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How to Style Your Boudoir Photoshoot

Pin up fun, placing a hat in a mirror.
Model: Victoria Dagger; photo: Lydia Chen; makeup: Terry Alabata; hat: Kalico Delafey.

A boudoir photoshoot makes an amazing holiday gift for yourself or your special someone. Last year around this time, I ran a two-part segment on How to Have an Amazing Boudoir Photoshoot, and How to Book a Boudoir Photoshoot. Continuing the tradition, I've got more tips for you: this week, I'll discuss styling and how to select wardrobe, and in my next piece, a step by step for basic photo-ready makeup, at home, without a makeup artist.

A Christmas pinup-themed set and styling.
Model: Victoria Dagger; photo: Paolo Diavolo; MUA: Nikki F.

Location, Location, Location
The first step is knowing where you're shooting. Does the location or studio have a special theme or mood with which you should coordinate? What colors are prevalent? Make sure you're not choosing any wardrobe that will cause you to blend in, chameleon-like, with the backdrop or furniture. Select colors that will pleasingly contrast rather than exactly match your location.

A moody burlesque shoot with victory rolls and rhinestones.
Model: Victoria Dagger; photo: Charles Chan Casela; hair: Danielle Blanchet; MUA: Camille Ivy

Head & Face
There's a lot of stuff going on above your shoulders, and I don't just mean the excitement of processing your shoot. You have to plan your makeup, hair, headpiece, and jewelry. Your makeup will depend a lot on the mood or theme you're going for, especially if you're trying to recreate the look of an era, but remember that you can "get away with" a much more dramatic look on-camera (but don't try to emphasize EVERY feature). Plumed feathers or veiled fascinators can add a sexy can-can or pinup touch; place the headpiece on your face's "good" side, which you should try to cheat towards the camera.
With hair, make sure your cut and color are maintained, but don't try something completely new unless you really trust your stylist. Hair up vs. hair down may depend on your face shape, but think about the environment in which you'll be shooting. On outdoor location shoots, it can be hard to keep your hair out of your face with even a slight breeze. Sometimes a halo of flyaways is more conspicuous with an updo, so consider your hair's texture as well. If you're like me and only know how to do a couple things with your hair, play with variations of those styles to take you a little out of your comfort zone. Ask your hair stylist for tips on working with your particular hair type: for example, my super long, pin-straight hair won't hold a curl unless sprayed liberally both before and after curling.

Note the matching earrings for this tiki shoot.
Model: Victoria Dagger; photo: Mariah Carle; hair: Danielle Blanchet; corset: Dark Garden.

I always feel a little naked if I forget to grab a pair of earrings to go with the rest of my ensemble: don't forget to put the small things on your checklist. If you're shooting several looks, you can try bringing jewelry to match each one, but it's probably simpler to just choose a classic set that'll go with everything you brought --- it's really frustrating to be halfway into a look and realize you forgot to change your jewelry!

Lounging playfully on Victorian loveseat.
Model: Victoria Dagger; photo: Chris Mackessy; MUA: Marina Petrenko

Main Wardrobe
This is the obvious one, of course. In my previous article, I advised bringing as many clothing options as you can reasonably carry, and bringing sets that coordinate even if they weren't actually purchased as a set. While I still maintain that options are a good thing, you definitely shouldn't just grab blindly. As far as color goes, cross-reference colors that will go well with your location (coordinating, not matching), with those that you like, and those that look best on you. Choose styles that aren't just "sexy" looking (your opinion of sexy, that is), but also those pieces that fit you best, and make you feel the most confident. Anything prone to malfunctioning --- the bra with straps that keeps slipping, the pair of stockings that wants to roll down, and that thong that wants to, well, ride up --- shouldn't be at the top of your list. At best they may simply ruin an otherwise great shot, and at worst they may unnerve and distract you. Have an idea of which sets are your favorites and prioritize in advance which looks you'd most like to shoot.

A classic red and black boudoir look styled with ribbon accents.
Model: Victoria Dagger; photo: Light & Shadow; corset: Dark Garden.

If you're wearing a corset for a photoshoot, it's a bit different than wearing it for an event or waist training. Definitely don't forget your back panel to hide the back skin crease. You'll probably be inclined to lace somewhat tighter than usual, but make sure you can still move and pose easily. If you're wearing an underbust, I recommend fastening your bra hook on a looser setting and pulling the band down (preferably just overlapped by the top of the corset) to help prevent creating a fleshy roll between bra and corset edges. Likewise, wear panties that underlap your corset even a little bit so you don't have awkward patches of skin showing, or worse, bulging, through. Split the bow from your laces in half and tuck it to either side at the bottom of your corset, creating a V shape arrowing towards your waist. This looks tidier and will keep your laces from becoming untied.

Lace and ribbons accent the styling of this look.
Model: Victoria Dagger; photo: Light & Shadow; corset: Dark Garden.

Stockings are so special they get their own paragraph. I previously mentioned dancer tights as being great for smoothing skin tone and texture: you can wear them alone or layer them with thigh-highs. If you wear any kind of patterned tights, make sure you pull the legs on straight so the pattern doesn't twist around your leg (I notice this a lot with lace tights, where the pattern isn't as conspicuous as a simple backseam, but there's still a linear flow). Think through how your stockings will stay up: do you have a good garter belt? Does it match the color scheme of the rest of your outfit? Are you wearing a corset with garters? (If they're detachable, count to make sure they're all there.) Are your stockings stay ups? You can get a couple sexy shots of pulling on a stocking, but it'll get annoying very quickly if fallen stockings interrupt the flow of shooting.

Accessories really add dimension to your look. This fox mask is more geared for an art shoot than boudoir, but you could play with a simpler style such as the lace mask above.
Model: Victoria Dagger; photo: Lauren Luck

Aside from the classic bra and panty sets, and the other things I've already discussed, you can bring layers and accessories to help layer your ensembles. Gloves are a classic touch --- it's hard to go wrong with lace fingerless mitts. Regular fingered gloves can be very classy, but make sure they actually fit the proportions of your hands and don't make your fingers look chunky. Boleros are the perfect partner for corsets, as they hide the trouble spots at the top of the corset where flesh tends to crease or spill over. A simple piece of ribbon around your throat or wrist can serve in place of metal jewelry. I personally love chokers; some variations to consider include collars (lace band, corset back, or beaded), cameos, or multi-strand pearls. Consider a mask (lace or masquerade style) to add a bit of intrigue to a few shots.

Don't forget the shoes! Shooting is a great excuse to wear your less practical heels, but make sure you can still balance in those exaggerated poses.   The placement of the strap and bow on these heels extends the legline flatteringly.
Model: Victoria Dagger; photo: Max Johnson.

I definitely have a single pair of heels that is my go-to for shoots and fashion shows (the Betsey Johnson "Dita" laced-back heel in black), but I also try to bring a couple pairs specific to the looks I'll be shooting. On the one hand, I have a lot of shoes I pretty much only wear for shoots, but you also don't want shoes that are so extreme you're thinking more about your pinched toes or keeping your balance than feeling good about yourself. Style wise, matching your shoes to your stockings can make your legs look longer. Same goes for an ankle strap that hits below the ankle line.

Don't be afraid to experiment and just have fun!
Model: Victoria Dagger; photo: Lauren Luck

Did this piece help you sort through your styling ideas? Got any specific styling questions? What are your favorite styling tips? Feel free to chime in, below in the comments!

By the way, I will be styling for Dark Garden's corset boudoir photobooth at the San Francisco Dickens Fair again this year if you want to stop in and say hello or have your portrait done.

As per a suggestion by The Lingerie Lesbian, here's a checklist for you!  Open the image in a new tab and print it out as you fill up your "shoot bag."

Boudoir Shoot Styling Checklist