Looking for a fun and straightforward project to do over a weekend? Want a quick and tactile way of planning or brainstorming outfits? Did you spend hours and hours on the OG Polyvore website and are looking for something to fill that void? Is Stylebook’s UI too cumbersome or limiting?
Follow along with this post and set yourself up with personalized outfit collage kit!
BEFORE WE BEGIN: Yes, there is existing dedicated software that more or less provides this for you. See: Stylebook App for iOS and similar apps like Smart Closet or Your Closet. There are some existing Polyvore clone websites like Fashmates. I have tried these, but I find the customization was lacking and being able to work on a full laptop or desktop is also much faster. I also appreciated not having to look at ads or trust that some random startup holding all the data will be continuously available (vs google slides or physical paper).
You’ve seen me build an Airtable template for wardrobe tracking from scratch after being unsatisfied by existing wardrobe apps, so I assume this surprises no one 🙃
Well, okay, this for sure has got more overhead than getting up and running in Polyvore.
Since you don’t already have a fully-edited collection of items from your personal wardrobe (or dream wardrobe, if you’re just doing this as an art project) at your fingertips, you’re going to have to find or produce them by tracking down stock photos, taking your own photos, or making your own illustrations.
BY FAR the easiest thing to do is to find a stock photo, or something close enough. Some brands and stores that have flatlay or clean (no mannequin or model) item photos are:
So if you’re trying to find a close-enough image, you can image search for “topshop mini skirt” or “farfetch white cable knit sweater” or “white cable knit sweater site:farfetch.com” to try and pull up more people-less images.
They’re often a bit more rough, but you can also try secondhand stock images from Poshmark and eBay listings.
Take your own photos
This is a whole thing in itself, and I recommend googling around a bit for tips, or read my previous post on this topic here.
Something specific to note when taking photos for outfit collages: consider that down the line if you want to easily get a layering effect with cardigans or outerwear, try and lay them out so the plackets are nice and vertical, or at least non overlapping.
If you’re handy with drawing or just want to run on hard mode, you can also draw/paint and scan the items yourself. Obviously, this is harder and potentially will take longer, but could be super cute and feel even more personalized.
Here’s a set that I started a few years ago. At this point, I don’t even own half these items anymore. I’m not very experienced at painting or drawing so I’m not going to do a full example of this here, but if you’d like some expert tips on rendering clothing, check out Zoe Hong’s channel on YouTube. And remember, you don’t have to aim for a super realistic drawing style. A simplified style like what Nina Cosford does can be just as effective!
(Instagram embeds don’t work on the email preview, click on over to the site to see it)
Prepare your images for printing and cutting, or clean them up into background-free PNGs.
If you want to completely remove the background, your new best friend is https://remove.bg. There are a lot of other sites and apps that do this (as well as just good old Photoshop) but this is the lowest-friction method that I’ve found. (They’re not sponsoring this, I just like the site.)
Note that if you’re planning to cut out the items to the exact outline for a physical collage project, you can skip this since you’re going to trim the item IRL anyway. But doing this you can also get the nice digital asset as well as save yourself a bit on ink.
Often the colors will still feel a little off, so I will fiddle around with the color levels, exposure, and shadows until it looks satisfactory. I’m not picky about software for this, and will use some combination of the native photo editing app on my phone and “Tools > Adjust color’ (pictured below) on the native Preview app in MacOS.
I don’t have any go-to method, I literally just toggle the sliders until it looks right. The nice thing about not being in full on Photoshop is there are limited options 🙂
If you’re feeling fancy and want to give your items a collectively stronger #aesthetic, I think applying the same Lightroom filter to all of them could also be another good option.
Not about cutting out several dozen tiny bits of paper? You can do all this in a google slides document, no Photoshop or Illustrator needed!
Of course, you could also do this in Photoshop or Illustrator, but I find that this is simple enough that the lower overhead/cost of using google slides is worth it. I figure most people have made a PowerPoint or google slideshow at some point and should find the interface more intuitive. Plus, you can access it from any browser without having to pay an arm and a leg for Creative Cloud.
Paste the images into slides and figure out how you will find it easiest to work with them. I like to keep items organized into slides by category. Sometimes this isn’t the most efficient way to get things printed, so in the screenshot above I have additional slides with the items arranged for printing for the physical collages.
I prefer to have shoe images in pairs, but you can’t always find a stock image of the full pair. You can use the handy “flip” feature in google slides (Powerpoint etc should have an analogous feature) image formatting to mirror a copy of the single shoe. Or, you can combine two different stock photo views of a shoe. Right click the image and select “Format Options” to see the full toolbar.
I suggest using the handy Group feature to make the images sticky to each other (this is a reversible action) for easier arranging.
Layered effect for outerwear and cardigans
If your image has a more or less straight opening edge, you can get the layered look by duplicating the item and cropping the copy to the opening. Grouping these can make ordering (i.e. which item is in front of another when they overlap) hard when trying to sandwich other pieces into it, so I leave these as individual objects.
If your item is more irregularly shaped, you could erase the curved bits in an external image editing software (or even just in our friend the remove.bg website, which has a manual editing tool). I’m not currently at a point where I’m that dedicated to this, but it’s certainly an option (and perhaps an argument to just do this all in a more powerful software in the first place. But I don’t know about you, but I’m here to arrange outfits, not to fiddle with Photoshop or wade through ad-riddled freemium mobile apps)
Filler / moodboard / aesthetic / flavor images
Is it really a Polyvore collage if it doesn’t have a dozen random insufferably twee/hipster stock photos crammed into every centimeter of negative space?
Turns out lots of people saved those assets into Pinterest and other sites, so you can find many of the popular OG images just by google image searching “polyvore ____” and selecting “Tools > Colors > Transparent” to only pull up PNGs.
If you’re up for the extra step of removing the background (again, our friend www.remove.bg or similar sites are probably the easiest way to go), you can skip filtering to transparent images.
Sound tedious? I GOTCHU. I’m collecting filler images into google slides, which you can view (and make a copy of, if you like) here. Bonus slide with backgrounds in case solid colors aren’t doing it for you.
Now that you’ve collected and edited images and sorted them into slides: ta-daaaa! Your own personal outfit collage set.
I haven’t tried it, but there is a free mobile app for Google Slides, so theoretically you could even edit these on your phone.
Don’t forget that the beauty of even this kind of basic image editing software is that you can use the crop, rotate, resize, and other image formatting tools as much as you want!
Don’t get caught up on trying to get any given collage to work with only your original image set. For each new collage, copy and paste the items you want from the inventory slides and use the resizing to shoehorn their proportions into cooperating. The world is your oyster.
The easiest way of exporting these creations is to just do “File > Download” then select PNG or JPG and crop the file locally.
Since you don’t have unlimited physical space, paper, and printer ink / art supplies, decide which set of items you’re most interested in making collages with. I suggest starting with clothes that you’ve worn in the last ~2 weeks or clothes which you know are staples and are relevant for your current season. Even if your goal is to eventually do your entire wardrobe, I would start with 2-3 pages of items max in case you lose interest to save time and supplies.
(If you’re doing more of an imaginary/dream wardrobe, then pick whatever looks fun.)
Arrange your edited images into a Google slides doc (or whatever other method which will easily allow you to print) optimizing more for filling the pages than getting everything categorized.
At this point, take a moment to make sure the sizes of each item is proportional with everything else. It’s okay if it isn’t super exact, but designating some item as the sizing reference can help keep things uniform. Squash or stretch images a little if necessary.
Print em out! If your printer can print onto tagboard or cardstock, you can print directly onto there and skip the reinforcement step later.
If you drew your items, you can optionally scan them for reuse / printing onto different paper / backup later.
Cut items roughly
Cut with a rough outline. If you printed directly onto cardstock, you can skip this and the next step and go ahead and cut the items exactly.
If you printed on standard paper, you probably want to glue the images into a sturdier base. You can use cardstock/tagboard, a leftover paper grocery bag, index cards, manila folders, or if you’re sure you’re never going to actually pick up painting, maybe even watercolor paper ($$).
The paper grocery bag is the most economical option, but probably also the weakest.
Use a glue stick (I glued all the way to the edges and both on the item and the base paper) or some other paste that won’t leave the printer paper lumpy.
Cut items cleanly
For the final pieces, you can cut directly on the outline of the images, or leave a uniform buffer around them.
Personally I opted to leave a buffer primarily because it results in sturdier pieces, especially for more dainty things like camisole tops. I also like how it makes the items pop more against the background.
If you want to cut them exactly, an X-acto knife will be helpful for the more detailed shapes. Make sure you’re cutting over a piece of cardboard or a cutting mat.
Optional: decorative background mat or attach magnets
I wanted to have a nice clean background / frame to play with, so I made a washi tape border on a square sheet of watercolor paper to use as a mat.
Another thing that would be cool is attaching some small adhesive magnets to the backs of each piece to use them on your fridge or a magnetic whiteboard. I’m not convinced that cutouts only reinforced with paper grocery bag would fare well as magnets, but I might give it a shot anyway.
For either of these cases, another thing that might be useful is creating a mat / area with spaces for multiple outfits so you can plan a few days worth of looks in advance.
Having just done everything in this post, I will say that was a lot of work, but I haven’t had this much pure fun with clothes in ages. Of course it’s not the same as actually trying things on to really tell if something will work, but it’s excellent for brainstorming or just admiring different combinations without any baggage of having to take a full outfit photo. I’m going to add another 2-3 pages of clothing and maybe even some flavor items over the next few days.
If anyone else does this, I’d love to see the results! Feel free to link to photos of your setups and collages in the comments or hit me up on Instagram.