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!
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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!
You can also search Poshmark, Facebook groups, and resale sites for gently used, or even new with tags, items that others are selling second hand.
Read this post about hosting “Stock the Client Closet Mini Sessions!”
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, Nothing Fits But, 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. For WOW dresses that are showstoppers (and more of an investment), I love Reclamation Design Co. and Magic Dresses by GM.
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 Rylee & Cru, Nothing Fits But, and Ivy City Co.
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.