Category Archives: style development

The Triumph of Individual Style – part 6

With some facial asymmetry and wavy body side view contour added to the list of findings, let’s move on to chapter 5 and talk about scale.

Starting with bone structure, we’re looking at wrists and ankles and deciding if they are thin/small, medium, or thick/large. The larger the bone structure, the larger the scale. Also, your wrists and ankles may be of different scales (combination), and your total body size has no bearing on your bone structure scale (so a large woman may have small or medium bone structure and a small woman may have medium or large bone structure).

The bone structure scale determines the scale of construction details, such as topstitching, ribbing, plackets, width of purse and shoe straps, and width of heels. With the exception of purse and shoe straps (small is under ½”, medium is ½” to 1″, and large is 1″ to 1½”), the book doesn’t have specific measurements but it does have a very handy diagram illustrating garments with details of varying scale for visual comparison.

Scale - prints and handbags

My wrist and ankles are quite narrow. Bracelets are almost always too big, watches need multiple links removed to fit, and I won’t even get into how most shoes look oversized and clunky with my skinny ankles sticking out of them. So small scale details for me – thin topstitching, narrow plackets, ribbing, and pleats, narrow heels or thin-soled flats, and skinny purse and shoe straps. This pretty much aligns with my preferences already.

Next up are facial features. Here, we are once again looking at the lines in the face, this time assessing their length and width. The shorter and thinner a line is, the smaller its scale; the longer and thicker a line is, the larger its scale. Lines that are short and thick or long and thin are classified as medium scale. There is also an extra-large scale (think Anne Hathaway).

In my picture below, I see eyebrows of medium length and narrow width, medium eyes, a somewhat short nose of medium width across the bridge and across the tip, an upper lip of medium length and a width, and a fairly thick, fairly long lower lip. This part is time-consuming because it takes a lot of back and forth, looking at the illustrations in the book and comparing. It’s easy to tell the difference between small and extra-large, but where does medium start and end?

Line - face

At any rate, I’m counting 2 small, 6 medium, 2 large, and 0 extra-large scale points. That means the details related to facial features (jewelry, prints, pockets, belt buckles, buttons, bows, ruffles, and other decorative bits in the upper part of the body) should be mostly medium scale, with a bit of leeway in both directions. It is possible that with my head being so small, my best bet will be on the smaller side of medium scale range.

And now, the body’s apparent size, which refers to the amount of space the body appears to take. As before, the longer and wider the body, the larger its apparent size/scale, and the shorter and narrower the body, the smaller its apparent size/scale. Crossover, such as a short wide body, is considered medium scale.

Apparent body size indicates how much body space you can use for details and decoration, especially in the lower part of the body, and it determines the best handbag size – the larger the space, the larger the details that will fit it and the larger the handbag. Someone whose apparent body size is large but facial features are small, could use small details in clusters to be in scale with the body size. Someone else with a small apparent body size and large facial features might use one large detail, such as a brooch, and leave it at that.

At 5’5½”, I am of a medium height. Definitely not short (that is usually 5’3″ and below, at least according to Burda magazine) and certainly far from tall. I tend to think of my size as pretty medium but I’m consistently told I am skinny. I can see it to some extent on the few group photos I have, but never in the mirror. Not in a body dysmorphic disorder way, but more in the sense that what we see in the mirror becomes “the norm” by which we judge everything else. Does that make sense?

To summarize the findings from this chapter’s exercises:
Small scale bone structure – small scale details (thin topstitching, narrow plackets, ribbing, and pleats, thin heels or thin-soled flats, and skinny purse and shoe straps).
Medium scale facial features – medium scale details in the upper part of the body (jewelry, prints, pockets, belt buckles, buttons, bows, ruffles, and other decorative bits).
Small-medium scale apparent body size – small to medium details in the lower part of the body and a small to medium handbag. (I already like my handbags small so that’s good, but what’s with the details in the lower part of the body? I have legs there!)

Again, a chapter with lots of information. Luckily for me, it looks like I can stick to the small-medium detail sizes for all of this, but I can imagine that someone who’s all over the spectrum could take a bit longer to solidify this information into specific design ideas.

The next chapter deals with color and has a very interesting color chart. I’ll be back to talk about it tomorrow.

The Triumph of Individual Style – part 5

We’ve looked at face and body lines, shape/silhouette, length proportions, and balance points. Let’s move on to chapter 4 where we examine the symmetry/asymmetry in the face and body, body contour in the side view, and then address specific body particulars.

Starting with the body, I don’t see any obvious asymmetry, nor do I have to adjust patterns separately for left and right side, so I’m saying my body is symmetrical. My face, however, is a very different story. This is how I look to the casual observer:

Face original

I see some asymmetry, especially the eyebrows, which I had noted in the lines in the face exercise. I figured there might be more and to see it, I cut the picture in half and mirror-imaged the halves, then spliced them together right-to-right-and left-to-left. The result – two different faces:

Faces

The face on the left has a more angular/masculine jawline while the face on the right looks more curved and feminine. The neck on the left looks a little wide, but I think that is thanks to the tilt of my head in that picture because in other pictures (of course I played with other pictures, too, you didn’t think I was going to post these for everyone to see without making sure I couldn’t do something better, did you?), my neck looked about even in both pictures. I keep looking at the symmetrical pictures, but I still like the original the best.

So, definitely asymmetry in the face*. What does that mean in terms of clothing? It means that asymmetrical styling details will harmonize with my face. (This may explain my preference for tying scarves with the knot to one side.) Asymmetrical details could be a collar with an extended “tie” that is worn over the shoulder, or a slanted closure as in the Vogue pattern below, or maybe even a brooch pinned off center as in the Butterick pattern below.

Vintage Vogue 3370Vintage Butterick 9926

If your face is very symmetrical, then symmetrical details will be in harmony with it. If you decide to wear asymmetrical details, they will create a dramatic effect because of the contrast with your symmetry.

*Update: Based on Steph’s recommendation and the visuals from her link (see comments), I am changing this assessment to symmetrical.

You may have a symmetrical body and face, or both asymmetrical, or a combination. The asymmetrical body requires separate alterations to right and left side of the garment or pattern. Details may be symmetrical or asymmetrical, depending on the face (and the wearer’s choice, of course).

On to the whole body side view contour. We’re looking at wavy vs. flat contours, and straight vs. slanted waist. In the picture below, you can see that my contour is quite wavy. To imagine a flat contour, think flat butt, minimal back curvature, and small bust. To highlight a flat body contour, you can use stripes or other straight details (horizontal or vertical). Diagonal construction lines or details will highlight a curvy body contour.

View side

Similarly, to highlight a straight waist (level front and back), you could wear straight horizontal belts, and even add straight horizontal lines, say as patch pockets on a safari style jacket. To highlight a slanted waist, you can repeat the diagonal line in an angled skirt yoke, angled jacket hem, or a slouchy belt. I think mine is straight, even though it’s hard to tell from the photo.

OK, that’s been quite a bit of how to highlight this, harmonize with that. And there’s more. The whole first part of this chapter (29 pages of it) contains suggestions for highlighting and camouflaging specific features, such as forward slanting neck, sloping shoulders, square shoulders, etc. The beauty of it is that for each feature, there are both highlighting techniques and camouflaging techniques so each reader can decide which combination of features she wants to show off.

Let’s take my square, straight shoulders as an example: I can downplay them by creating a gentle curve at the shoulder and adding a collar to break up the horizontal line. Or I can highlight them by exposure (say, a halter top) or by repeating the straight horizontal line (in a yoke, for instance).

There is no good way for me to convey all the information in this section, mostly because it is not an exercise but more of a reference. You may choose to emphasize some features one day and different ones the next, especially if variety is important to you. Or you may decide that you have several assets that you will highlight every single day and develop a uniform around them. No prescriptions, just lots of options. I like that. But it does leave you with all the responsibility of making your choices which is potentially a trade-off (or turn-off even) for some people.

This post is getting quite long so I’ll wrap it up now, but not before I tell you that the next chapter is all about scale. I hope you come back to read about it.

See you soon!

The Triumph of Individual Style – part 4

Chapter 3 is all about length proportions. I did the body proportions exercise last time. Today, I’ll look at balance points for necklines, collars, and jewelry.

According to the book, most people have two balance points. Balance points refer to how far down the bodice the neckline, collar, or necklace should go, and they are determined by certain lengths in the face.

To find your first balance point, measure the distance from your hairline to your chin. You can use a length of ribbon, a string, or a ruler. (I am partial to the ruler.) Then measure the same distance from your chin down. Where it ends, is your first balance point. Mine is shown in green in the picture below; you can see it’s fairly close to the bust level. This could be where a shawl collar crosses, or where the first button on a V-neck cardigan falls.

Balance points

To find your second balance point, imagine a horizontal line across the widest part of your face, then trace (in your mind or on a photo) from it down one side of your face down around your jawline, and up the other side back to the horizontal line. Now move this shape down so that the horizontal line aligns with your shoulder line at the neck. Your second balance point is at the bottom of this shape. Mine is shown in yellow in the picture above; I think it makes a neat everyday scoop neckline and I plan to use it soon.

Of course, if your face is widest across the jaw, your second balance point will be higher. If your face is widest across the forehead, your second balance point will be lower, closer to your first balance point.

The imaginary horizontal line across the widest part of the face also indicates the minimum width of the best neckline. It’s not necessarily that the neckline should be cut that wide; it can be a construction detail that falls at that width. For instance, collars and lapels can extend out to at least the width of the face, even though the actual opening is close to the neck.

Interesting stuff, this. Imagine that the seam line where a turtleneck is attached to the bodice follows the width of the wearer’s face and falls at her second balance point. The wearer could then achieve further harmony by wearing a necklace that falls at her first balance point. Is her neck long, medium, or short? Would you even notice? I’m betting most people wouldn’t, at least not without close scrutiny. Where there is harmony, the natural reaction is to enjoy it, not dissect it.

Earlier today, I put on a striped knit top and did the above exercise in front of a mirror, with a ruler. I marked the relevant points on the top with pins (the stripes really helped; if you have a gingham mock-up of a previous project, it might be even better because it would also help with the width) and then transferred the markings to my skin with a washable marker. I happen to have a conveniently located birthmark right at my first balance point, and my second balance point is an inch and a half below a small mole. You may have similar landmarks to help you when you’re trying on muslins or RTW.

This chapter had a lot of information. It feels like the kind of chapter where you get a lot of dots and only connect some at the beginning. Then the more you apply the principles, and look for the proportion relationships and balance points, the more dots get connected. I will explore this further with future sewing projects to see if I can connect them all.

The next chapter deals with body particulars, symmetry/asymmetry, and whole body side view contours. It should be fun.

See you soon!

The Triumph of Individual Style – part 3

Having determined my face and body lines and shape/silhouette, I’m moving on to chapter 3 today – length proportions.

The first part of the chapter is an explanation of the “easy to dress” body – basically a body eight heads long with a 3:5 ratio between the top of the body (above waist) and bottom of the body (below waist). Also explained here is the Golden Mean ratio and how it’s used in clothing.

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

On to discovering my own proportions: I taped a long sheet of tracing paper to the wall and had my husband mark the important points. To do this exercise, you’ll need to mark the top of your head, the bottom of your chin (head held straight), your waist, crotch level, and mid-knee. The paper should extend to the floor so that you can also mark that level (soles of your feet). And while you’re at it, get an accurate measurement of your full height.

Head to body proportion
Measure from the top of your head to the bottom of your chin. Divide your total height by the length of your head. Eight head lengths is in proportion, less than eight heads means a long head, and more than eight means a short head.

My numbers look like this:
65.5″ / 7.75″ = 8.5 which means my head is short in proportion to my body. Not only is it short, it also has a small circumference so all those one-size-fits-all hats are always too big. My short hair style accentuates the small size of my head but other people’s preference might be to increase the visual size with a more voluminous hair style.

Upper torso
Measure from the chin to the waist. Divide the number by the length of your head. Two head lengths is in proportion, less than two heads means a short torso, and more than two heads means a long torso.

My numbers: 16.25″ / 7.75″ = 2.1 which means my upper torso is slightly long in comparison to my head. After establishing that my head is small, this is not an unexpected result, even though I actually have to shorten commercial patterns above the waist.

Rise
Measure from waist to crotch level. According to the book, this measurement is only important if you wear pants but I think it helps even if you don’t. One head length is in proportion, less than one head length means a short rise, more than one head length means a long rise.

My numbers: 6.5″ < 7.75″ which means my rise is short. Very short even, considering that with the torso, the difference was .75″ over roughly two head lengths while here the difference is 1.25″ over one head length.

Legs
Measure from the crotch level to the soles of the feet. Divide the number by the length of your head. Four head lengths is in proportion, less than four heads means short legs, and more than four heads means long legs.

My numbers: 35″ / 7.75″ = 4.5 which means my legs are long. They don’t say this in the book, but the pictures show the mid-knee level as being the middle of the leg length. Mine is actually 15.5″ from the crotch level, which happens to be two head lengths exactly so at least my thighs are in perfect proportion to my head, lengthwise anyway. That leaves 19.5″ from the knee down – this is where all my extra length is.

My findings so far: short head, slightly long torso, very short rise, very long legs.

Curious woman that I am, I decided to see how my measurements compared to the 3:5 ratio of upper body to lower body. So 65.5″ x ⅜ = 24.6″, which is only .6″ below my actual waist. Hmmm… very very close to that ratio. And, according to the book, “relationships slightly off exact ratios are often more interesting than the “perfect” curves and proportions of the “easy-to-dress” body.” So not quite perfect, but definitely interesting!

The next part of the chapter contains suggestions for optically balancing short and long parts of the body. I’m liking the idea of wearing long sleeves to optically balance long legs – that way I don’t have to cover my legs and my arms will stay warm. It’s a win-win!

OK, this is a long post already so I will leave the balance points for necklines, collars, and jewelry until next time. It will also give me some time to learn the photo editing software so I can draw lines on pictures to show you what I’m talking about.

See you soon!

The Triumph of Individual Style – part 2

Yesterday, we looked at line in the face and body. In today’s post we move on to chapter 2 – body shape and silhouette.

Here is my crude representation of the six shapes in the book:
Body shapes
The first two, rectangle and oval, are wide-waisted shapes. The middle two, figure-eight and hourglass, are narrow-waisted shapes. The last two, triangle and inverted triangle, may be wide- or narrow-waisted.

This exercise requires an honest look in the mirror. The point here is not to dress your fantasy body, nor the body you fear you have. Self-acceptance is key here (but I don’t know if it is a pre-requisite or if it comes as a result of this exercise).

You need to assess both front and back view because they may not show the same shape. I find that the assessment is fairly easy in the front. After all, that is the familiar view – you see it in the mirror every day. The back is a whole different ball of wax. For the longest time, I thought my shape from the back was rectangular. Until I really studied this picture:

View back

When I was taking these pictures last year, it didn’t occur to me to tie something around my waist. I should have done that because that T-shirt isn’t narrow enough to cling at the waist. But even without showing the true narrowness of my waist, this picture shows an hourglass shape from the back. Not even close to the rectangle I was expecting. And look at how straight my shoulders are – there’s hardly any slope at all. (This is not cool when your favorite vintage patterns require sloped shoulders to look good.)

Rundschau Feb 56 front

See those sloping shoulders?

Once you determine your natural shape(s), there are ideas and illustrations of clothing that suits each shape the best. The squareness of my shoulders puts me in the hourglass section (even though I like the illustrations of the figure-eight styles better). The hourglass shape requires clothing that emphasizes the waist, accommodates the straight shoulders, and flares over the hips. This flaring can be achieved in a fuller skirt or with a short peplum over a narrow skirt. I don’t care for fuller skirts but the peplum bit may explain why I like this picture very much:

Red cardigan - back 1

It satisfies all the requirements: waist emphasis – check! straight across shoulders – check! flares over the hips – check!

If you are one of those people whose shape looks different from the front and the back, the next part of this chapter offers ideas and illustrations for accommodating your two visual shapes.

If you happen to prefer a different silhouette or are one of those people who like to experiment, this chapter offers plenty of guidance for transforming each shape into any of the others (where possible), for visual widening and narrowing of the shoulders and hips, and for visual narrowing of the waist.

So, dear readers, which shapes are yours? What are your preferred silhouettes? Or, if you don’t have this book, have you read Imogen’s explanations of the different body shapes?

The Triumph of Individual Style

Since being analyzed as a Bright Winter back in May, I’ve been focusing on bright colors. Mostly adding them to the stash, although I did make that one bright red cardigan, which I love. I have been looking forward to incorporating them into my wardrobe but I also want to do it right, you know. I don’t want to use one of my new bright colored fabrics for a garment that ultimately doesn’t work. So I’ve been re-reading The Triumph of Individual Style.*

Book TOIS
*The price on Amazon is getting ridiculous. If you want the book, I suggest you buy it from the author for a much more reasonable amount. And you’ll get more than just the book.

It’s an excellent book with detailed explanations of style concepts, such as line, shape, proportion, scale, etc. The idea is to figure out what is already present in one’s face and body and then amplify the beauty by clothing and accessory choices that create harmony and balance.

Today, I’ll tackle chapter 1 – line in the face and body. Line has movement and direction. For body lines, we’re looking at the movement: straight or curved. Five body types are recognized in the book: skeletal (straight and bony), moulded (rounded and fleshy), muscular (taut and muscular), skeletal/moulded, and moulded/muscular. The last two are combination types where the body lines above and below the waist are different. The images in the book really help illustrate the differences. My body is the skeletal/moulded type, with straight lines and bony look in the shoulders, rib cage, and upper chest, and fleshy rounded look in the hips, thighs, and derriere. (Your body may be the other way: moulded up top and skeletal below the waist.)

The structural design of one’s clothing should correspond to the lines of one’s body. In terms of fabrics, straight lines look good in medium-taut to taut fabric, such as medium-weight cottons, wool flannel, wool crepe, and leather. Curved lines look good in medium-drape to fluid fabric, such as wool challis, wool jersey, fine knits, and chiffon.

For lines in the face, we’re looking at both movement (straight or curved) and direction (horizontal, vertical, or diagonal).
Line - face

What I see here is one eyebrow curved and diagonal-ish, the other a little bit straighter and more horizontal. The eyes look curved to me, although not particularly round, and horizontal if you draw a line from inner corner to outer corner. The sides of the nose look straight and vertical, the tip of the nose curved and horizontal. The mouth looks both curved (lips) and straight (corner to corner), and horizontal. The hairline is curved with diagonal and horizontal elements. The sides of the face are straight-ish and vertical. The jaw and chin are curved and diagonal.

I hope I did that right. Tallying up the numbers, I get 6 curved and 4 straight, and 5 horizontal, 3 diagonal, and 2 vertical. My interpretation is that the line movement of my face is predominantly curved and moving predominantly in a horizontal direction. I’m not sure if the diagonal is a close-enough runner-up to count.

The last part of this chapter deals with choosing patterns and prints. (This is where things usually get difficult for me – I am very much a fan of solid colors.) Here, the line movement of the pattern should agree with the line of the face, so curved and horizontal for me. Then, we look at clarity of the edges, space around the print, and scale.

Prints

Various prints from my previous projects.

In the face picture above, my features look well-defined, except for the lips, which look fairly undefined. In real life, I rarely go without lipstick or lip gloss so I looked at some of my recent project pictures and my lips definitely look well-defined there. I’m sticking with well-defined edges for now. The space around my facial features appears fairly moderate. (Good luck with this part; I just don’t see enough of a difference in the faces used to illustrate the concept, although it is quite clear in the fabric patterns.) And scale – I think small to medium. Scale is discussed in greater depth in a later chapter so I may come back and edit if it turns out that small to medium is not it.

So, to summarize: my body type is skeletal/moulded so my predominant structural lines in clothing should be straight in the upper body and curved in the lower body. My best fabrics are medium-taut to medium-drape fabrics. The features of my face are small to medium in scale, predominantly curved and horizontal, with well-defined edges, and a moderate amount of space around them. My fabric prints should reflect that.

Dear readers, do you have this book? If you have worked through it, what did you think? If you haven’t, will you join me and work along with me so we can compare notes?