What is balance in dress?

It’s like balance any place else.

SeesawFor example, if you put a big kid on one end of a seesaw and a little kid on the other end, what happens?

The big kid hits the ground and the little kid pops up in the air…and stays there.

Game over. No ride for them.

Because a seesaw works best if the riders are of equal size. They balance each other out.

It’s the same way with dress.

Why Balance is Important

The eye seeks balance unconsciously.

So if the elements of an outfit balance each other out, our eyes move over the ensemble easily.

But if they don’t, if there’s too much of one thing and not enough of another, the mind stumbles, trying to assess what’s amiss.

It’s unsettling. Chaotic. We look away.

For example:

Balanced and pleasing No balance - chaos
Balance No Balance

On the left, the heavily embroidered fitted bodice and slim arms offset the wide, flowing skirt.

What’s more, the bits of embroidery at the hips and hem create a rhythm that makes the skirt interesting.

All in all, it’s pleasing to look at.

But the dress on the right has too many ruffles and too much in-your-face yellow.

It’s over-the-top, lacks balance, and all those ruffles on her midsection visually add about 30 pounds.

Probably not what she was going for.

See the difference?

Once you understand what to look for, it makes so much more sense.

The Science of Balance

So how can you achieve balance in dress?

The ancient Greeks solved it mathematically.

As noted in the article about proportion, everything boiled down to math for them, including art, dress, and the human body.

So if it was divisible, it could be balanced.

If not, it couldn’t.

For example:

One Half

The body is divided in half, offering equal balance.

One Half BalanceJil Sander

One Third, Two Thirds

The body is divided into thirds, offering one-third of one thing, and two-thirds of another.

Two Thirds BalanceAgnona

Two Thirds BalanceEmilio Pucci

One Sixth

The body is divided into sixths, with one-sixth offering drama and impact and the remaining five-sixths creating a backdrop for the attention-grabber.

One Sixth BalanceDiane von Furstenberg

One Sixth BalanceRalph Lauren

See how this works?

If you think in terms of dividing your body mathematically, whether in half, in thirds, in sixths, etc., it makes creating balance so much easier.

Imbalance in Dress

So what are some examples of imbalance?


There is no clear mathematical division here.

You see a lot of material, and then your eyes shift from the necklace to the sandals as both compete for attention.

It’s kind of chaotic, and you don’t know where to look first.

ImbalancedMichael Michael Kors

The tall, long-legged blonde is certainly beautiful, but the clunky boots immediately draw your attention to the feet and keep the dress from visually dividing her in half.

If she’d worn navy or skin-toned pumps, it would look more balanced.

It’s not horrible, but you definitely get a, “What’s wrong with this picture?” vibe here.

What’s wrong is that it doesn’t add up.

ImbalancedFree People

Aside from the fact that the delicate crocheted dress and the clunky boots don’t go together, this ensemble also misses the mark mathematically.

The dress is two-thirds, but the boots are one-sixth, throwing off the balance.

They also draw attention directly to the feet – which is a real shame, given how pretty she is.


See why these didn’t work?

There’s no clear mathematical division in any of them.

When you think in terms of that, it makes putting together ensembles much easier.

Formal vs Informal Balance

Now that we’ve talked about creating balance mathematically, let’s dig a little deeper.

There are two types of balance in dress:

  • Formal
  • Informal

Formal Balance

Formal balance is symmetrical.

If you cut a garment down the middle, each half would be a mirror image of the other.

Same collar, same pockets, same color, etc.

Formal BalanceTahari

Formal balance gives a sense of equilibrium, and makes the wearer seem more stately and dignified.

Which is why it’s the first choice for leaders in business, government, and the military.


Informal Balance

Informal balance is where one element is offset by another somewhere else on the garment.

The balance is there, but it’s not a mirror image.

For example:

Informal BalanceOstwald Helgason

There’s a lot going on here.

The print is bold and would be too much if it was from neck-to-knees instead of neck-to-waist.

The plain black skirt balances out the busy-ness.

Moreover, the asymmetrical skirt with the hem in the same colors as the top anchors the skirt and draws attention down.

You don’t get stuck staring at the top; you look at this outfit from head to foot, yet there is no sense of chaos.

It’s very, very clever.

Here are some other examples of informal balance:

Informal BalanceVionnet

Informal BalanceEmilio Pucci

Informal BalanceSteffen Schraut

Informal BalanceRoland Mouret

Because of its artistic approach, informal balance is typically not worn for business.

Save it for casual, cocktail, and evening wear.

Moreover, since it requires a certain level of sophistication to pull off, it’s best suited for women over 30.

The Bottom Line

If you strive for balance in dress when putting together your ensembles, you’ll come across as polished and sophisticated.

Give people visual appeal, not chaos.

Balance helps you do it.

Need more help in creating balance in your outfits?

Endless Outfits can help.


Diana Pemberton-SikesDiana Pemberton is an image consultant and author of Endless Outfits.

Want 1,000+ outfit templates that will help you dress better today?

Endless Outfits can help.


    10 replies to "Balance in Dress"

    • LornaMi

      You have imparted so much knowledge here! I understand now why certain looks are, quite simply, wrong to me—especially that suit with the midi skirt and the delicate mini with ankle boots. Thank you!

      • Diana

        Hi Lorna,

        Glad to be of assistance! Once you understand these principles, everything clicks. You get why things don’t work, why they seem “off.” It’s because your mind is trying to find the balance and harmony, and it can’t. We’ll look at more principles of art in future articles, but for now, concentrate on finding balance in your own ensembles. It will make you “easy on the eyes”… 😉

    • Bettye Brown

      Hi Diana,

      I learn so much from you, not only about dressing, but art in general.This one is a keeper.

      Thank you.


      • Diana

        Hi Bettye – you’re welcome! Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Kalpana

      How does a short girl (under 5’4) balance a tunic length top, long at the sides? With capri pants? Narrow jeans? I know this reply would help a lot of women out there! Thanks.

      • Diana

        Hi Kalpana – that’s a tough one for petites. I would recommend Capri pants that cut off just below the knee to give a clear 2/3rd division. Then I’d wear skin-colored shoes to visually lengthen the remaining 1/3rd. Hope that helps.

    • Abbe Pescatore

      Hi Diana,
      As someone who has been in the womens’ fashion business for 41 years, I agree with you on the balance with the exception of the leggy blonde.

      The boots are very light and neutral. Let’s face it, nude boots don’t exist unless you can fine clear ones! I think she looks fabulous and when I look at the screen, I see her in halves. On my screen, the boots don’t look clunky.

      Thanks for your insight,

      • Diana

        Hi Abbe – as I said in the article, it’s not horrible, but the ankle boots just don’t do it for me. I would prefer a different shoe – like a skin tone suede pump, for example.

    • Mary

      This is very valuable advice. I am in the process of reworking my wardrobe for work and need to look sophisticated. Your site is going to be a great help. Thanks.

      • Diana

        You’re welcome! Glad you enjoyed it.

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