Fashion Mood Board, A Clothing Design Secret Weapon
Published: June 21, 2022Updated: September 24, 202212 min read
In its simplest form, a fashion mood board is exactly what it sounds like: a board, either physical or digital, that conveys a mood or feeling.
Mood boards can be collections of images and quotes. If you’re making a physical mood board, you can even include pieces of cut fabric that convey the entire mood of your company or an upcoming season’s collection.
For a lot of startup fashion founders, creating a board is one of the most fun parts of creating their brand and fashion designs.
Boards are a place for you to play and explore with colors and imagery and really find that look that will distinguish your brand from all the other brands out there.
So let’s dive in and talk about what belongs on a fashion mood board.
Think of a mood board like the inside of your middle school locker, but all grown up.
Everyone started out with the same Tiger, Bop, and Seventeen magazines (am I dating myself here?). But the images you ripped out and chose to display said something totally unique about you.
That’s what you do when you create a fashion moodboard. You take all this stuff from all over the place that you think is cool, or representative of who you and your brand are, and you display it in one place so that other people understand who you are and what makes you tick.
Your fashion mood board should provide inspiration. It should include images you like that reflect different designs, colors, stories, fonts, or anything that evokes the mood you’re going for with your brand. Is there something you like, but you’re not sure why? Include it. Is there something cool that your customer might like, but you aren’t sure why? You can include that too, and see where your inspiration takes you.
A QUICK EXAMPLE...
If you were making a clothing brand for new moms to help them with body confidence, your mind might go to workout photos or pre-bump and post-bump before and after photos. But maybe a really moody red wine ad captures your interest because what mom can’t relate to craving a glass of wine at the end of the day?
Or maybe you’re creating a swimwear line and at first you’re pulling mood board images of beach vacations, palm trees . . . you know, all of the beachy things. But you decide to include a photo of a healthy lunch that stands out to you. Or you are drawn to the colors of an ice cream truck, so you throw that on there too.
The point is, when you’re creating a fashion mood board, you aren’t limited to including things that are related to your brand and what you’re making. You can include anything that kind of just goes with the vibe and overall style you’re going for.
In the corporate world, a lot of times the more business-minded people at fashion companies think mood boards are a waste of time. Something that children do in arts and crafts. But they are so crucial to your brand's foundation.
And the beauty of this crucial tool is that literally anyone can make one, even a child.
The main purpose of a fashion mood board is to help you visualize your brand. When you’re coming up with your brand idea and imagining everything it can be, it makes sense in your head, but once you start putting it out into the world, things can get kind of chaotic. The best way to rein in that chaos and make it more accessible is to create a mood board.
Your mood board is probably going to be a little bit harder to create than you initially thought. That’s because it’s often difficult to articulate in real life what’s inside our heads, but that’s okay. That’s the creative process. It’s a process after all. The best advice I can give you is just to start somewhere. Then take a step back, look at the first draft of your board, and keep on going. By the end, you’ll have something that represents everything in your brain.
Mood boards are the ultimate communication tool. They are the bridge between the creative and the intellectual. Mood boards allow you to quickly show someone what your brand is all about.
The goal is for someone to look at your fashion mood board and understand that your brand is meant for kids or parents or bookworms or people who love to go to raves like Electric Daisy Carnival. Simple images can convey everything about your brand's personality.
And when you have a tool like this, it makes hiring people to help you a lot easier. When you hire someone to help you with your logo, graphics, design work, or website copy, you can show them your mood board and they will instantly understand who you are and what you’re all about. It will save you from having to explain your brand in words.
So essentially, a mood board fills in the gaps in communication, allowing you to get better work done.
And lastly, your mood board is a place for you to test, experiment, and try all the things you want to try. This way, when push comes to shove, you’re able to stay focused. The mood board was your rough draft or your 21st rough draft. I like to think of the fashion mood board like your college days. It's a place for you to experiment with who you are. If you know me, then you might know that I’ve gone through many different life phases. I had a phase where I was emo. Then, I had a phase where I was preppy. I also had a phase where I used to sneak out of school into the city and go to Reggaeton concerts. Basically, I experienced everything . . . hard.
And ultimately, all of those experiences led me to the person I am today. A person who has an extremely diverse group of friends. A person who not only understands cultural differences, but embraces them.
A PLACE TO EXPERIMENT
I bet you went through some crazy personal phases too. And some of them you probably look back on, cringe, and say—what the hell was I thinking?
Your mood board is going to be just like that. Think of it like getting out all your brand's awkward phases before you launch to the world.
But embrace that awkwardness as it comes out. Because it ultimately made you who you are today. And it will make your brand what it needs to become.
Your board iis a safe place for you to try, experiment, and most importantly, change your mind.
This way, when you get started on the work that actually costs money, like designers, samples, and all that good stuff, you can be extremely focused and know exactly what you want and don’t want for your brand.
Now that you understand the purpose of a mood board and what belongs on it, let’s talk about two different types and how to make them.
The first type of fashion mood board is a physical mood board, much like the collages you made in your middle school locker. These mood boards are made by literally ripping things out of a magazine or printing things out that you like and gluing or taping them to a board. Some people even attach three-dimensional objects like seashells, glitter, fabric swatches, etc. Anything goes.
To make a physical mood board, all you need is a poster board or foam board and you are ready to get started. I personally prefer using foam boards. This way, I can use thumbtacks to tack things on and move them around easily. You could also use a cork board magnet board or dry erase board. There are no rules. Use whatever works for you and your creativity.
The second type of mood board is a digital fashion mood board, which is exactly what it sounds like; it’s all of your images consolidated into one digital place. Two online tools I like to use to make digital mood boards are Canva and Milanote.
Although I love love love Canva, I have to say that Milanote is a bit better for creating digital mood boards. They have successfully created an online platform that makes the process of creating a mood board feel as close to creating a physical board as you can get. Go and check it out if you’re curious, since it’s hard to explain!
YOU MIGHT NEED MORE THAN ONE
You can use a mood board for any creative project that you’re working on. That means that you might have more than one board at a time. Here are two places I recommend starting.
The first is your branding report. This is a big picture of a board that encompasses your brand vibe. With this mood board, you’re trying to show your colors, aesthetic, and images that represent who you are as a brand.
This branding report is super important and you should keep it handy because it’s going to help you make decisions more easily. Not sure what fonts you should use? Go back to your mood board. Trying to decide if a model would be a good fit for your company? Go back to your mood board. Trying to figure out if a collab is “on brand” for your company? Again, back to the fashion mood board.
If it doesn’t fit or work on the mood board, it means it’s probably a bad decision for you.
Your brand mood board is also going to come in super handy when you’re trying to hire designers and other people who will help create your vision, like I mentioned earlier.
So do not skip the brand mood board.
2. SEASONAL DESIGN
The second kind of fashion mood board you’ll probably want to create is a seasonal design board. Every season that you’re creating a line for your collection, you will be using a seasonal board. The seasonal board should feel like it belongs in the same book as your brand board, but it can be very different. Each season, your designs are going to have different colors. There's going to be different trends that you want to highlight, and the overall collection might have a different theme or mood.
The seasonal design mood board is the first step in designing a collection. It’s where you can take all those ideas that you have for your brand and the clothes that you want to make and put them in one place. When you do this, you might realize that some designs you thought you loved actually have no business being in your brand because they just don’t go with the overall aesthetic.
Again, this seasonal design report is a place for you to try everything out for free before committing to anything.
One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to just get started. The good part about making a mood board is that there is no way for you to do it wrong, just like how in a brainstorm session, there are no wrong answers. So throw aside any reservations you might have and just get started. Sometimes you create the best things by taking a risk and literally throwing things at the wall.
Once you get started, you’re going to find that there are so many ideas that you have and so many things that you want to add to your mood board. Add them all because you can always edit it down later.
The purpose of the mood board is to get everything out there so you can see it, edit it, add more stuff, edit again, add more stuff again, and keep going like that until you have something that totally represents your brand.
MAKE IT FOR YOUR CUSTOMER AVATAR, NOT YOU
When you’re making your fashion mood boards, make sure you’re making them for your ideal customer and not yourself. Well, if you are your ideal customer, then that’s totally fine. But if you’re an adult who wants to make clothing for kids, you might want to put yourself into a kids’ mindset—what is a kid going to get excited about and want to wear?
I think kids brands are a great example of this because often (I see this on Pinterest all the time), parents design children’s rooms to their own liking without thinking about their kids and what they like. No offense to you if you have done this, but I’ve seen some kids' rooms decorated in just black-and-white. In my opinion, they feel cold and kind of creepy. For kids’ rooms, I think it’s much more fun for them to have colors and animals, flowers and rainbows, dinosaurs and all the fun things.
SAY GOODBYE TO YOUR EGO
So whoever you are, make sure to remove a bit of your ego and instead focus on the people who you intend to serve with your brand.
Your goal should be to express your avatar’s unique personality through the images and items you choose. Ideally, your avatar would look at your mood board and say, “Oh my God, I love everything on this!” You want your avatar to feel like it’s their locker they’re opening, not yours.
DRAW INSPIRATION FROM RANDOM PLACES
Everywhere you go and everything you look at can be a source of inspiration: museums, magazines, social media, a cool restaurant menu. If it feels like it belongs in the world of your brand and vibe, snap a pic. Inspiration never sleeps!
Also, it’s okay to borrow from others. It isn’t stealing so long as you don’t copy what your competitors are doing exactly. Think of it this way. A mood board is a way to take things that are already out there in the world and help you describe what is in your head.
The items on your mood board are not going to be exactly what your brand makes and does, they are just going to inspire you.
I like to save all my random inspo pics to a special folder in my phone.
This way, they don’t get lost in all the selfies, puppy pics, and whatever else I have floating around on my phone's camera roll.
Pinterest is another great place to collect mood board images and also find inspiration. And there are some pretty convenient plugin tools that make grabing images you see from the internet and saving them to boards easy as 1, 2 ,3.
I already mentioned Canva, Milanote, and Pinterest.
FYI Canva has some great fashion mood board templates you can try. You can either create a digital board or print them out and pin them onto your physical mood board.
EDIT IT DOWN
Start out saying yes to everything. Put it all on your board and start editing down. While you are working, you can even have three tiers of boards: images you love, images you aren’t sure of, and images that you don’t think you like but for some reason don’t want to say goodbye to just yet. Then over time, whittle it down to only the best of the best.
This is one of the most important steps that often gets forgotten. Creativity takes time and can not be rushed. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your brand is to take a break. In that period of mental rest, things change. And when you come back to your project, you will see it with fresh eyes.
SHARE IT FOR FEEDBACK
Share your mood board with some target customers and ask them if it resonates with them. If they don’t get it, you might have a problem, because remember, you want to be speaking to your customer always.
Don’t have access to your target customers? No problem. Show your board to anyone and ask them who they think the board is for. What kind of person would have this in their locker?
If they describe your ideal customer, well, then you’ve done your job. If they think it’s for someone else, you might want to rethink it.
MORE FASHION MOOD BOARD EXAMPLES
All of the mood boards that have been featured in this post are from my clients and students.
And, because sometimes the best way to teach is by sharing examples, I will leave you with a bunch of examples from my Launch My Conscious Line students. You can see so clearly how each board has its own personality.