10 Items You Need for Shoots Without a Fashion Stylist

We’ve all been there… the beginning. That part in your career where you are so excited to work with everyone but no one is really dying to work with you yet. It was a challenge reaching out to people to work with me while having very little (if not nothing) to show for myself but we have all been there. And that’s the good part!

We all have to start somewhere- all of us- and we all want a strong book whether you are a model, photographer, stylist, hair stylist, makeup artist, manicurist, or retoucher.

If you are not familiar with the term, a test shoot is a shoot done for the sole purpose of enriching an artist’s book. None of the team members gets paid but you all have full creative control within the agreed concept and the entire team gives it their all as if it was a full blown campaign.

A paid test shoot occurs when a model’s agency wants to revamp her book (or start it) in which case the model will hire a team to produce about 4-6 images for her (depending how the agency wants to market her) in different styles including but not limited to: beauty shot, high fashion shot, body shot (lingerie), commercial/lifestyle shot, fitness shot, bridal, etc.

For some of these shoots your team might be less than complete. Sometimes a shoot will be so spontaneous it might just be you and the model. Sometimes (never with me but I have heard stories) the stylist is a no-show. For those cases I put together a list of my favorite items to style with- those wardrobe gifts that keep on giving.

1. The Black Felt Hat

The black felt hat is one of my favorite “reuse/recycle” items. It can enhance any look to give it that extra oomph it needs. It can make a dressed up look appear more polished or make a dressed down look seem more street. It goes with dresses, denim and even nude. And it almost always adds that extra spice that I am addicted to known as rock ‘n’ roll.

My favorite brand to use: Bailey of Hollywood.

2. The Suit/Blazer

The beloved classic can be much more versatile than it looks depending on how you style it. The most important thing to remember when dealing with a suit is that the fit is everything! If you would like to invest in a suit and are unsure of what sizes to buy, I would personally go with a size 2, which is the average size for models. In other items, however, I might suggest going one size up since the extra fabric can always be pinned or clamped in the back. Be sure to view model agency websites and see what the average specific jacket and pant size for most of their girls are before making the purchase.

My favorite brand to use: PORTS 1961.

3. The Leather Jacket

A personal favorite to use and a staple in my own wardrobe is the leather jacket. It is always a good decision. Same as the hat, it adds a certain rock ‘n’ roll effect to any look. I love a simple jacket-over-tank-top look but I won’t hesitate putting it over a gown if it feels right.

My favorite brand to use: SKINGRAFT.

4. The Sunnies

The right pair of sunglasses (or a bunch of street stand sunglasses) can really add a more finished feel to a look. This is also a great addition if your test is lacking a makeup artist or if the model needs something to play with to be more whimsical. Make sure the model isn’t facing you though otherwise you are in the shot too.

My favorite brand to use: MYKITA.

5. The Bra

This is a great addition to more racy looks that you don’t want viewers to mistake for “mature”. The bra is also a great way to feature hands in a beauty shot because the model can play with the straps and it will still look natural.

My favorite brand to use: KissKill.

6. The Tank Top

The tank top is a test favorite. It is affordable, accessible and you or your model most likely already own one. It’s an item that can look polished or racy depending on how you style it. You can cut it, wet it, stretch it and not break the bank.

My favorite brand to use: Hanes for white, Old Navy for colors.

7. The Button Down Shirt

The button down shirt has always been a classic. It is easily styled and can be super feminine, super masculine, street or upscale. A button down shirt that fits well can serve you a lifetime of great images.

My favorite brand to use: BRANT.

8. The Boots That Never End

The “boots that never end” are one of my favorite items to use. Not in every shoot of course but they do add some edginess to a look when added. I own a pair of no brand thigh-high boots that a friend gave me years ago and I still use them for shoots here and there. For testing this could give the feeling of an upscale editorial shoot but when styled wrong, it can give the feeling of a person hanging out in the Meatpacking District at 3am if you know what I mean. Be warned.

9. The Statement Necklace

The statement necklace can make or break a look. It can add whimsy to a many item layered look or make a nude shot unforgettable.

My favorite brand to use: MORDEKAI by Ken Borochov or IOSSELLIANI.

10. The Gown

Dunn dunn dunnnnnn! The dramatic terrifying gown! Obviously not as versatile as it’s other friends on this list but hey- there are many ways to shoot a gown! Investing in the right gown can be expensive though so in this specific case I would suggest renting. Rent the Runway has to be the most affordable, easy-to-use service and a great tool for beginners to get jaw-dropingly gorgeous photos in your book.

My favorite brand to use: Too many to decide. Ugh.

Looking at this list right now I realize that these are the main items I like to wear which proves that basically anything in your closet can be shot as a fashion item, even menswear on a female model, or a scarf!

Let’s play a quick game: pick up an item from your closet, and shoot it as if the company that made it hired you to shoot their catalog. Even if it is not the most exciting fashion item, those clients exist too! With the right balance of taste and fearlessness a certain look can be truly striking. Train your eye and see what you like in the styling in your favorite photos. Is it texture? Color? Structure? When you work with something you personally admire your photo is the love song to it. Make it count.

By Karin Elgai

Karin is a fashion, prop and set stylist and contributor for Breed.

Photography by Enrique Vega, Henry Lopez, Monica True, Raul Coto-Batres, Allen Henson, Kevin Michael Schmitz, Aaron Kinney, Nando Esparza, Nicholas Routzen, Evan Taylor Gunville, Nathaniel Kramer, and Chad Griffith.

This article originally featured on Breed.


Breed is an online educational resource for fashion photographers. Breed writers and contributors are experienced industry professionals teaching and sharing current fashion photography insight through a series of videos, written articles, interviews, product reviews, and more. The Breed community also provides fashion photographers a place to connect, collaborate, share and critique work while learning valuable insight about the historically guarded and highly competitive industry of fashion photography. For more, visit

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7 Responses to “10 Items You Need for Shoots Without a Fashion Stylist”

  1. August 26, 2015 at 3:12 pm, NursultanTulyakbay said:

    Accessories for sure, tank tops and maybe even other tops/skirts/dresses that Old Navy always has on clearance. Stuff that could be had for under $15. But suits, jackets, gowns – are you kidding me? if the model shows up with no wardrobe, they get shot with no wardrobe or come back when you got something to wear.


  2. June 13, 2015 at 8:37 pm, ksporry said:

    So, actually, I would not even get close to bother with clothes whatsoever, at all. Because it will almost always be the wrong size. bra’s, really, bra’s? female models never wear bra’s? oots? All women have the same feet? The only thing I think is worth investing in, is basic props. Simple cheap jewelery, hats/head gear, shades, scarfs, stuff like that. Stuff that does not depend on many rooms for the wardrobes


  3. November 04, 2014 at 1:43 am, esolesek said:

    FOr what it’s worth, I would add one, not more, but one odd object to play around with, holding, wearing etc. Also, battery-operated lights can be a lot of fun.


  4. September 23, 2014 at 12:55 pm, Michael said:

    wow… checked the prices on “My favorite brand to use: MORDEKAI by Ken Borochov or IOSSELLIANI” , you really spend $300 plus dollars on model jewelry and props? some of those styles were over a grand!


  5. September 14, 2014 at 7:44 am, Tiffany Katz said:

    Thanks for sharing. I love shooting fashion and this is really helpful for someone like me.


  6. September 12, 2014 at 9:41 pm, DF Productions said:

    Great advise. I would suggest to add tips for male models as well.


  7. September 12, 2014 at 8:43 am, Thurston Lang said:

    A really good bit of advice here….. any Aspiring models take note….


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