The best advice I have for choosing clothes for a shoot in which you can wear whatever you want is this: dress for an interview or dress for a date.
You want to look and feel your best. Picking clothing that makes you feel empowered, strong, or sexy will enhance your confidence that day, and that will shine through in every image.
Check your clothes for pilling (those little fuzz balls that form on fabric as items age). They are easy to overlook, and are a pain in the butt to eliminate, especially in a large number of images where a person is wearing the same thing. Check your clothes for holes. If they didn’t come from the manufacturer that way, and it wasn’t a DIY fashion statement… why do you want to be immortalized in this? Pick a different outfit.
Check for fading. Not much can be done about faded clothing, and it doesn’t reflect the person wearing it well in an image.
Also, when it comes to colors, don’t wear things that clash or are extremely trendy (Do you really want a photo that proves you followed the clear visor and neon color fashion statements of the 1980s? Or some of the least flattering haircuts of the 1970s or 1990s?) Clashing colors and patterns often don’t photograph well. However, if you are really attached to certain items or styles and think they really represent you, talk to the photographer, and they will do their best to work with you to make a specific outfit or style work.
Typically, if you want a timeless, classic portrait, go with a white, blue, or black shirt that is simple, and either dark slacks or jeans. Sequins and glitter require special lighting and techniques and (depending on the photographer’s skills) may not turn out at all. Certain vibrant color choices can compete with attention to your face. Others can be unflattering for certain skin types. Pastels can give a washed out look to certain skin tones.
Know what looks good on you.
Check for stains. This includes armpits on very light materials and SHOES. Tattered, beat up, dirty sneakers paired with an otherwise attractive outfit can easily make any great photo a disaster. Toss them in the washer if they’re your favorites before you bring them with.
No logos. First, you shouldn’t take professional photos with a logo on anything unless you are getting paid to represent that brand. Second, logos age badly. (How many times have certain cola products updated their designs over the years?) Unless you are getting photographed in a uniform with a brand symbol on it, avoid it.
We all love our fur babies! And we often forget that when they jump on us for love and attention, they leave their mark. It’s the most overlooked thing before a shoot. Check your clothes for pet fur and dander before a shoot–especially if it is going to really stand out on what you’re wearing. (Like black fur on white clothes or white fur on anything).
I usually freshly clean clothes for shoots and bag them or otherwise store them immediately, and carry them zipped up to a shoot if I’m modeling. It makes it easier to quickly run one of those pet rollers over my clothes on location and get the best images.
Sometimes photographers will request specific clothing for a shoot or you may be modeling clothing for a brand or designer. In that case, your choices will be limited by color, type, and possibly fabric. If in doubt at all, contact the photographer on what to bring. (Even if you are modeling clothes, you will often be expected to supply shoes, accessories, and for example, pants if it’s only a shirt you’re modeling. It depends on each assignment.)
It’s not unusual for freelance models to bring entire suitcases to a shoot. They won’t wear all the pieces. It’s to give the photographer and wardrobe and hair and makeup team as many options as possible. I always sent photos of the clothing I owned that might work for a concept if the shoot was very specific to save time and headaches.
(You’d be surprised how many times what one person means by “short white skirt” or “black pants” is NOT at all what you thought they meant. It’s a great idea to always have a spare packed–that way when you find out what you interpreted as black dress slacks was really black leggings you can still go forward with the shoot.)
If you are able to wear anything you want, bring several options. A good photographer will coach you in what will and won’t be photogenic and why. (Some outfits I loved personally that got me tons of compliments in person would never photograph well for various reasons. Don’t take it personally. They want you to be happy with the images you get.) Discuss the pieces with the photographer when you arrive and between the two of you (and any other assembled crew) you will be able to make a great decision together.
Two things have always horrified me in with other models.
First, IF YOU ARE ASKED TO BRING AN ITEM, BRING THAT ITEM.
You show up without the black pumps they asked you to bring? You might not be shooting. You may be asked to go home or you may watch your spot go to someone else who came prepared. (This is not unusual, especially with non-agency represented models. So many freelancers or new models don’t show up or show up unprepared that it’s standard to book 3 to 4 models more than you needed for a project.)
Second, DO NOT BRING THINGS YOU WERE NOT ASKED TO BRING.
Photographers are busy and have deadlines and often travel for their work. If you have ideas for another shoot, it’s fine to share them and bring them up, but don’t show up with a second wardrobe and expect to demand a second entire shoot right after the first. Most likely, the photographer either already has another client waiting at another location or needs to get to the studio to edit to make a deadline. Also, it’s often enough to lug around the shoes, clothes, and makeup and hair items (if you’re taking care of your own). It’s not worth the stress, hassle, physical labor, possible loss or theft of items, or other headaches just to hope you can sneak in more. You’ll be more respected if you discuss the ideas in advance.
A few of the most awkward memories I have are of people showing up with lingerie or suddenly insisting on shooting nudes with no advance warning. First, not all photographers are comfortable shooting either, and it doesn’t matter what gender they identify as or what their sexuality is. It feels weird if it’s sprung on you without warning or prior discussion. In fact, it feels like an unwanted sexual advance, even if it wasn’t intended to be one. Second, it really puts everyone else around on edge who isn’t prepared for that or might not want to be present for something like that. Definitely discuss such ideas in advance.
While we are discussing not bringing things you were not asked to bring: THIS INCLUDES PEOPLE.
One that shouldn’t have to be mentioned in that last category, but does come up, is that while it IS OKAY and often EXPECTED in certain circumstances for a female model to bring a friend or her partner for safety (this is a very common practice in nude and lingerie modeling to ensure against predators)… don’t promise people shoots and bring them with as models without discussing it first.
A friend or partner coming with for safety needs to be able to stay out of the shoot and not interrupt, and no one should be expecting to model who was not cast by and contacted by the photographer. There is often a time limit involved for every shoot, and that person may not have experience or fit what the photographer needs that day. Kindly pass on their information to the photographer instead to be considered for future shoots.
Also, shoot spaces, whether on location or in a studio space, tend to be very tight once you consider all the equipment and people already involved, and the fact that the photographer needs to be able to get into and around the entire space. There often isn’t room for one more person.
Depending on the level of photographer and the caliber of their equipment, they also may not take kindly to the possibility that you have endangered their livelihood to property damage or theft.
Be wise and ask before inviting your friend who’s really interested and wants to see how it all works. There will be opportunities for them, but make sure it’s when they can be accomodated.