Should you start a client closet + all my tips for starting one
You may be asking yourself if you should start a client closet and what the best way to go about it is. As a family photographer myself, I have gone through the process of creating a client wardrobe and have definitely made some mistakes along the way. So I'm here to help you through it and hopefully keep you from making those same mistakes in your family photography business.
Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links, but only for products I use and love (seriously, I only included them if I was obsessed with them!). If you buy through them, I'll earn some cash for coffee (or tea). But don't worry, I'll use that energy to create more helpful content for you!
First, let's talk about all the reasons you shouldn’t start a client closet
I want to start with this because sometimes we get these ideas in our heads but don't fully think them through. And that's exactly what I did when I started my client closet! Ha! So here are some reasons why you shouldn't start a client closet.
1. You will most definitely become addicted to shopping and will then star in your own version of Confessions of a Shopaholic (you think I'm joking but this WILL happen!!)
2. You will spend 15-45 minutes steaming clothing the day of your photo sessions. Usually longer though because if they didn’t try them on first, you have to steam backup options to bring.
3. Your own closet will no longer have room for your own clothing. I kid you not. I own so many dresses that I can’t fit any more (but I keep buying more because of reason #1).
4. You have to schedule try-on appointments and if you don’t have a studio, that gets tricky. You can bring a changing tent to wherever but you still have to drive there. And with covid, you feel like you need to wash everything after people try them on (or they have perfume on so you definitely have to).
5. Buying clothing for a client closet is very expensive. Are you prepared to raise your prices to make all of this worth your time and money? Are you prepared to offer this premium service to people by charging premium prices?
Still want to start a client closet? Here's my advice.
If you decide that YES, you are ready to start your client closet after reading all of this, continue on for my advice. (or scroll to the end for other advice if you decide that no, you don't want to start a client closet.)
What to buy for your client closet
Spend the extra money and only get quality dresses that will fit multiple sizes. Look for stretchy waists, drawstrings, etc., and don’t waste your money on dresses that you’re not in love with. Pay attention to how full the skirt is. If it’s not full enough, it won’t be as exciting to photograph. If it’s not full enough to swish around then don’t get it.
Free People, Jen's Pirate Booty, and Reclamation are my favorites. Yes, they are expensive! But I’d rather have 10 Free People dresses that fit multiple sizes each, than 25 meh dresses that only fit one size (which are probably not even going to get used). Ya know? This makes you need to buy fewer things (more room in your closet!!) and makes it easier to gauge if it will fit people or not.
The reason clients like to use our clothing is to wear something they don't already have. Something different. Maybe something epic, even. So if you get clothing that doesn't have a wow factor, most likely no one will choose to wear it and you've wasted that money. I also really love Joyfolie and Baltic Born for dresses and their prices are sometimes lower than the above-mentioned sites. Or you can search for deals on Mercari, Ebay, and Poshmark. Amazon also has some great options if you are careful and read the reviews.
How to organize and show your clients your wardrobe
I started off by trying to photograph each piece that I purchased. I'd put it on a hanger and hang it on the wooden fence out front, then upload the images, edit them, and add them to a client closet page on my website. Or another time, I thought I needed mannequins so I asked a local boutique if I could photograph my dresses in her store before it opened in the morning.
Both of these were a ton of work and very hard to keep up with. I would either have to keep going to this boutique every time I got something new, or I'd have to wait for a non-rainy day to photograph the dresses out on my fence, depending on which option I decided on.
So I decided to make it easy on myself. I have a Pinterest board with sections for each size. Makes it super easy to just pin it when I buy it. And it's easier for the client to look through because of the well-organized sections. If you buy a dress in person and can't pin it from their website, you can just take a photo of it and add it to your Pinterest board manually.
How to arrange try-on appointments
You have a few choices here and the way you do it might change depending on the client.
- You can buy a changing tent on amazon and meet clients to let them try on dresses. A lot of time I will meet them halfway between our houses and choose a parking lot that is safe but not too busy.
- If you have a studio or are okay with them coming to your house, you can have them come to you. This is obviously the easiest option for you, just make it known ahead of time that try-on appointments will be held in your studio in whatever town you're in so there are no surprises later.
- Another option is to come to them. Bring the things they want to try on and come to their home for them to try the dresses. I do this only if the client happens to live really close to me. And with the current world situation, sometimes I will just wait outside while they try them on and come out to show me.
- The last option (and what happens most often) is to have them pick 3-4 dresses for you to bring to the session. This seems like the easiest choice but keep in mind that you will have to steam the wrinkles ouf of all of these. But at least you will have a few options in case some don't fit right. But if you've chosen stretchy, adjustable dresses, then the chances are that at least one of them will fit well 🙂 And make sure you bring along your changing tent for them
Should you let clients take dresses home?
I would not allow clients to take anything of yours home. Sometimes they might try on the dress at their appointment and ask if they can keep it and come to the session in it. But then you won't have the dress if someone else wanted to wear it between then, plus you won't be able to steam it for them. And what if something happens to it while it's at their home? It's just safer all around for you to keep it. Explain that you keep everything but will bring it all steamed of wrinkles for them so that's one less thing they need to worry about.
How to take care of your client closet dresses
I wash them on delicate and put them inside mesh bags to help protect them. Then I hang them to dry. And I also use natural soaps just in case anyone is allergic.
If something got extra dirty or stained during a session, I soak it in OxyClean first, then do the above process.
Then when someone wants to use an item, I steam it the day before or morning before the session so there are no wrinkles but it has time to dry. You don't want to steam it more than 24 hours before the session, though. The wrinkles might come back.
What if an item gets damaged?
Another thing that I've seen being talked about before is what to do if one of your pieces gets damaged. I've seen people who charge a deposit to use them and they give it back after the piece is returned. I personally don't love this idea because it will deter people from using it. I feel that if a piece gets ruined but we got some amazing photos, then it was worth it. So I don't worry about it at all. I don't tell people to be careful, I don't tell them to stay out of mud or water. I think all of that will add to the story and I can soak the dress in OxyClean later anyway. Rather than stressing my clients out about it, I'm always saying not to worry about it if it gets a little dirty, I just want them to have a fun and stress-free experience.
How to build a client closet without going broke
Do model calls and offer a free session in exchange for them purchasing agreed-upon clothing. Make sure to give them an idea of the style you’re wanting them to wear before they agree.
Another idea is to hold Client Closet Building Mini Sessions or Fill My Client Closet Mini Sessions. Basically, they are mini sessions held back to back on a certain day, and they are heavily discounted as long as they are willing to purchase a dress to wear that you get to keep after the session is over. But make sure they know that the dress will be mutually agreed upon and a price range that they should be spending. They must bring the receipt to the session.
How to get people to start using your client closet/dress in the style you want
When I first decided that I wanted my clients to start dressing in a specific style, I held model calls. Because it's really hard to get the clients who want to dress this way if you aren't showing photos of this style. So my advice is to do some model calls with different types of families in different locations and make sure those families are okay with you styling them. You can either style them with your client closet if you have one started, or you can require that your model family purchases the clothing themselves (and maybe you get to keep them for your client closet!). Learn more about running successful model calls. Once you build up a portfolio of families dressing the way you want them to, stop showing anything on your website or social media that isn't this style. Only show what you want to shoot. When people wear stuff I don't necessarily think fits with my style, I’ll either turn it black and white or only post close-up shots where you can’t tell what they’re wearing.
Also when people do reach out to me to book a session, I talk about styling a little before they even book and also explain a bit about how I run my sessions (candid, playful, cuddly, not looking at the camera) so they can decide if I’m right for them before they book. Because even though I talk about this on my website, some people just either don’t read or don’t get it. This way they kind of have to read it in order to book with me. Lol. If you are interested in what my initial email looks like when someone inquires, I have my inquiry email for sale in my shop, or you can get my entire pack of emails which includes it, too.
How to price yourself when you offer a client closet
You can choose to either charge extra for clients to use your client closet or offer it as an incentive to work with you. I personally love when people use the items from my client closet so I don't charge extra. But make sure that your prices are high enough to make this worth your time and money. If your pricing currently isn't enough to make this worth it, then either raise them or don’t build a client closet. Also having average prices means an average experience. If you’re offering a client closet, your prices should be higher than average. It just makes sense.
Decided that a client closet isn't for you but still want your clients to dress beautifully?
If you've decided is that a client closet is not going to be the best choice for you, then here is another option! I use a styling service called Style & Select which helps you or your clients style everyone. You can use this service yourself and sent the selected items to your clients for them to purchase (or find similar items in their closets). Or you can send the tool to your clients for them to style themselves. Once all the items have been chosen, it sends an email that has links to all the items online so they can be purchased. It's super easy! The people at Style & Select are lifestyle family photographers so they have only put clothing in there that photograph really well. They know their stuff! You can use my code BECCAJEAN10 for 10% off when you sign up for this amazing styling service.
Mentoring for Lifestyle Family Photographers
If this article was helpful for you, I'd love to help you even more! I offer online mentoring for family photographers. I'll send you a questionnaire to help figure out what you need help with, you'll get a recorded copy of the meeting so you don't need to take notes, and goals to work towards afterward. Plus, if you purchase more than one session, you'll get my presets for free!
Lastly, here are some blog posts I've written for photographers that you may find useful:
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