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Do stripes really make you look thinner?

Val Watham with 2 striped dresses in progress.

The current issue of Threads (issue no. 161, July 2012) features a fabulous striped dress on the cover. The stripes are both horizontal (across the bust) and vertical (around the hips and below), and everything I’ve learned tells me wearing the dress will create the perception of a larger bust and smaller hips (an appearance most of us would welcome). In fact we’re working on an article for our next issue (no. 162, September 2012) by Susan Lazear on this subject which will show you how to tap into this “visual opportunity” when you sew.

BBC Radio 4
is a British domestic radio station owned and operated by the BBC (British Broadcasting Company). Their weekly science show Material World has selected 4 finalists in a contest (So You Want to Be a Scientist!) to find the Amateur Scientist of the Year. Among the finalists is Val Watham, who devised an experiment to test whether stripes affect people’s perception of size. She then turned to Fashion Design students at The University for the Creative Arts (UCA) in Rochester, United Kingdom, for assistance. They have been working to settle the age-old question of whether stripes really can make you look thinner.

A team of volunteers from UCA’s Fashion Design course stitched a variety of shirts and dresses with stripes positioned horizontally and/or vertically. Students were then filmed wearing each of the dresses and shirts, plus a plain black alternative. Visitors to the BBC Science tent at the Edinburgh International Science Festival this month (April 2012) will be asked to watch the videos and estimate the model’s size in each clip. To make sure the study is scientifically valid, Val worked with psychologist Dr Peter Thompson from the University of York. He is an expert in visual perception and assisted in the development of the test.

Val hopes “that the data we gather from this experiment will shed more light on the way different patterns affect our perception of size.” Student Luq Ali added: “I own loads of stripy clothes, and I definitely do think they have an impact on perception of size. I can’t wait until the findings are revealed.” The results of Val’s experiment will be revealed at the Cheltenham Science Festival in June.

I personally hope this experiment will corroborate my assumptions based upon what I’ve been told over the years, but I’ve never owned clothing that validated this theory. From your experience with sewing, fashion, and style, what do you think the results will show? Have you ever made a garment that was unexpectedly flattering and you attributed it to the lines of the garment or the fabric’s pattern? Please tell us about it.


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  1. LoveAtFirstStitch | | #1

    Yes, I think the results will show that vertical stripes and other vertical lines/details have a slimming effect. Conversely, horizontal lines/stripes/details make one look larger. However, the size of the stripe also tempers the result. In my experience, smaller to medium stripes are usually slimming while very wide stripes often give the opposite effect. I learned this the hard way when my husband purchased a shirt with three vertical stripes - in red, white, & blue for a 4th of July celebration. The shirt was not flattering to his abundant figure. But he loved it, so I tolerated it!

  2. limer | | #2

    I've heard that vertical stripes do NOT make one look thinner, but horizontal stripes do! I've seen it through line drawing of vertical vs horizontal, that shows this to be true. I forget the exact reason why this is true, though.

  3. limer | | #3

    I found an article from 2008 that talks about this:

  4. sewsassylaura | | #4

    Being a person of the short round persuasion, I have used vertical stripes to try and alter that perception for years. Based on my personal experience, I would say that blocks of color running on a vertical plane work better than stripes. Ultimately, it's more a question of attitude then anything else. If you feel good about the way you look, you carry yourself with a more upright and confident manor, so it doesn't matter what shape (and yes, round is a shape) you are.

  5. LauriR | | #5

    Being tall and large, I find that small vertical stripes seem to be a little better that small horizontal stripes, but only a little bit. The best, though, is when the fabric is cut so that the stripes are placed diagonally into a chevron pattern - that's the ultimate good look for stripes in my mind. And stripes that vary in width generally look better than stripes that are equal widths. (For instance, a small white pinstripe against wider navy stripes.)

  6. mommyval | | #6

    One of my favorite blouses had princess seams. I was using a dark print for the front, back and sleeves, and I used a plain black for the sides. I used to wear it with a black skirt, and it definitely made my waistline look better, while the fit downplayed my busty-ness. Princess seams really seem to be the way to go if you are overly endowed in that area, because they fit in the chest, without getting all big in the waist.

  7. SEWNYA | | #7

    I am not certain that I can explain what I learned many many years ago, but it works! If the stripe causes your eyes to go up and down when you look at it from a little distance, that will help achieve a slimming effect. However, if the stripe causes your eyes to go from side to side, that will have the effect of making you look wider. For instance, a wide stripe with several distinct colors will cause you eyes to go side to side, going from one stripe to another. If however, there is one distinct stripe that causes your eyes to go up and down that will have the opposite effect. There are also stripes that placed horizontally, will make you look slimmer because they draw the eyes upward. Practice looking at different stripes from a short distance and you will soon learn to see where your eyes naturally go. Then you can use them to your best advantage to takes the eyes where you want them to go.

  8. 4denise | | #8

    I have found that it depends on the stripes and the body. How they interact will be different for each match. I am full-figured and I have worn horizontal stripes with great success. The only way to know for sure is to try it on.

    I find it very interesting that, in the picture at the top, the vertical striped dress looks bigger than the horizontal striped dress. I could account for this by noting that the vertical striped dress is closer to the camera, but I don't think that is sufficient to explain it.

    In the end, I suspect that they will find out what I have already said: it depends.

  9. Mamato8 | | #9

    I think the princess lines are flattering to any woman with a bust. I took a pattern making class that we were required to make our croquis (outlines of my silhouette in three views) to draw our designs on. It really helps to see how the lines of the garment draw the eye to see what you want it to see! Color blocking can have the same effect as stripes.

    I believe it will make a difference in what sizes the stripes are to influence the eye. The right size stripes can act in a slimming fashion. I don't need to make my shoulders broader. I just would like to put the curve back into my waist. That's why I like dresses better. Dresses skim over my flaws.

    I was just thinking that you have to be tall enough for stripes to make a positive difference.

  10. forbusiness | | #10

    I think stripes do create an optical illuson. Horizontal or vertical stipes, thin, wide or colorfulstripes will give the figure a slimmer look. The lines, width and color causes the eye and our minds to look at that space in the dimension and proportion of the stripe. If the stripe is thin we think thin. Stripes break up the space into smaller units.

  11. cathy7 | | #11

    I agree with Sewnya. Not all stripes are good and many are not good for different figures types. I like if I don't make myself sea sick. It is best to see what gives you the look you want. Color will also play a part in the strip you like for you body type.

  12. LucyJane | | #12

    Yes I think that vertical stripes are a crowd pleaser. But I think that horizonal stripes have their place too. I think they look very nice layered under a tailored jacket or v-necked cardigan sweater.

  13. User avater
    Stitcher75 | | #13

    Diagonal stripes, pointing to the right places, work best for me right now. I feel like lines on the axes (horizontal or vertical) make me look wider than I really am. These days, I can't afford that!

  14. Cantfieldkeep | | #14

    Very well composed article, Enjoyed that.

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