Face shapes

Happy new year!

Face shape is oft forgotten when hairstyles become trendy. The pixie cut, for example, flatters very few faces. I am not a hairstylist (I actually know next to nothing about hairstyles), but some general advice can be given. Let’s start, though, with the basic question: what face shape do you have?

The Rules

I like to keep this simple: long and short. I’m a lumper, not a splitter. The most typical descriptions are “oval” and “round” respectively. Other shapes have been defined by jawline and hairline, but they really are just variations on these two basic shapes.

  • You have an long face if your face is distinctly longer than it is wide. Variations include rectangular and oblong. You may have an “oval” face.
  • You have a short face if your face is roughly as long as it is wide – it ranges from literally round (like Ginnifer Goodwin) to more moderately short (like Scarlett Johanson). Variations include diamond, heart, and square. You may have a “petite” or “small” face.

Just pull your hair back in a ponytail; it should be evident to the naked eye, but measure if you must.

Styling the long face

Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor

The oval face is envied as the ideal face shape due to the “golden ratio” of proportions. Any shape of earring will flatter your face because you have both dimensions working in your favour. However, an earring that is not your specific face shape would be better – if your face is oval, opt for square earrings or triangular – we don’t want to echo your face shape. If your face is rectangular, opt for circular or oval earrings – your square jawline will be softened this way.

A hairstyle that adds width to your face is better than one that adds height – that would just echo the length of your face.  If your forehead is high, bangs can help to balance your face and your eyes. In my opinion a middle part flatters best because it maintains the balance.

Many famous women have long faces: Elizabeth Taylor, Kate Winslet, Grace Kelly, Jennifer Aniston, Heidi Klum, Angelina Jolie, Cher, Marissa Tomei, Gisele Bundchen, Rita Hayworth, Natalie Portman, Keira Knightly, and many others. Consider yourself in good company.

Styling the short face

Ingrid Bergman

Ingrid Bergman

I admit some bias towards this shape as I have a moderately short face. So sue me 😛 This section will be longer because we have more to contend with than long faces. Short faces tend to have fuller cheeks,  strong jawlines, small foreheads, and your mouth, eyes, nose, and cheeks all appear “scrunched together.” I’ve also noticed our noses tend to be longer and appear to extend further from the side, but that could just be me.

Two big clinchers regarding hairstyles: the part, and the cut. One: Wear a side part! Yes, I command you. I wore a middle part for years and I always hated my hairstyle; I moved it over and everything changed. I refuse to middle-part now. I wear a deep side-part in the style of Lauren Bacall.

Two: add height. Avoid any wide styles or side layers. You want to add height to your face because your face is small. My hair is long so most styles are difficult to impossible for me to easily implement, but I cheat by wearing heidi braids (Princess-Leia-Hoth style) or high headbands that mimic that style. It helps to bring out my cheekbones. Ironically, Carrie Fisher has a long face. Bangs can overpower your face. Long hair with curls below the chin can look fabulous.

Short faces are hidden beneath hair styles and cosmetics. Many women have this face shape, including the gorgeous Ingrid Bergman, Sofia Loren, Scarlett Johanson, Cameron Diaz, Ginnifer Goodwin, Kirsten Dunst, and Emma Stone.

 In sum…

Long faces achieve the golden ratio, so there is less work needed to flatter them. Short faces can easily appear wide so your hairstyles should always add height instead. Wear a side part on your best side to balance and add volume.

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.

Balance and proportion

Appearing balanced is probably the most important concept regarding style, with colour theory a close second. Each woman has a unique body and face shape that can be successfully styled with the right pieces. By combining your proper colours with a flattering outfit, you have a solid foundation set towards looking amazing.

What is balance? It means to create a pleasing aesthetic to the eye. This ranges from wearing a higher waist on a long torso, to wearing square earrings on a round face (like your’s truly). Balancing is achieved through various ways, perhaps through colour, cinching your waist, hemlines, a coat, etc. This does not mean that certain “unflattering” items are completely off-limits, but those items are significantly harder to style in a way that flatters you.

The golden ratio

Golden Ratio, 1:1.6

This is the heart and foundation of a balanced look. This won’t come up often, but it is worth learning about because it is important to both mathematics and art. The golden ratio or rectangle relies on the rule of thirds. If you flip this rectangle, the pink region would be, for example, your forehead – it should occupy one third of the rectangle. For body shapes, the ideal arrangement is that the torso and above occupies roughly one third and the hips and legs the rest of the two thirds. Roughly.

This is considered a universally pleasing aesthetic that has influenced art for centuries. It actually serves to illustrate our natural desire for proportion better than anything else.

Why bother with balance? Can’t I wear whatever I want?

The answer is, yes, you can wear whatever you want. No one’s stopping you but one day you’ll get a glimpse of yourself in a glass window and you realize the error of your ways.

Our goal is to counter extremes to create a harmonious look. When buying clothes, always ask yourself the simple question: does this outfit emphasize my dominant area? It could be your legs, your bust, your shoulders, whatever.  You will know it when you see it. These aren’t problem areas or areas you should hide or be ashamed of, but instead look at as the “perfect area” that needs no extra attention – if you have fantastic legs, they will be noticed no matter what, if you dress well (hiding them behind yoga pants does you no favours). But you are not your legs only, and every part of your body is amazing – some areas just need more help than others.