As soon as a maternity photoshoot is booked, the next question I always receive from the model is asking what they should wear.
Based on 10 years of experience doing maternity photography, I would like to share some recommendations and examples of what clothing generally works best in (and out of) the studio. You will also get an idea where to buy these pieces. I don’t tend to splash out on props, so many of these ideas are done on a budget, but they still look amazing. There are so many top-class maternity dresses to choose from.
Video of me talking about different maternity outfit ideas.
General recommendations for clothing
The main idea is to make sure that your clothing shows off your body shape. Make sure it compliments your body. Prepare clothing well in advance. Iron everything that needs to be ironed. Ideally, choose plain colours. I provide more detailed recommendations later in the article.
TIP: Whilst I do love jeans in maternity photos, I have an issue with the over-the-bump stretchy line, which is hard to hide in photos. You can try to roll it down, but it creates such a large bulk around the waist. I would always suggest, if you can, just bringing some normal jeans. We can leave the top couple of buttons open and this will still look great.
What to wear: ideas for her
Show off the bare belly
Crop top & jeans Dress with a slit in the front Underwear only Crop top & long skirt Nude maternity photos
Hide body imperfections or concerned about body shape
Long-sleeve dresses Fuller volume dresses Dress with a slit in case you would like to show the belly but conceal the rest of the body Dark tone dresses/clothes
If you are planning to do nude maternity photos, make sure that you wear very loose clothing before the session so there are no marks on the body. This could be comfortable underwear, a loose top and loungewear perhaps. During the session, if you want you can also wear some nice lingerie as well. Bring this as an extra just in case. If you have a large necklace, these look great in the nude shots.
See-through tops Lingerie bodysuits Well-fitted underwear Underwear with lace details
Floaty fabric look
Wear plain underwear, preferably in a light colour. Make sure the photographer has long floaty fabrics.
What your partner should wear
Can do combinations with shirt, jacket and formal trousers. I would say no tie but this depends how formal you want to go.
Jeans and a shirt
Well-fitted t-shirt and jeans
Plan your maternity session
Decide if you would like to do an outdoors or indoors maternity session. Each of these options has its own benefits. If you live in a scenic area, you might want to do an outdoors session. If you’re not too sure about having people walking by and looking at you, perhaps consider a studio photo session. You can read my outdoor maternity session guide here.
Communicate with your photographer about what kind of poses and ideas you like. I always ask my clients to send me a few ideas, either drawn from my site or something they have found elsewhere. I even have my own Pinterest board where I keep some ideas for inspiration.
Ask the photographer what kind of clothing he/she has. Is there anything that you need to source yourself? Keep in mind that it is easier to decide what to wear once you’ve worked out what kind of poses you like.
TIP: If you would like a particular maternity dress, and the photographer doesn’t have it, you might want to consider hiring a maternity dress. Sometimes my clients also buy a dress and if I like it I offer to buy it from them.
Sort out the clothing a couple of days before the session. Make sure you have everything you need for the session. Underwear sorted. Ironed clothes. Everything is on coat hangers and in zip bags. Preparation is key here.
If your partner is not attending the session, can someone else support you during the session? For me, it is important to have someone else there to help with small details, things like fixing hair and fabric. But someone accompanying you will also make this a more relaxed and fun session, a friend tagging along or a parent, etc.
Clothing ideas and when it is best to use them
I have a selection of different colour and finishes of fabric. Silk and chiffon, depending on what kind of look and feel you want to go for. Silks create a more floaty look in the images, whilst chiffons give a nice soft look.
This is probably the cheapest way to create a lot of variation in the photos. You can create floaty fabric images, either by making the dress out of the fabric, or just lying on the fabric. We can use chiffon to wrap the model in, or just to add a touch of softness to the portraits. This is a highly versatile and inexpensive option, a must-have in any maternity photographer’s wardrobe.
Long sleeves and full-length dresses
The reason why I recommend long sleeves is because most of the models I have photographed hate their arms, especially if they have gained a bit more weight than they expected. There is not much I can do but I recommend a dress with long sleeves. Normally, a dress will help the situation and also make it easier for me in post-production to work on the image. These dresses always look elegant and timeless. The models love it. In fact, I’m getting more of them in for the studio. Make sure these dresses fit the model well. If the dress is too big, you can use clips at the back to make it tighter on the body.
TIP: A long black turtle neck dress always looks simple, classy and timeless. From a photographer’s perspective, we only need to focus on the shape of the body.Plus, this is also cheap to buy.
Dresses with a slit
You have probably already guessed why I mentioned the slit. Dresses with a slit give you the versatility of choosing to show the bare bump or hide it. You can also show a bit of leg too. You can also make the dress a bit more floaty. It all depends on what kind of look are you after.
Crop top with long sleeves
If the model wants a nice exposed bump shot, crop tops are great for this. We have already discussed that issues with arms can emerge, so we might want a top with long sleeves. The crop top is great for combinations. You can do crop top and underwear or crop top with skirt/jeans. Both look great. The main goal here is to show bare belly.
Full volume dresses
I would say the queen of my dresses :) This was a recent purchase. It is a top-of-the-line dress, but I love how much nice texture it has. It is perfect for standing up and lying down maternity portraits. You can conceal body areas you don’t want to show or keep a more exposed semi-nude look. There are so many options on how to use this dress.
Skirt and bandeau bra
This was my very first combo when I started maternity photography. It is a very simple and cheap but effective combination. The skirt can be used for nude top only photos. A bandeau bra is a great alternative to a normal bra. The reason I love it is because bras can sometimes make a strange cup formation with the gap at the top that looks a bit odd in profile position photos. Make sure when you buy a bandeau bra that it fits you well and is not too small.
WARNING: Sometimes the models bring in a sports bra. This can work, but it is always better to have one bra on only – so just one set of straps. Too many straps make the skin look wrinkly and I need to spend a lot of time fixing this in post-production.
Just a quick note on underwear. I normally ask the models to source three sets of colours: white, black and skin colour. Then, depending on which dresses or combinations they are wearing, we have a set of underwear that works. If you are planning to have maternity portraits in underwear only, you can get a nice set with lace or textures. However, I always recommend having nice plain underwear with you. You can decide for yourself what suits you best.
This point is more important for photos with partners in them. I always ask partners to wear solid colour clothing, meaning no stripes or big logos. A check pattern can be fine, but this has to be a small pattern. Large checks can draw too much attention, especially if they are in contrasting colours.
If the model is wearing, for example, a light pink dress, we wouldn’t want a partner to be in red or orange-coloured clothing. You don’t need to be in matching colours, but the same palette is ideal. Here is a nifty website to create colour palettes.
If the model is doing semi-nude with a partner, then I would recommend the partner wear either black or grey. Blue jeans are fine, but black or grey tops. If the model is wearing a white tube bra, then the partner should probably be in a white t-shirt, or black and black etc.
For outdoors sessions, you probably want more earthy tones: greys, browns, greens etc. More subtle, unless you particularly want something that is colourful and punchy.
Solid colours are best. Decide if you would like dark or light background portraits and then choose the clothing tonality accordingly.
Where to buy maternity clothing
I have a great mix of cheap and more expensive clothing items. Over time I have tried different shops and different pieces. Some haven’t worked well; this can be a process of trial and error.
Let’s start at the more affordable end: bandeau bra, maxi dresses and cheap maternity dresses with slit openings.
Skirts, crop tops, turtle neck dress
Cheap lace dresses, maxi dresses and slit opening dresses
I hope this piece was helpful, that you managed to pick up a few tips along the way and will be able to build a clothing wardrobe to give diverse portfolio looks. Feel free to ask any questions and I will address them here.