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The Results Are In! Do Horizontal Stripes Affect the Way You Look?

Val Waltham watching a student work.
Val with some of the striped garments used in her experiment.
Irradiation Illusion decribed by Hermann von Helmholtz, a 19th century physiologist. Notice that the black rectangle surrounded by white appears to be smaller than the white rectangle surrounded by black.
Val Waltham watching a student work.

Val Waltham watching a student work.

Photo: Courtesy of UCA

In April 2012, I posted a blog about research that was being done to determine if striped garments can really affect the perception of your shape. Val Waltham's planned an experiment to resolve this issue for which she received the BBC's (British Broadcasting Company) Amateur Scientist of the Year Award. Val used Fashion Design students from the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) at Rochester, United Kingdom, to assist with her project. The students not only made the striped garments for the project, but also acted as models during the evaluation process. Since January, the UCA team of volunteers helped make a range of shirts and dresses with the stripes positioned horizontally as well as vertically. They were then filmed wearing each of the dresses and shirts, plus a plain black alternative.

Later in April, the videos were taken to the BBC Science tent at the Edinburgh Science Festival where 500 visitors viewed the videos and were asked to estimate what size the model was in each of the clips. To make sure the study was scientifically valid, Val worked with psychologist Dr. Peter Thompson from the University of York who is an expert in visual perception.

The results are no surprise: Wearing vertical stripes makes you seem taller and in horizontal stripes, you'll look wider. But black is still the most slimming choice for clothing. The presumed reason that black makes us look thinner is due to another visual effect discovered by Hermann von Helmholtz, a Prussian physiologist in the 19th Century. He called this principle "irradiation illusion" in which a black rectangle surrounded by white looks smaller than the same rectangle in white surrounded by black.

I'm not sure these results are going to change the clothes I wear too much. I like to wear clothes that I feel good in. I don't necessarily pay a lot of attention to whether they make me look bigger, taller, slimmer, or whatever. Besides, these results merely confirm what I've always thought to be true. Will the results change the way you dress?


Comments (11)

tissy tissy writes: Just one other comment on the study done. If we are concerned about whether something makes us look heavy or makes our "butt look big", then we should probably dress to please our "thin" inner woman, not other people's tastes! If someone is going to be thoughtless enough to comment on your weight/size, it really doesn't matter what you wear! If it makes you feel pretty and confident - wear it!

Posted: 11:58 am on July 10th

tissy tissy writes: So, what happens if you make a shirt/top/dress that is vertical stripes on one front and back panel and horizontal stripes on the other? Or bias cut? I'm planning a wide stripe denim blue/cream stripe shirt that is going to be horizontal and vertical mixed - probably blocks top and bottom that go different directions, then collar also mixed. I'll let you know what the reaction is. LOL I'm thinking the sleeves need to be confusing also. Maybe I'll add some dots somewhere. Now I hope I bought enough fabric for this experiment. Love the fabric, I hope it turns out cute.
Posted: 11:54 am on July 10th

NinaLBoston NinaLBoston writes: ArtsySharon is very observant about seeking grants -- I think this works in the USA too (our tax dollars misspent!).

I truly believe that dark colors make objects appears smaller and like user1123429 I use mostly dark colors on my big bottom. However, I won't use stripes of ANY kind - not vertical, nor horizontal, nor diagonal. Any kind of stripe only accentuates my rounded figure in a way I find unappealing. I learned long ago that curvy women should stay away from pinstripes!

Posted: 12:20 pm on July 9th

fotofashion fotofashion writes: And just how often do you wear black and stand against a white wall? (or vice versa) This comparison might be interesting but it has nothing to do with real life. Additionally, I cannot wear black near my face, it sucks every bit of color out of my face. These "reports" just take up space in the magazine but really are not very helpful. IMHO
Posted: 6:40 pm on July 7th

Mamato8 Mamato8 writes: I think the size of the stripes makes a difference on the illusion. Very small stripes, just look like a pastel from a little bit back. Very wide stripes, as in color blocking, can make a big difference! If you make a princess line dress with a light color in the middle section and carve out curves with a dark color on the sides, this can have an amazing slimming effect!

As for the color boxes? Black looking heavier, does not equal black looking larger. Different concepts.

I have been using illusion for years with my clothing! People constantly underestimate my size by 2 sizes and weight by 20 pounds.
Posted: 1:51 am on July 7th

rkr4cds1 rkr4cds1 writes: I totally disagree with the 'blanket statement' about the conclusions made for all persons perceptions about the black vs. white and stripes: a least to my eye that the black rectangle surrounded by all of the white appears larger due to the amount of white:
I find quite the opposite to be true. The black in the right-side of the image appears to shrink or push in on the white rectangle, exactly as you were unintendedly describing with your same principle ".. the black surrounding the white makes it [the white] appear smaller..")
With the background being white in the left-hand image, the black rectangle appears to swell and appear larger.
I've just had a complete eye exam last week (empty wallet now!!) and I'm just calling this a case of 'The Emporer's New Clothes'.. aka - my opinion only.

As to stripes, in this stark design especially, once you can actually count the number of stripes across the body and compare it to a horizontal stripe design, I've always felt that there is a definite impression of more width in the vertical stripe!! Perhaps if the effect was softened with a different style of stripe it mightn't be so obvious..?
Posted: 2:49 pm on July 6th

Dsapsmith Dsapsmith writes: Fun to see sage advice handed down by our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers confirmed. Perception plays an important part in fashion and in our lives.
Posted: 2:31 pm on July 6th

user-1123429 user-1123429 writes: Since I'm larger at the bottom than the top, I have greatly simplified my wardrobe by wearing dark colored simple slacks and jeans and using more decorative or colorful tops and jackets. I appreciate this article.
Posted: 2:17 pm on July 6th

Sharon_Carbine Sharon_Carbine writes: Val Waltham did a lot of work in the United Kingdom to discover information that is general knowledge in the United Stated, and the BBC gave her an award. Interesting. This demonstrates that all of us can do something that will receive an award if we try.
Posted: 1:41 pm on July 6th

NurseNancy NurseNancy writes: I'm not sure about the wearing black thing. I once saw a program (Trinny and Susannah, can't remember the episode) where they had a variety of boxes in different colours. They asked a range of people which box looked the heaviest and most people answered BLACK.

Posted: 1:22 pm on July 6th

user-1111398 user-1111398 writes: This was very interesting and helpful
Posted: 1:37 pm on July 5th

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