mall and clean out Forever21’s leftovers for cheap. If you’re out shopping, check out your local thrift stores (especially the costume shops). There’s places you can check online such as: DollsKill, Nasty Gal and even Amazon (check Amazon first).
2. Something Sheer
I was hesitant to add this to my collection since I didn’t know what models would or would not want to use it (and if it was worth my money). Since I added sheer tops and slips to my personal wardrobe, I’ve asked a few models if they were comfortable wearing it as well. Some said, “yes, but with a bra”, others said that wearing it without a bra was ok. Depending on the models you work with and how edgy you want to get, you may not be wasting your money. I suggest when picking out something sheer, get TWO things. Look for something basic, and something extravagant. With the right model and the perfect setting, it could make for a beautiful set (especially if you two are very comfortable with each other). Don’t get too raunchy with this. This is NOT lingerie. A sheer top, or long gown, or even a sheer robe can work for a model closet. If the model busts out some lingerie, that’s one thing.
3. Something With Fringe
Fringe is ALWAYS something to keep a lookout for. I remember chatting up a girl who found a cute black fringe top to see how she felt AFTER she tried it on. It didn’t work out for her, which worked perfectly for me. She was a cool chick for sure, but I needed that top. Whether it’s a top, a skirt, a jacket (bonus points), get it! Thrift stores are the best places to find fringe. Keep a lookout year round, fringe can be on anything so it’s always in stores (in some form).
One of my first items for my model closet was a pair of black lace gloves. It was a cheap pair (about $7) from some costume shop. Halloween is a great time to look for items like this, you usually get a wide variety to choose from. I no longer use them (since they’re not my style), but for anyone starting out, it’s a good basic item to use.
5. Gold/Silver Pieces
For jewelry, I tend to keep it bold (more like a statement piece). Whether you like huge, chunky pieces or little cute ones, remember to get both gold AND silver. Having both types of accessories will certainly help styling the model. More often than not, a model books a shoot with me and only had a couple accessories that would work. I always end up saying to myself, “oh I wish I had another gold piece to pull the look together!”. Or a model ends up having ONLY gold accessories, but the look calls for cool tones. If you buy a lot of gold accessories, get some silver ones. Same thing vice versa. You never know what the model may have and what you will end up contributing.
6. Faux Fur Stole
Again with the faux fur. I love it, and it works on a multitude of levels. You can do some boudoir, high fashion, implied nude portraits… anything. Faux fur stoles are particularly harder to find than faux fur coats. The best places are always thrift stores, but always check out the mall (year round). If you see a faux fur stole (full-priced) at the mall, keep an eye on it. You can snatch it up before it sells out or when it’s on sale (hopefully).
7. Vintage ANYTHING
Working with burlesque performers gave me a new love for vintage. In my honest opinion, every model closet NEEDS vintage in their model closet. At some point, every photographer ends up doing the vintage photo shoot, why not have a quality dress? Or the right clutch purse? Vintage can always be found in the right thrift stores especially in the richer neighborhoods. Downtown areas are more prone to have dancer/burlesque style things. You’re just a Google search away from finding the best places in your area. High waisted skirts, vintage stoles, sunglasses, jewelry, vintage style dresses, hats, gloves; all are necessary.
Having a collection of different styled sunglasses can mean the difference in a photo shoot. You can create different looks in each photo shoot, and it’s something fun for your clients to pick out during their set. Sunglasses can add a touch of glamour, or even a polished, more finished look for the photo shoot. Like the faux fur coat, you can easily turn anyone into a rockstar just by using them. A good place to check for sunglasses would be: Aldo, Forever21, Express, or any local thrift store. For more high-end sunglasses you could try: Fossil, Gucci, and (my personal favorite) Dior.
9. A Cute Purse
I don’t really like purses all that much, so when I find a good one I know it. Having a purse can turn a photo shoot into an editorial shoot (good for portfolios). You can also JUST feature the purse (if you want to work with product placement). I like to find my purses at thrift stores in rich neighborhoods so I can get the high-end/vintage stuff for cheap. Another good place to find high-end bags that aren’t TOO expensive (especially for a starving artist), is Aldo. They’re known for their shoes, but people overlook their accessories and bags. I find very interesting pieces there, including purses, tote bags, and clutches; perfect for any editorial. Another place I like to check for really cool bags is online at Dollskill.com. I usually tend to wait for them to be on sale, or for them to be almost out of stock (I usually check the site a few times a week when I’m looking to buy a item). The items from DK can be found on a different site for cheaper (if you look up the designer’s website). Sometimes it’s only a few dollars cheaper, and other times it really makes the difference.
10. That “Amazing Find”
This mostly happens to me in thrift shops, but I love it when I find something random and glorious (and not highly priced). If you see something that catches your eye, buy it. Most likely, it will catch other people’s attention too. When you keep finding things that catch your eye, more likely than not, you’re slowly finding your style niche. If you see yourself drawn towards more tribal accessories, wooden bracelets, colorful scarfs, maybe that’s your thing!
Having designer and stylists as friends is a REALLY good way to up your model closet game. My buds tend to let me borrow or even KEEP pieces for my photo shoots. I remember years ago, designer Daniel Laukat was cleaning out his styling closet and I came over, bags in hand, and raided the crap out of it. I couldn’t carry it all. I may have overdone it (I don’t care), but it was well worth it.
If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, you can contact me anytime!