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.

Style is Costume

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players – Jacques, As You Like It

I was a late-bloomer in style, but even as a child I loved playing “dress-up.” If I was to work in fashion I would work in the film costume industry. A character has a core essence that makes them unique and the designer must capture that essence in a few outfits seen on screen that we are supposed to be believe, for the sake of the film, that character chose those clothes.  This of course is a suspension of disbelief, but a more fundamental suspension than computer generated effects, as a mis-dressed character is a ruder jolt than a pixelated barbarian horde.

My style is influenced primarily by film and TV show characters. As dressing for my figure has been my greatest challenge I usually start with a character with a figure similar to mine. I single out winning outfits from movies and seek out similar pieces, maybe not to recreate the entire outfit, but with knowledge that it would look great on me.

You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for God’s sake! – Iris Simpkins, The Holiday

That quote is a little out of context, but still relevant. In the same way real people are characters too; we each have a core essence that makes us unique that we feel our clothes reflect, and we really do choose our outfits everyday. Unless we all make our own clothes, no one is unique in style. Every day I choose a different costume, a different character to play, and as we mature those characters become fewer and more deeply developed. We are each characters in our own lives.

You should seek your own style. I rarely read fashion blogs because they’re just that… fashion. The herd mentality. I know all of two fashion blogs. Style blogs are more my taste, especially vintage. In one way I allow characters to influence my style, but I chose those characters because they reflect something of myself. It’s cyclical. I very rarely use celebrities as style muses. It is here that the discussion can turn to the deterioration of style but that is for another day.

Do what’s good for you, or you’re not good for anybody. – Billy Joel, “James”

Often fashion websites warn against “looking costumey.” This is of course after they have removed one cool vintage piece from the style context that made it cool. Cast that illogic aside: we all play costume. If you want to wear an outfit straight out of 1974 or 1958 with every piece either reproduction or vintage, then go for it. Why should the pinheaded sheep who wrote three sentences in a slideshow or a magazine care? Why do you care if he/she cares? Heaven forbid wearing vintage 80s jeans with a big slouchy 80s-repro sweater crosses the line between homage and costume. If you like wearing it, then wear it.

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.

As long as you’re “confident”

If the dress was cerulean, not sky, blue...

If the dress was cerulean, not sky, blue…

You can wear any colour as long as you’re confident.

Sound familiar? That’s the favourite easy advice of fashion “experts.” Part of me thinks it’s a ploy so that you don’t regret buying that trendy colour even though you look positively sick wearing it.

With our subject to the left, that brunette in sky blue is impeccably styled and yet she looks… washed out. Do we see her confidence? I don’t think so.

I believe that when you look good, you will be confident. This requires objective knowledge of what flatters you. I know that I am stylish from within, but we’ve all been there: the perfect new outfit laid out in my closet the night before is a horrendous disaster in the morning. My confidence is zero, and I will not leave the house until it is at full throttle. On the flipside, we all get that little extra bounce in our step when wearing our favourite (flattering) skirt or shoes. You know the irony of it, though? We can trick ourselves into thinking we look good and thus feel confident. For example…

I am a winter, but I naively acquired pieces in oatmeal or pale lavender. I wore them proudly. I didn’t know any better, and I thought I looked good. I was confident. In reality I looked horrible, but I was confident that I looked good. See my point? Confidence is very subjective and it should not be relied upon – I have completely lacked confidence when taking style risks that ultimately improved my look, and my confidence increased from there.

If Zooey, a classic winter, had selected this dress in any jewel tone, or since her eyes are blue, a vivid blue instead of sky blue, she would have hit it out of the park.

Forget confidence in a vacuum. This means investing in a body-length mirror and a well-lit room, acquiring clothes in shades that flatter you, and dressing your figure. No exceptions, if’s, and’s, or but’s. Confidence will come from within.