In late 2018 and early 2019, I started collecting dresses and allowing my maternity and newborn clients the option to borrow one or two dresses from my Client Closet at no additional cost. Building this feature into each session has been one of the best things I’ve done to elevate my services for the luxury client. If you’re curious about how to start your Client Closet for your photography business, this is for you!
I wish I knew then what I know now in regards to how to go about starting a client wardrobe, and I often get questions from other photographers for advice so here we go!
Want to learn even more about the ins and outs of having a Client Closet? I have an in-depth lesson inside the Membership for Motherhood Photographers. Receive ongoing education, from the comfort of your home, on your own time, and at a tiny fraction of the cost of my 1:1 Coaching Program. Learn more here!
Frequently asked questions about my Client Closet:
What sizes do you buy and how do you know the dresses will fit different body types?
I have sizes XS-XL, but a majority of my clients wear size small or medium, so I have the largest selection of dresses in those sizes. I prefer to buy stretchy, non-maternity, midi or maxi length dresses with sleeves.
There is just something about maternity dresses that I don’t love for photo shoots. I prefer to buy non-maternity styles and just size up a size or two. Having sleeves or off-the-shoulder styles are ideal, as most women prefer to have their upper arms covered.
How many dresses do I need?
In the beginning, start with quality over quantity. Invest in 5-10 gowns that can fit multiple sizes, are neutral in color, and fit your photography style. As your business grows and you’ll learn what styles and colors your clients prefer, you may add more dresses to your collection. Don’t be afraid of selling or donating dresses as your style changes, or if you have dresses that your clients don’t choose to wear.
How do I start a Client Closet if I don’t have thousands of dollars to spend?
One of the easiest ways to start a Client Closet is to offer your services for free, or at a deep discount, in exchange for a dress donation. I only suggest this for dresses that are very expensive and may be comparable to the cost of your typical session fee. For example, if your session fee is $400, it doesn’t make sense to offer a free session for a dress that costs just $75 to buy. Your model buys the dress of your choice (not her choice) and gives the dress to you in exchange for a free session and/or digital images. It’s a win-win situation!
How does your client choose or try on her dresses before the session?
I have a web page that shows my entire collection of dresses available to clients, sorted by size, with details about fit and the best undergarments to wear. About 1-2 weeks before our session, I’ll ask my client to send me the screenshots of up to five dresses that she likes, along with her current approximate size, then I will bring 4-5 dresses with me for her to try on right before her session.
If a client prefers to try dresses on before the day of her session, I’m happy to offer a 30 minute consultation in my home office.
Where do you buy your dresses?
Some of my favorite websites for my Client Closet gowns are Free People, Morning Lavender (save 10%) Filly Boo, ASOS, Lulu’s, Vici Collection, Red Dress Boutique, Baltic Born (save 15% with this coupon!), Show Me Your Mumu, Forever 21, and Windsor.
I do have a handful of dresses from Amazon, listed here. For the most part, though, most dresses found on Amazon are not great quality and don’t photograph well.
What about dads and kids?
I personally do not offer clothing for dads and kids, but some photographers do. My mamas are always the star of the show. With pregnancy and postpartum body changes, I can understand how hard it is to want to invest in beautiful dresses that will only fit them for a short season. Dads and kids are usually much easier, and more affordable, to shop for. My clients have had no issues finding or shopping clothing for the rest of their family. My go-tos for dressing the family are Zara, H&M, Gap, Old Navy, and J. Crew. For little girls, I especially love Joyfolie and Bailey’s Blossoms.
How do you buy dresses to complement your photography style?
If you take a peek at my Instagram or my website, you’ll see right away that I’m a bight & airy, film-inspired photographer. I prefer lots of white, soft tones, and neutrals. Nearly all of the dresses in my Client Closet are pale, neutral colors.
I want my clients to also be attracted to this aesthetic. That’s what usually makes for a great client/photographer relationship!
If my client prefers to wear dark tones or richer colors for her session, that’s absolutely fine! My clients are welcome to buy or rent dresses on their own as opposed to borrowing one or two of my gowns. However, a vast majority of my clients utilize my Client Closet.
Here are some other things to keep in mind:
- Storage – Where will you keep your dresses? Do you have an office space? An extra closet?
- Laundry & Maintenance – You’ll need to factor in the time it’ll take for you to wash and steam each dress after a session. I prefer not to buy Dry Clean Only dresses for several reasons: a) cost, b) time, and c) chemicals. Several of my dresses are Hand Wash Only. However, I can typically still wash them in the washing machine in a lingerie bag on Delicate.
- Your cost – Offering dresses for your clients to borrow not only costs you money up front. It can also cost you money and time to preserve your gowns. This cost should be reflected in your session fees.
I hope this helps you as you start your Client Closet! If you have any other questions, be sure to post them in the comments below.
Do you think any clients that view your photos have a problem or say anything about having a dress you provide that others have worn or have pictures with a dress that someone else had on in other photo shoots?
Hi, Samantha! Great question. I’ve only ever had my clients be grateful for my Client Closet dresses. I wash every dress after it’s worn and clients always have the option to supply their own dresses if they prefer 🙂
Hi Brenna! Thank you so much for this helpful guide! I have a question regarding contract wording for using the client closet. Do you have a specific clause in your contract regarding the client closet usage? Thank you!
Hi, Rebekah! Great question. I don’t include Client Closet usage in my contract because I cannot legally guarantee that I’ll have a dress that will work for my client and I don’t want to be held liable if I don’t. Hope that helps!
My question is… how do you announce to your clients/websites/pages/etc., that you have one, and create excitement behind it? I have a teeny tiny audience, because I live in a very secluded area, so I truly feel that I only have one shot at announcing this.
Hi, Abby! Great question. The best thing to do is talk about your Client Closet on social media, start your own hashtag (mine is #bhpclientcloset), and hype it up when a new client inquires with you!
Hey Brenna! I loved this guide. I’m thinking about building a client closer and have a lot of brainstorming to do first. A couple questions I had are:
1. About how many dresses do you have in your client closet now that you’ve established it?
2. How do you go about asking for models or finding people willing to buy a dress? Do you ask clients once they book you to do a model call? Curious to know the process.
Hi, Taylor! I have an awesome lesson that dives deep into the Client Closet ins and outs inside the Membership for Motherhood Photographers so that may be something to consider (brennaheater.com/join). Right now I have about 40 dresses. I’ll often buy new ones and sell dresses that don’t get selected by my clients very often to make room for new ones 🙂
[…] How would you like to book fewer sessions yet make more money? Sound too good to be true? Less truly can be more!In episode 538 of The Bokeh Podcast, Brenna Heater shares how you too can work less and make more by focusing on the luxury portrait market in your area! Hear her six steps for breaking into the luxury market, which include creating a closet, sending client gifts, and more!The Bokeh Podcast is brought to you by Photographer’s Edit: Custom Editing for the Professional Photographer and Miilu: The Simplest Way to Create and Manage Timelines and Shot Lists for the Events You’re Photographing. You can also subscribe to the Bokeh podcast on the Apple podcast app, follow on Spotify, add to your playlist on Stitcher, or listen on Overcast.Brand Position (4:20)Creating a great customer experience (6:20)Technique for time management (7:39)Outsourcing/Delegation (11:27)Book Recommendations (16:52)Never Lose a Customer Again by Joey ColemanBusiness Made Simple by Donald MillerBokeh BookshelfHow Brenna defines luxury as it relates to portrait photography (19:29)Brenna’s motivation for getting into the luxury market (26:52)Drawbacks or challenges to focusing on the luxury market (28:29)Steps for breaking into the luxury market (34:00)1. Build a luxury client experience by determining each touchpoint that you have with clients2. Incorporate client gifts into your client experience3. Start a client closet4. Offer albums5. Offer prints and products to your clients6. Help clients design a gallery wallLinks:https://www.charitywater.orghttps://www.instagram.com/brennaheaterhttps://www.brennaheater.comBox Fox gift boxeshttps://balticborn.comhttps://freepeople.comBrenna’s Client Closet blog posthttps://kiss.ushttps://whcc.com […]
Hi, what verbage do you use to offer the session in exchange for the dress, would love to see the ad/post that you ran or something similar!
Hi, Trina! Personally, I would discuss this one-on-one with the potential client versus using a public post or ad on social media. You could reach out directly to someone you know, or mention the idea of those inquiring with you about the possibility of getting their session for free in exchange for donating the dress of your choice.