Reading Between The Lines – Part 1

Apr 21, 2014 1 Min Read

The Image You Send When You Go Vertical Or Horizontal

Ask any girl, or guy for that matter, on what vertical lines can do to a person, the common and (sometimes only) answer you get is, “To make one look slimmer.” If asked to elaborate on what vertical lines are, then the reply you typically get is, “wearing stripes.”

But is that so? Are lines just stripes? Are they meant only to make one look leaner?

Think about this – a woman choosing a jacket over a cardigan; a guy wearing a collared shirt versus a Polo-T. They have all unconsciously chosen straight lines over curved lines. In terms of professionalism, the clothing choices they made have also sent out different messages.

Another example – a gentleman with a round face wearing wide spread collars compared with wearing button-downs. Or a petite lady wearing a long A-line skirt compared with long pants. It is also a choice between different lines in the outfits. And within their choices, therein lies a difference in the level of their attractiveness.

Lines and designs are the foundations of any garment. They communicate visual meanings, send out important messages and display underlying moods.

Understanding the importance and functions of different lines and designs will help us all make wiser decisions when selecting and purchasing our clothing.

Again, it’s not just about stripes. There are other ways in which vertical lines exist:

• Details or embellishments that appear vertical

• Clothing seams

• Vertical panel of fabric

• Blocks of colours

Vertical lines draw the eye up and down rather than side to side. The physical effect is that it elongates and slims, making them a girl’s best friend as the wearer will look leaner and longer. Perhaps this also explains why high heels sell better than wedges.

Psychologically, straight lines convey a message of power, professionalism and strength.

Here are some principles for you to ponder upon when using verticals:

1. More than one vertical line cause the eyes to move from left to right, so two vertical lines close together will make you thinner while two vertical lines far apart make you look wider.

When picking stripe shirts, remember to look at the distance, width and colour contrast. The greater the distance, the wider the stripes and the higher the colour contrast, the bigger you will look. Plus, if it’s a men’s shirt, the lower your hierarchy will go when it comes to your professionalism.

2. The most powerful vertical design line is one that runs down the centre of a garment or body, as it effectively slices the garment into two equal halves.

This explains why single breasted suits are more favourable as compared with double breasted ones. Or why you will appear taller and leaner when you wear long pants as opposed to long skirt.

So, choosing a dress with design lines or embellishments that go down the sides dividing the body into unequal parts, will definitely look bigger as our eyes tend to concentrate on the larger area.

3. The more vertical influence you have in your garment, the more power you convey.

Think about V-necklines instead of round ones; peak lapels instead of shawl collars; diamond shaped designs on ties instead of dotted ones. You get the idea.
V neck

A word of caution:

Vertical stripes are not necessarily slimming in stretch fabrics; in stretch fabrics they may exaggerate curves and bumps by distorting as they stretch over an area. So avoid placing vertical lines at unflattering point, such as your hips or thighs.

Now, don’t be so quick to discredit horizontal design lines. It can be useful if you know how to utilise them to your advantage.

Horizontal lines lead our eyes from side to side. Think about watching the sunset on the horizon. It slows down our vision, making everything appear slower and wider.

Therefore, the physical effect of horizontal design lines is that it shortens and widens. Wearing hipster belts for instance, would naturally emphasise your hips. Or choosing ankle strap shoes will visually shorten your legs.

Psychologically, horizontal lines signify flexibility and informality. In other words, it also gives us a relaxed, quiet and restful mood.

Again, apart from stripes, movement in the lines of dress can also be created by the use of details such as ruffles and lace, different blocks of colours or an addition of accessories such as a belt.

Here are some principles for you to ponder upon when using horizontals:

1. A single horizontal feature draws attention from side-to-side thus emphasising the width on where it is placed.

Sleeves for example, which end at the same point as the bust line, will increase the apparent size of the bust. By raising or lowering the sleeve hem, you will then create the opposite effect.

With narrow shoulders, yokes, shoulder pads or a wide boat neckline will visually balance them, making your shoulders look wider and your hips, smaller.

2. Dressing in multiple horizontal blocks of colours, horizontal lines or features can decrease apparent height by breaking up your length.

Wide horizontal design lines or features have the greatest power to give width to the body and shorten the apparent height. This is very helpful for tall women with boyish frame who want to soften their overall appearance.

3. Hemlines are one of the most important features of an outfit to get right, as all garments contain hemlines, which are often horizontal. Hemlines that end in line with a figure challenge, will make that area appear heavier through the added visual width.

Therefore, for women, a short jacket with a hemline that ends on a full hipline, or a wide belt on a thick waist will make the wearer look frumpy.

A gentleman’s shirt sleeves that hit above the wrist bone, will result in the wearer appear unusually lanky. All these subconsciously send a message that you are someone who don’t pay attention to grooming.

Lines and designs have the ability to make or break your look. Chosen well, they work miracles in complementing your overall appearance, sending a message that you look able, assured and attractive!

Next month, we will talk about their cousins – the diagonals and circular lines and how they influence our dressing and image.
Long legs

Click here for Part 2 of this article.

Wendy Lee is president of Mabic (Malaysian Association of Brand & Image Consultants) and a director of BII (Brand Image International Institute). She is a firm believer that with style… there must be substance! Click here to read more articles like this! 

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This article is published by the editors of with the consent of the guest author. 

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