You may have caught the compelling TV series “Madmen“. The story of the how the advertising industry took fire on Madisson Avenue in the 60’s. (30 years earlier the father of PR, Edward Bernays had started the ball rolling by helping the tobacco industry sell cigarettes to women with the somewhat questionable byline ‘A Torch for Liberty’!). In one episode an eager young secretary was given this down to earth advice from one of her more seasoned colleagues with regards to dressing in the work place.”Go home, cut 2 holes in a paper bag, put it over your head, stand in front of a mirror and take a good look at your at yourself”. A novel way indeed to assess your body line, but also one that is not too far off the mark. The first step in deciding how to dress is to get an accurate understanding of your own unique body shape and how to accommodate its proportions.
I can sense that for some this may be something that requires a little courage, but to help you, here is a method that you might find more effective than the ‘paper bag’ solution.
You will need:
Over your usual foundation garments put on a leotard or some similar body-hugging garment. Using the self portrait setting on your camera, take full length pictures of yourself from two aspects; the front and the side. Print these out in full on A4 paper. With the pen and tracing paper copy the outline of your body, then mark in the top of your head, shoulder line, bustline, waistline, hip line, knees, elbows and wrists.
An alternative method for perhaps the more creatively inclined I learned from the artist Kristin Newton who has her students stand in front of a mirror looking at their reflected image through a sheet of perspex held a short distance from their face; it is important to view it with just one eye open in order not to distort the perspective. Then trace around the outline of your body’s image in the mirror directly on to the perspex with a marker.
Before we go to the next stage however, let’s take a step back into antiquity and look at how proportion was perceived by the old Masters using the system known as the Golden Section, or the Golden Ratio. This is a special mathematical relationship whereby a line, divided into two parts (a, b) has a relationship between the whole and its parts so that the ratio between the small section (b) to the larger section (a) is equal to the ratio between the larger section and the whole i.e. a:b = (a+b):a.
This image showing how the Golden Section was applied is from a study carried out at the Virginia Wesleyian College into Bottecelli’s Birth of Venus.
You can see how ‘perfection’ was perceived as a matter or proportion. The reality is that few of us conform to this sylph-like ideal, however what we aspire to when selecting the style of a garment is to give the illusion of a well balanced proportion.
Now, using both tracings and photographs, take note of the areas where the body mass is most emphasised. Compare how the shape of the silhoutte changes between the bust, waist and hip. Notice the degree of definition of the waist, small of the back, hips and bottom. The reason for using both tracings is that you may find, for example, from the front aspect you appear full and round, whereas from the side you may have a flatter silhouette.
The way in which we can start to balance out our proportions is by using two separate systems of analysis. A Body Type template (you will need a pdf viewer to access this file) which associates one’s proportions with suggestions for silhouette, fabrics, details and patterns, and a set of supplementary modifications I have called Qualifiers which help with the vertical and horizontal rebalancing.
With statistics showing that most women wear 20% of their wardrobe 80% of the time, perhaps with a little more knowledge in how to select for proportion, these statistics can be encouraged to change. Fashion is one thing, the bodies we were graced with is another!
Initial Image: thanks to Guardian/BBC/AMC