Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ladies' Dress: Spatial Reasoning

In this first segment of a three-part series, I hope to get the creative and analytical juices flowing with one of my new favorite topics: how to dress! I truly believe that it's not rocket science, but it does take some thought. Specifically, an analysis of the knowledge necessary to dress well reveals three primary factors: Spatial Reasoning, Texture Recognition, and the Color Spectrum.

Spatial Reasoning

The first kind of knowledge you have to have to dress well is spatial reasoning. You have to know what fits where, and to know this you have to know the nature of the thing you're dealing with: the female body. The shape of a woman's body is a unique one; thus, the dress used to ornament such a shape must harmonize with its underlying structure. That is, a woman is not a rectangle:

She is not an oval or blob shape either:

Finally, though having natural curves, a woman's body does not have bulbous growths:

Sorry for the immodesty of that last picture, but that brings up the point that, once we recognize the basics of our body shape, we also have to recognize that dress serves to camouflage a bit as well as to reflect reality. It basically covers up but this cover has to be in keeping with the thing. Luckily we don't have to start from ground zero, because the earliest forms of dress necessarily had more to do with function than anything. We can use traditions of dress to find out what shapes really work to highlight natural beauty.

By now, you are probably asking, what are the concrete rules of this spatial reasoning game? Well, rule number one has got to be that the shape should draw the eye to the face. This is because the face, especially with the eyes, is the window to the soul. There are various ways to do this, and you can experiment for yourself what works. It can be anything from this

to this

Rule two is that your waist should look smaller than your hips, because that's how it really is. The two above dresses are also good examples of that. Why, one might ask, are we trying to end up looking like a triangle from waist to ground, when we are not really shaped like triangles? Well, the triangle shape is one expression of dress that goes in at the waist, but you can also use tailored, straight skirts to achieve the same effect. It's also important to remember that the rule does not work in the same way for everyone--one person might emphasize the waist by wearing full skirts that come in at the waist, while for another it might be more effective to wear a straight skirt with a tailored blouse. Again, this is where experimentation comes in.

Finally, as a third rule, dresses should not be too short--and not only for reasons of modesty. Too-short clothes result in the strange shapes seen on the models above. It's hard to create smooth, clean lines without a space to work with. Some dresses I look at in stores just seem abridged: I wish there were more to them. For thin people, they also emphasize the legs in a way that can make them seem boyish. For not so thin people, it's just a bad idea all around. Here's a reasonable, mid-length dress that bridges the gap:

There's a lot more that could be said, and the discussion can definitely become a lot more particular, but I hope these are some good starting points to muse upon. Basically, I think a lot of fashion designers out there don't exercise responsible spatial reasoning when it comes to the female form, and I think it's something we should be cognizant of in our attempts to look beautiful.


lover of beauty said...

AWESOME, SYLVIA! Love the pictures, love the humor, and love the principle! :)

Autumn said...

The pictures and humor are inseperable :D Thanks for the sound advice!

healthily sanguine said...

Thanks! The thought occurs to me that an attention to shape should also keep people from wearing clothes that do not fit (too tight or too baggy). You know, the "sack" look . . . :)

Mabel said...

I love these posts on how to dress - great idea. It's something that's been rather at the center of my less important thoughts over the past month, as I'm beginning a career. I'm afraid my Christendom class clothes just won't quite cut it for the working world, so I'm slowly building a new, older kind of wardrobe. I had a thought, too, on what you call "spatial reasoning" (A great point, and all but overlooked by most): a huge help in this is buying clothes that actually fit.

I worked at Gap for a year. Trust me - people do not get that principle. Yes, size 8 sounds better than size 10 - but I promise, you'll look more like a size 8 if you're wearing a 10 that fits than if you're wearing an 8 that doesn't. And the same goes for buying clothes that are too big (which was my problem for years). If the size 14 is falling off, it means you need to go down a size or two. It doesn't mean that you're thin because your clothes are too big.

Anyway - great post. Thanks!

healthily sanguine said...

Spot on, mabel. I think might be something we get from our moms. Of course, we get a lot of our fashion sense from our mothers, but in particular this point of wearing clothes that are the right size. If your mom dressed like a sack, you're going to have to combat the tendency to do the same thing. On the other hand, if your mom tried to wear clothes that were too small, you might be tempted to do the same.

I was lucky to have a mom who always stressed wearing clothes that were the proper size, for comfort as well as beauty. I didn't always follow the rule, especially when I gained the freshman 15 in college and my clothes were too tight, and then I bought clothes that went a little on the big side; but I'm back to normal now. :)