Guide C-312Susan Wright, Extension Clothing and Textiles Specialist
College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences New Mexico State University
Selecting fashions that present you at your best is not difficult if you apply a few basic principles of design. But in order to apply design principles correctly, you must know your figure type. Which are you?
Or, perhaps you are average, average. Whatever your figure type, the fashions you wear will be flattering or unflattering depending upon their designs.
To help you select the designs best suited for your figure type, consider the following design principles.
The wise selection of line in fashion design can create optical illusions to flatter your appearance.
Line in fashion is seen in garment details and in the garment silhouette. Details include seamlines and garment features such as pockets, collars, belts, and openings. Silhouette refers to the shape of the garment. A silhouette in fashion is dependant on the design of the garment and the fabric used. Both the detail lines and the silhouette influence the optical illusion created when a garment is worn.
Look at these example of optical illusion:
Would you believe the vertical lines are the same length? The horizontal lines are the same length also. The eye follows each line until it meets a line that turns downward or upward. The lines look shorter when lines turn downward and longer when lines continue upward.
Now, look at the rectangles. The four rectangles are the same size, but the use of a vertical or horizontal line within each rectangle creates an illusion of varied size. When two or more vertical or horizontal lines are used, the spacing between the lines will affect the illusion created.
Generally, vertical lines which carry the eye up the figure without interruption will give a taller, more slender illusion. Lines which stop the eye from traveling upward by moving the eye from side to side or back down will create a shorter and heavier illusion.
Consider these examples:
|The single vertical line moves the eye
upward with nothing to interrupt its
|The magic "Y" creates a feeling of height as
the eye is guided upward with nothing to
impede its vertical motion.
|The longer your eye can travel upward
without being interrupted by a horizontal
line, the taller the figure will appear.
|Two vertical lines spaced close together form a
narrow panel which moves the eye up the figure.
|A vertical illusion becomes a horizontal
illusion when a vertical line is topped with
a horizontal line causing the eye to move
from side to side.
|A vertical line suddenly appears shorter when
the eye is forced downward.
|The sooner the eye encounters a horizontal
line, the shorter the figure will appear.
|Two vertical lines spaced far apart form three
wide panels that move the eye across the figure.
Color is one of the first things people notice about clothing. The use of color can create illusions of the figure size in the same way line does. Color should be selected on the basis of complexion-hair, skin, eyes-as well as on figure size.
Colors should complement the complexion. A complexion that tends to be sallow (yellow tones) should wear colors that bring out the pink/red tones of the skin. A complexion that is florid (red/blue tones) should avoid colors that emphasize the redness of the skin.
Matching of color to the complexion is a very personal matter. Old adages like "redheads should never wear pink" are not always valid. Careful selection of the value and intensity of a color, its placement and the complements used with the color can allow its use by almost everyone.
Colors are classified as warm-reds, yellows, and oranges-or cool-blues, and greens. Warm colors tend to create an illusion of greater size. Cool colors tend to create an illusion of reduced size.
The brightness or dullness and the lightness and darkness of colors also affect the illusion created. Dull and dark colors seem to recede and make the figure appear smaller. Bright and light colors have the opposite effect.
In addition to these general characteristics of colors, how they are used will also influence the illusion created. Contrasting colors in tops and bottoms create a horizontal line where they meet and tend to shorten the figure. A single color outfit gives a vertical feeling and creates an illusion of height and slimness.
When several colors are used in a single outfit, the amount, placement, and contrast between the colors used will determine the effect. If the color is printed in the fabric design, the size of the design, as well as the colors used must be considered. Generally, the size of print should be selected in relation to the figure size. Small figures look best in fabrics with small designs. Large figures look best in fabrics with large designs. These guidelines are especially true if the colors used are bright and contrast strongly.
Because garments have combined design elements of texture, color and line, each must be selected in relation to your figure and how they affect each of the other elements. The effects of texture in fashion influence how colors appear and how design lines function.
Texture describes the body and surface of fabric. Textures may be rough or smooth, coarse or fine, crisp or clingy, soft or stiff, thin or bulky, opaque or sheer, shiny or dull, heavy or light or any combination of these characteristics. Because textures have many characteristics, they can enhance or detract from a garments design. They also affect the illusions of size and shape of the figure.
Here are some general guidelines for selecting appropriate textures for garments:
- Soft or clingy textures reveal the figure and emphasize figure irregularities.
- Stiff or crisp textures stands away from the body and hide figure irregularities. Very stiff fabrics appear to add weight and dwarf small figures. Moderately stiff fabrics are good on most figures.
- Bulky texture seem to add volume to the figure. Small figures are overpowered by these textures, but they are good for tall slender figures. They can be used to balance an irregular figure. Example: Bulky sweater for figure with small bust and full hips.
- Dull finishes absorb light and generally make the figure look smaller. They are suitable for all figures.
- Shiny fabrics make the figure appear larger and reveal figure irregularities. Shiny fabrics are best for average to slim figures which have regular proportions.
- Coarse or rough fabrics are good choices for average to slim figures. They add volume to large figures and overpower small figures.
- Smooth (not shiny) fabrics hide figure irregularities and are attractive on most figure types.
Tips on Selecting Fashions For You
Most women have special figure problems that they want to de-emphasize. The following suggestions are designed to help you select fashions that will generally camouflage problems and flatter your figure.
To look shorter or heavier select:
Details extending beyond the silhouette
Bulky, bunchy silhouette lines
Curved rather than straight lines
Crosswise design lines
Horizontally striped fabrics
Short, broken vertical lines
Short, diagonal lines
Combinations of vertical and horizontal lines as in a plaid fabric
Full, horizontal drapery across the bustline or hipline
Flaring or contrasting cuffs and collars
Wide, bulky collars
Separates, two piece effects, overblouses
Yokes and insets
Wide belts and cummerbunds
Long, full sleeves
Wide, flowering sleeves
Gathered, pleated and flared skirts
Long torso styles
Peplums and tunics
To look taller or thinner select:
Details within the silhouette
Straight, rather than curved lines
Long, vertical lines, especially near center of figure
Vertically striped fabrics
Simple, uncluttered lines
Long, diagonal lines
Slim, smooth silhouette lines
Narrow panels or gores
Narrow, standing collars
Long, narrow pointed collars
Long, narrow V-or-U-necklines
Narrow vest openings
Narrow belts, preferably to match garment
Long, straight sleeves
Decoration high on the shoulder or near the neck
Skirts as long as possible to be fashionable
Boleros or short jackets
Full length coats
Coat with button-down-the-front style
Princess lines and beltless onepiece dresses
To make your short waist look longer select:
Center front closing with collarless neckline
Narrow, center panel in bodice
Long torso lines
Short skirts (within fashion limits)
Narrow or no belt
To make your long waist seem shorter select:
Wide belts and cummerbunds
Vertical lines in skirt
Skirt as long as possible to be fashionable
Boleros and short jackets
To conceal a flat chest select:
Soft front fullness (gathers, pleats, frills)
Bows at the neck
Round, soft details, such as in collars
Pockets and pocket flaps at bustline
Cuffs on sleeves adjacent to the bustline
To conceal a large bust select:
Soft front fullness, either above or below the bustline
Jabot or soft full tie at the neck line
Softly draped bodices
Lines to broaden shoulders
Soft flare in skirts
Details in skirt
To make narrow hips seem wider select:
Wide center panel in skirt
Pleated skirts, especially with wide pleats
Skirts with side drape, especially at hips
Wide or contrasting sleeve cuffs at hipline
Side pleats skirt
Large patch pockets, especially toward side of skirt
To make wide hips or large thighs seem more narrow select:
Soft fullness or gores in skirt
Narrow center panels (attracts eye away from silhouette)
Widening effect at the waistline
Shallow skirt yokes
Loose, short jackets
Bodice emphasis at the shoulders
To hide a sway-back select:
Short jackets ending below the waistline
Belts buckled at the back
Crushed belts or cummerbunds
Lengthened, loose bodices
To hide a prominent abdomen select:
Details away from the center front
Styles without belts
Bodices with easy gathers at the waistline
Cord belts that tie to the side of the tummy
Details above waistline
Dresses with a side-wrap
Narrow, self-fabric belts
To conceal round shoulders select:
Slightly bloused backs
Blouse gathered at waistline
To make your broad shoulders seem more narrow select:
Oval or V-necklines
Narrow collars and lapels
Horizontal lines in the skirt
To make your narrow shoulders seem wider select:
Horizontal lines at chest
Wide, cape-like collars
Diagonal lines to tip of shoulders
To make a short, plump neck appear longer select:
Narrow, deep V-necklines
Narrow, flat, and pointed collars
To make a long skinny neck appear shorter select:
Curved, high necklines
Soft, full or deep collars
Scarves and ascots
If you have a square face select:
Deep, oval necklines
Soft, rounded collars
If you have a triangular face select:
High, square or round necklines
High draped necklines
If you have a long face select:
High, round necklines
Softly rounded collars
High, rolled collars
Bows, scarves and ascots
If your have a round face select:
Narrow, deep V-necklines
Small, Pointed collars
Long, narrow collars
New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.Reprinted May 2001
Electronic Distribution August 2001