MANual of Style

Lesson 5: Silhouette by Shreyas
5 January, 2010, 3:55 am
Filed under: Basic Concepts | Tags: ,

Happy new year, guys! I hope you all had a great holiday.

Today we’re going to talk about silhouette. Silhouette is about the outline of your body. As with all things in fashion, you can manipulate the way it’s perceived with the cut and color of your clothes.

The Ideal Silhouette

Our goal right now is to look healthy and strong. (We’ll get to tall and thin later in this post.) People read that from the proportions of landmark points on the body: the shoulders, waist, and hips. For men, it’s desirable to have wider shoulders than hips, and a waist only slightly narrower than the hips. If you’re already built like that, great! Having good proportions opens up a lot of options for you.

If you’re not built precisely like that, there are some things you can do.

If you’re of average or thin build and your hips are significantly narrower than your shoulders, you can look into trousers that are made of heavier fabrics, such as corduroy, winter-weight wool, the stiffer kinds of denim, and so on. It’s easier to add apparent mass than take it away, so that’s my first suggested line of defense. You could also explore styles of shirt that draw attention to your neck rather than your shoulders, like v-necks, polos, ringer tees, and collared shirts (wear the top button open). Here’s the thing to remember: Details add emphasis. Anything more visually complex—textured areas, contrasting colors, thing like collars and epaulets—will draw the eyes and make the adjacent features stand out more. By the same principle, if you’re trying to de-emphasize your shoulders you should avoid shoulder stripes, baseball tees and raglans. They’ll make you look even more top-heavy.

If you’re wide around the waist, wear straight-legged pants, not tapered ones, so the eye isn’t drawn to a bulge around your middle, and chunky shoes or boots may help to anchor the eye. Similarly, wear shirts that fit comfortably around your middle; stretching a garment across a feature makes it seem bigger than it is. (This is also the reason that athletic sorts of guys tend to wear shirts with tight arms.) You can also wear structured tops—jackets, military shirts, certain sweaters—to add presence to your shoulders. The object of the game is to emphasize your limbs so their mass appears proportionate to that of your torso, in order to end up looking like a brick rather than a couch potato.

In addition to this, you can try to make yourself look taller and longer. To make your legs look longer, wear pants without cuffs and be sure they’re the right length, so they don’t pool around your shoes. This creates a long, straight line which makes you appear taller. Similarly, short sleeves or long sleeves rolled up will visually shorten your arms. In general, you want to avoid cutting across the widest part of any part of your body: the upper arm, the thigh, the belly. When selecting shirts, be sure they’re long enough, so they go past that widest part.

If you have small shoulders, then do all that stuff I warned top-heavy guys not to do: wear structured tops with details around the shoulders. You could find one of those gradient-dyed tees that’s more saturated at the top and more muted at the bottom. Avoid things that draw attention to the center. Or you can do pushups. Shoulders are one of the easiest, fastest parts of the body to build muscle on, and it hardly takes any time at all.

A Quick Understanding of Emphasis

Just to underline the logic behind all those tips above, here’s the things that create emphasis:

  • Saturated color. Whenever two colors are adjacent, the one that’s more vibrant draws more attention.
  • Lines of contrast (differently colored features, such as ringers on tees, and large-scale patterns as well). Less contrast means less emphasis.
  • More fabric—layers, pleats, pockets, seams, etc.
  • Other details—reflective fabric, graphics, patches, etc.
  • Pattern—this operates on the same principle as larger contrasty areas. As the scale of the pattern decreases, the degree of emphasis does too.
  • Texture—Similarly, a fabric with more texture is more salient. Velvet, corduroy, and satin are a lot flashier than jersey.

By avoiding these things—using simply structured garments without a lot of decoration or strong coloring—you can de-emphasize an area.

That’s all for today. See you Thursday for an intro to shopping.


4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

There was something missing in here, but I could not quite put my finger on it. Then I finally got it.

You missed saying two basic considerations for improving one’s silhouette.

Horizontal lines make you look wider, while vertical lines make you look larger.

Dark colors make you look smaller, while light colors make you look bigger.

The same as with the emphasis tips, this can be taken into consideration for choosing and combining stuff that would enhance your strong points and fade your bad ones.

Comment by Damián Fraustro

Doesn’t this depend on whether you’re lying down or standing up? If you wear vertical liners, you look taller, but look fatter when you lie down.


Comment by Graham

This is a fantastic entry. The basic stuff about hair and basic wardrobe elements I knew, but I’d never even thought about using complexity to draw the eye to your best features.

Comment by Brendan

Thanks, Brendan! I hope you’re finding it useful as well as interesting.

Comment by shreyas

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