Wardrobe on a Budget

While fashion photography relies heavily upon what’s coming next season, and legit fashion photographers get pull letters to get upcoming designs from top brands, those of us with smaller budgets, or little to none still have options for some kick-ass looks.

In my early days, working with models for portraits and such I tended to just say “bring whatever you’ve got” and deal with that. This led to the occasional lackluster session with boring wardrobe, or a general lack of options. A few years ago, I started picking up bits and pieces at thrift stores, and haven’t looked back since. I have built up a wardrobe on a budget.

I tend to schedule shoots about a week or two in advance, and have a general idea of what kinds of looks I want to go for. As you can probably tell from viewing my other articles, and seeing sample images there, I like an overall bohemian style. Loose, flowey, sheer, off the shoulder, etc in white, black, beige (generally neutral colors) is a look I really like for outdoor portraits.

Marisa – Canon XSi – Canon 50mm f/1.4 – YongNuo 560 II 


So when I have a shoot planned, I stop by Goodwill, Savers, etc and spend a little bit of time perusing the aisles for a few things that fit the look the model and I are planning. I usually end up with 3-5 pieces of wardrobe, which fit what we want. The shot of Marisa above was a $1.99 bolero and $2.99 skirt (both blue tags which were 50% off that day) so for $2.50 I had an outfit that worked well. We both loved how the black fit in with her hair, and the skin showing through the sheer bolero (and her skintone in general) meshed with the colors of the canyon.

I have since accumulated an entire closet full of wardrobe for shoots, as well as a few storage totes. Any time I have a shoot planned, all I have to do is go through my closet, find things that work for the model, look, and location, and bring it along to either be the wardrobe, or supplement what she brings. I’ve spent a bit of money on it all at this point, but it’s $5 here, $15 there so it makes things easy.

The below shot of Breanna cost a grand total of $7 for the top, skirt, and boots; she brought the hat. The skirt and boots have been used a few times, and I think the top will be a good fit for an upcoming shoot. All in all, it’s a low cost way to really add flexibility and options to your shoots.

Breanna – Canon T3i – Sigma 30/1.4 – Neewer TT-850 – 86″ shoot through umbrella


When I first started doing this, I felt kinda awkward – a 30 year old bearded man browsing through sleeveless ladies’ shirts, blouses, and skirts. I definitely got some weird looks, but have long since stopped caring. It’s cheap.

Once I started getting more into doing this, I got better and better at styling. Most of my recent shoots have been 100% styled by myself, with maybe a piece or two of the model’s wardrobe being used. I’m learning to dress people better, how to find and half my wife’s closet is made up from shoot wardrobe that she has stolen.

Give it a try. Grab $20 and see what you can put together!

Or just shoot nudes.

This article has 1 comments

  1. Marc P. Reply

    Very impressive wardrobe for that cheap price – but you’ve to find a model, as your ones, which does want to wear these things, not any women does like it that way – but i must say i am impressed, it doesn’t look cheap at all.

    Anyway, i am never doing model shots, so congrats to your great images. :-)
    I’ve found models often being selfish, way superficial, and females craving for recognition, can’t stand these ones. 😉

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *