What is the “ideal” proportion?
Before I answer, let me ask you a question:
Have you ever wondered why fashion designers use models who are 6 feet tall when “the average” woman is 6 inches shorter?
Why show clothes on bodies that don’t match those of their prospective clients?
Are they trying to drive us crazy?
They’re just trying to reach the “ideal proportion” and sell a lot more clothes.
Blame the Greeks.
Proportion In Fashion
The ancient Greeks were fanatical about math and obsessed with perfection in art.
They felt that everything in nature – tides, moon phases, the human body – boiled down to numbers, and they came up with appropriate measurements for everything they could.
For the human body, the measurement was a head.
So they visually divided the body into eight head-size lengths:
1 Head to neck
2 Neck to bust
3 Bust to waist
4 Waist to hips
5 Hips to mid-thigh
6 Mid-thigh to knee
7 Knee to mid-shin
8 Mid-shin to bottom of foot
…to allow people to find clothes that suited them and create visual balance based on their particular proportions.
Is everyone 8 heads tall?
The “average” person is 7.5 heads tall – half a head shorter than the “ideal.”
But that didn’t stop the Greeks – or the centuries of artists who followed their math.
Proportion in Art
Throughout history, and in art schools today, you’ll see sculptures, paintings, and drawings for the human body that measure:
- Average person: 7.5 heads
- Noble or graceful person: 8 heads
- A heroic figure, like a god or superhero: 8.5 heads
(The additional height comes from a bigger chest and longer legs)
The more important the person, the taller and more ideally proportioned.
In this stained glass window, using each pane as head height, Joseph and Mary are 8 heads tall while the angels are only 6 heads.
It’s done to demonstrate that the angels are less important than the Holy Family.
You will see this frequently in Medieval art.
So that’s why fashion designers use tall fashion models: they want that ideal, eight head proportion.
Given what they charge for their clothes, they want to show them in the best light.
They want that ancient Greek perfection.
So what does that have to do with you?
Proportion in Dress
Proportion is one of the Principles of Art required to be considered well dressed.
To get more familiar with it, study proportion on people as you go about your day to day activities.
The goal is to train your eye to look for balance and symmetry.
The “average” person is 7.5 heads tall, but some are 6 heads and some are 9.
Where is the difference coming from that throws off the proportion?
Long legs? Short torso? Long back? What?
Ideally, the body is divided equally in half, with the legs as long as the rest of the body.
Notice how few people actually have this proportion.
Since most bodies aren’t ideally proportioned, observe how others dress themselves to accommodate their disproportions.
Most don’t bother, and you’ll see how obvious it is: unbalanced and chaotic.
But for those who understand the principles of art – and dress themselves accordingly – you’ll see the balance.
It will be soothing and comforting.
Which means they’ll appeal to you. They’ll draw you in. They’ll hold your attention.
That’s what you want with your clothes.
When they’re balanced and visually appealing, people pay attention to your words.
When they’re unbalanced and chaotic, people focus on the imbalance.
The Bottom Line
Few people have the “ideal” proportion, so you need to learn to dress the body you have.
Start with the body parts that don’t fit the “ideal” and figure out how you can either emphasize or camouflage them, according to your image goals.
Also study others in the coming days and see how close – or how far – they are from that classic Greek ideal.
When you can see what others get right or wrong, it helps you become a better dresser.
Need more help dressing your proportions?
Diana Pemberton is an image consultant and author of Endless Outfits.
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