The Ideal Proportion

Carolina Herrera Spring 2015Have you ever wondered why designers use fashion 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 ancient Greeks.

They 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.

The head measurement goes from the top of the head to the chin, and the Greeks felt that if you stacked heads on top of each other, the ideal proportion for a human was eight heads high. It’s balanced, can be divided in half, and is aesthetically pleasing.

The ancient ideal

Which is lovely and very artsy-smartsy and all, but 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. 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.

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 is one of the five principles of art required to be considered well dressed. We’ll talk about the others in upcoming articles, but for the next few days, I want you to 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.

Look for:

Head Height

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?

Body Balance

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.

Dressing Disproportionally

Since most bodies aren’t ideally proportioned, observe how others dress themselves to accommodate their disproportions. Most won’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.

Women come in all shapes and sizes

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.

So 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.


Diana Pemberton-SikesDiana Pemberton is an image consultant and author of Wardrobe Magic. Ready to find the clothing styles that suit you best and build a wardrobe of your best looks? Wardrobe Magic can show you how.


  • Amanda

    Reply Reply October 17, 2014

    Really fascinating!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply October 17, 2014

      Thanks! Glad you liked it!

  • Lm

    Reply Reply October 18, 2014

    Very good article. Good logic. Which is precisely why, with long legs and a short torso (due to back problems) I am most comfortable with a top that is out rather than tucked. I love the look of tucking a shirt in, but I am never comfortable with the look on me. It just doesn’t work.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply October 20, 2014

      LM – Glad you enjoyed the article. Yes, I can definitely see why you like the untucked look – it gives you a more balanced proportion. Thanks for writing!

  • Lou

    Reply Reply June 16, 2020

    If I divide my body into 8 parts I am proportionate to waist and then have a really long rise and therefore short legs. If I divide my body into 7.5 parts then each part hits where it should on a proportionate body. My question is then when trying to create proportionate outfits how can I do this when most models I’ve seen work on the 8 part theory? Is there some guidance based on a 7.5 part body anywhere?!

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