Hemlines, Waistlines, Necklines, and Stripes: The Importance of Lines

Ah, lines. Not the fine feathery friends soon to be (or in some cases, already) ensconced around our eyes. There is the familiar fashion rule that horizontal lines are slimming and vertical lines are widening. Why is that? Why do hemlines look most flattering when cut just above the knee? Why does the waistline matter to proportions?

Two ideas of note about lines

  • Lines divide our frames and where these divides occur are very important
  • Dense lines appear to narrow or thin, sparse lines widen or thicken

Horizontal and vertical stripes are prime suspects in optical illusions. Wide and narrow lines are runners up. Perhaps next to dots and large, obnoxious patterns, nothing else can add or subtract inches to your hips. Why do some horizontal stripes flatter, but  you never see vertical stripes of any width on trend?

I don’t know for sure, but the problem may lie in our body plan. Some creatures like starfish have a five-fold symmetry, others a radial symmetry like jellyfish, but humans (along with all other mammals, birds, fish, etc) have a bilateral symmetry (two identical halves) down our vertical axis (a line from head to toe). Perhaps vertical lines emphasize this symmetry and draw our eyes to the widest parts of our bodies. Horizontal lines may serve to counteract our natural vertical division.

How do we use lines to our advantage?

First, skirt hemlines: the new standard casual dress length is thirty-six inches which is well above the knees (my disdain for this obscenely short length is the topic of another post). This is unfortunately growing in popularity with both customers, for the sex factor, and designers, for the cost factor. Yes, you show some leg but the problem is that if you are an average-leg-length woman this hemline cuts you off  where your thighs are widening. The majority of my skirts hit just at the knee where the leg is slimmer.

Second, read about waistlines and it is easy to see where the location of a belt or shirt hemlines makes or breaks our outfit and aesthetic line. The belt breaks up your look and divides your bust from your hips.

Third, the interactions between jewellery and necklines. This is also involves the length of your neck and the size of your chest, but your neckline is another line domain. If you’re busty, “skin necklines” such as v-necks, scoops, princess, and similar necklines “break up” your chest. If you’re not as busty, high-necks are most flattering.

But we knew this. Only certain necklaces can be paired with certain necklines. I will elaborate later, but  necklaces should not mimic the neckline too closely, and often work best when countering the neckline. So low, skin necklines look best with short necklaces, wide necklines and high necklines look best with long necklaces. This all deals with countering the dominant line of the neckline.

For example: chokers are alluring with an open neck, but look stuffy with a crew neck. On the other hand a long necklace that drapes over a v-neck seems unneccessary because it mimics the neckline.

In summary

Lines can be cleverly used beyond avant-garde French designs to actually define our shapes without a lot of leg work. These simple two-dimensional objects should usually be used to counter each other instead of mimicking.

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