Tag Archives: Prints and optical illusions

Prints and optical illusions. Animal prints and camouflage

This is continuation of the series. You can find previous posts by tag Prints and optical illusions.

Background and foreground colors, level of contrast play the same role for animal prints as for any other print: darker colors are more slimming, contrast is widening.  But animal prints also have one very different and very distinct characteristic they inherited from animal coloring they were copied from. They are blurring and flattening. And more close to the classic design from mother nature more blurring and flattening the print is. The reason for that is that most animals have protective coloration. Pray tries to be not seen by predators, predators try to be invisible for their pray until it’s too late. Bottom line: hiding themselves helps animals survive. And even if zebra stripes or leopard spots look very distinct and contrasting when we are looking right at them, they still have the same quality: they distort, blur and hide, but this effect shows itself only from some distance.

Leopard is here

Leopard is here

giraffe

Say hello to big guy )

Camouflage prints have the same quality because that’s why they were designed in the first place (zoologists and entomologists did a great work during WW2 and after to help the military to create classic camouflages).  So when we are wearing fashion versions we are prone to the camouflage effects – distorting, flattening and blurring. If a fashion version has a lot of grays in urban environment the effect could be quite noticeable especially when the light is poor.

Impressive, isn't it?

Impressive, isn’t it? (it’s one of new US camouflages)

So in my opinion animal prints are your worst enemies when you want to highlight shape, because they add a little blur, flatten. This can also can be used to erase some lamps and bumps, but it usually needs some “frame” to avoid shapelessness. Animal print tunic or dress plus dark jacket or coat could be very efficient in hiding pregnancy.

Leopard dress from Asos. Totally shapeless, you can't even tell where is body and where are sleeves

Leopard dress from Asos. Totally shapeless, you can’t even tell where is body and where are sleeves

Same dress from Asos in black, no you can see some shape

Same dress from Asos in black, no you can see some shape and tell where is what

One more thing about such prints worth mentioning: in semitransparent tights animal prints can look like some sort of skin disease.

Emm... not the best look

Emm… not the best look

But very bright and contrasting print can look good if styled right.

Photo from HK leggings blog, I think she looks seriously cool

Photo from HK leggings blog, I think she looks seriously cool

It’s usually safer to use animal prints  in small items (accessories and shoes).

Camouflage is always about fashion statement or some quirk, some sarcasm.* So I think this is the case when print illusions are less important than its sartorial message. But I would say that in tops, especially if jersey is involved it looks not so good.

My personal preference for animal and camouflage (I don’t take it serious): silk and very loose fit with dark belt and only top or skirt, not dress. And not classical coloring (except zebra), because I have neutral-to-cool coloring, so most classic colorways are too warm for me. I’m not the biggest fan of animal prints to tell the truth, because they are very demanding and it’s very easy to look bad or vulgar in them, but if you manage to master them, they could be gorgeous. I would say they usually look their best paired with bright casual or very neutral classical clothes and a lot of bare skin is great no-no. Another option: very classic and upscale item (like super-conservative coat).

Fabulous example how to wear leopard print from Sartorialist blog

This classical coat doesn't look boring because of the print, but print doesn't make it tacky, because it's so classic. Perfect!

This classical coat doesn’t look boring because of the print, but the print doesn’t make it tacky, because it’s so classic. Perfect!

Camouflage could be also worn seriously as a sign of non-conformism or like a social statement, but I’m too far from all such movements to give advise about how to wear it that way. **

*There are of cause cases when such items are bought from army or specialty stores because they  are relatively cheap, quite comfortable and durable, but I think vast majority of people (all that hunters, strike ball players, agricultural workers, campers and many others) who buy and use camouflage like this don’t really care how they look when they are wearing it.

** Although I’m pretty positive that shirt and pants from the same set and army boots in the city are totally uncool unless you are tall, super fit and serving your country 🙂

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Prints and optical illusions. Polka dot

This is the third post of the series, here are the links to the first one (about Stripes) and the second one (about Plaid and Check).

As usual with most prints color of the background matters, you can use dark background for slimming effect and light background for widening effect.

But polka dot isn’t that simple. There are more factors in play: size and of cause color of the dots, how close together they are and if they placed on fabric regularly or randomly.

Bigger dots are more widening than smaller when scale of the print is the only factor that is different.

Scale effect. The right is the same print, but 4 times smaller

Scale effect. The right is the same print, but 4 times smaller

Darker dots create less widening effect when we are talking about dots of the same size and placement.

Effect of the distance between dots really depends on colorway. Light/warm dots on darker/cooler background are more widening when they are placed more close together, more dense, but cooler and darker dots on lighter/warmer background are less widening when there are more of them.

density_effect_on_diff_bkg

Rare dots on black will be slimming, more dense will give no effect on visual perception of size, dense black dots on white will be slightly widening, and rare black dots will be a little bit more widening, close to the perception of the pure white

But on the equally warm/cool background dots with the same warmth/coolness are more dense print is more widening.

Those two are warm and bright, so widening, but left one is even more widening, because it's more busy

Those two are warm and bright, so widening, but left one is even more widening, because it’s more busy

Contrast adds to the widening effect as usually with prints.

Grey is desaturated green/purple

Grey is desaturated green/purple, Green/purple version of print will be more widening, because there is a high level of color contrast

There are only two variants of polka dot which are slimming:

  • dark background small to medium dots that are far from each other;
  • dark background and vertically or especially diagonally organised dots.

Here is example of vertically and diagonally organized polka dots:

Here us direction effect,  Left fabric will behave like small scale check, and it will be slightly more widening, but actually they both are widening, because prints are busy, to avoid this effect there should be much less dots per square inch

Here is the direction effect, Left polka dot print behaves like small scale check, and it is slightly more widening, but actually they both are widening, because prints are busy, to avoid this effect there should be much less dots per square inch

Polka dot is “flattening”, making shape less sharp when it’s busy and it could be distorting shape if dots are oversize.

Super large polka dot print on sweater. It's distorting the shape and body of the model looks somewhat assymetric

Super large polka dot print on this sweater is distorting the shape and the body of the model looks somewhat asymmetric

Taking into account all aforementioned it may look like to banish this playful and youthful, yet feminine and classical print is the best wardrobe decision.  Please, don’t, if you like it – wear it! It’s so retro. It’s just made for full skirts with wide contrasting belts, lingerie, tops which should be worn under jackets or cardigans (to lighten up an outfit and give it a touch of joy). And light medium to small not dense dots on navy or black are perfectly slimming! And after all a little bit widening print isn’t the end of the world, maximum thinness isn’t what make you look great.

Picture from The Sartorialist blog. Click on image for more polka dot outfits

Awesome set from Mimi Holliday

Awesome set from Mimi Holliday

The only case when it’s a good idea to consider avoiding the print near your face IMO is when your face is all straight lines and angles. In that case the print could be very unflattering or just look odd.

Face line effect. Soft face lines + blouse from Aliexpress vs straight face lines + sweater from Gucci

Face line effect. Soft face lines + blouse from Aliexpress vs straight face lines + sweater from Gucci

That’s pretty much it about polka dot, but there are more prints to come. So thanks you for your attention and to be continued ).

Prints and optical illusions. Plaid and check

This is the second post of the series. The first one, about stripes, is here. The third one, about polka dot, is here.

Both prints are classic examples of busy print and both create vertical and horizontal lines at the same time. So they are almost always somewhat widening.

So it goes like that: the big scale check/plaid is more widening than small, high contrast is more widening than low contrast,  light/warm or very bright prevailing color(s) are more widening than dark/cool/low saturation.

Light tartan in warms, widening

Light tartan in warms, widening

Low contrast, dark, cool colors. Slimming (not as much as black or blue plain colors though)

Low contrast, dark, cool colors. Slimming (not as much as black or blue plain colors though)

Very bright colors, widening

Very bright colors, widening

Blue swatch is actually a little bit bigger than the two others.

Plaids which have a lot of clashing colors are more widening than plaids containing shades of the same color or colors that are good match and neutrals.

This will be widening, because red, yellow and black are clashing contrast

This will be widening, because red, yellow and black are clashing contrast, you could compare this to monochromatic plaids below

With plaid you can also have some effects which are more typical for stripes because contrast between two squares in a row could be less than between two squares in a column or vice versa.

This will behave somewhat like stripy

This will behave somewhat like stripy

While this will be widening as hell in both directions

While this will be widening as hell in both directions

There is also one thing that could significantly mitigate widening effect: rotating print 45°. Then we will have diagonals instead of vertical and horizontal lines and with right color scheme the item could be in fact slimming.

Compare this two skirts in similar colorway.

"Normal" direction of plaid

“Normal” direction of plaid

diagonal_plaid

Diagonal direction

Checks of average to large scale and plaid are also (like stripes) prone to distortion effect, when garment stretches to fit curvy body. This effect is very visible.

Not very pretty, IMO

Not very pretty, IMO

It also usually makes darts and seams very visible and so they always draw attention to themselves. E. g. side bust darts get very visible because of that, so no decent designer does that, darts usually moved to the waist, sometimes they could be masked by lapels and pockets.

Side dart on tartan. Very visible

Side dart on tartan. Very visible

This is Vivienne Westwood jacket, it's very fitted, but darts are not in your face at all

This is Vivienne Westwood jacket, it’s very fitted, but darts are not in your face at all

Yokes can make you thighs look wider. So if you are V shaped and you want to balance you shoulders and chest then bright high contrast skirt with yoke is something to look for.

This is Victoria Beckham, she is size 0, but her hips don't look narrow in this skirt, so if you are not that thin beware of the effect

This is Victoria Beckham, she is size 0, but her hips don’t look narrow in this skirt, so if you are not that thin beware of the effect

And I really like what Vivienne Westwood does with tartan playing with its direction.

Beautiful Helena Bonham-Carter in Vivienne Westwood suit, after getting her CBE

Beautiful Helena Bonham-Carter in Vivienne Westwood suit, after getting her CBE

There is one more thing that is very important about this prints, but not really connected to optical illusions: they always create certain associations. Stripes are more or less neutral (of cause there are sailor and seaside holiday theme in them, but it’s not that strong), but plaid and check are laden with associations.

Plaid: Scotland and Ireland, cowboys, working class, school uniforms. So if you want elegance in plaid then cut should be really creative otherwise item will look very casual (nothing wrong with that under right circumstances) or it can make you look like you are trying to cosplay a teenager (and if it’s not intentional and very well done with right doze of irony it looks awful).

Check. It depends on what check. It can be Prince of Wales, or it can be school uniform again.

There is one more interesting effect. Small scale check, especially Prince of Wales check has somewhat smoothing effect on people who have a lot of texture (curly hair, uneven skin etc), but it looks a little odd on people who are ‘smooth’ (strait hair or or hair in accurate large scale waves, smooth skin).

This has some smoothing effect on skin

This has some smoothing effect on skin

The reason for that is that it creates effect of raw texture, so in comparison skin looks more even.

Prints and optical illusions. Stripes

This is one more of theoretical posts. The topic of prints and optical illusions they create is very large, so I’m going to write a series of posts about optical illusions. But keep it in mind that there are some special cases which I won’t cover  (I can’t cover all, because it will require a monograph). The good news is that mirrors are still exist in this world and nothing can beat the old “try and see for yourself” method.

I think knowing about optical illusions applied to clothes is useful, so there would be no unpleasant surprises if you grab something non-returnable on final sale online and then discover that it visually changes your proportions in very unflattering way.

Today post will be about stripes

There is a very common stereotype that vertical stripes are slimming and horizontal stripes are widening. But actually it depends.

Optical illusion of stripes is most prominent for high contrast stripes, for low contrast and blurred the print behaves more like solid color. Wide stripes effect is a little bit less affected by contrastness, that thin stripes effect.

This is two Cathrine Melandrino dresses from Yoox, left behaives more like dark blue andslimming dress to the right is actually making girl wearing it appear large all over

There are two Cathrine Melandrino dresses from Yoox, left behaves more like dark blue (it’s slimming), for dress to the right stripes are at play (it’s making girl wearing it appear larger)

Optical illusion of stripes based on fact that our eye is lazy and it likes to travel along lines and we tend to overestimate lines along which eye travels.  But there is a gotcha: sometimes our eye tends to interpret stripes as a whole and travels in the perpendicular direction.

And one more thing that should be taken into account: everything busy is perceived larger. So with very bright thin stripes with small distance between them, especially if there are a lot of clashing colors, garment will make you taller and wider no matter what is stripes direction.

If we have more of one color than another then slimming/widening effect depends a lot from prevailing color. Cool/dark color as prevailing color is more slimming/less widening then light/warm prevailing color. If the the both colors are cool/dark or light/warm and stripes are not very contrasting, then the print behaves more like a solid mix of stripes colors, and again cool/dark is slimming and and light/warm is widening.

These are two tops by Rena Langa from Yoox, you can think about left as coral and about right as blue-grey when analyzing how it affects shape perseption

These are two tops by Rena Langa from Yoox, you can think about left as coral and about right as greyish blue when analyzing how they would affect shape perception

This is should be considered, but, please, if you have light and warm coloring, I beg you do not opt for coolest and darkest, it can make you a little bit slimmer, but it will also make you look sick. The same about contrastness, if you have very delicate coloring (soft, light and muted), then high contrast stripes will get more attention than your face, so wear them when you want to hide.

If we have just one vertical line we usually need lighter/warmer color in the middle to get slimming effect.

Stripe in the center (don't know author, it's all over the internet)

Stripe in the center (don’t know author, it’s all over the internet)

Then there are wide stripes and thin stripes. Wide stripes are widening no matter what is direction (wide stripes make people overestimate distance in average by 8%). If you are X shaped then wide stripes is something to wear despite how it looks or something to use on sleeves and hems.

But not all thin stripes are equal. Look at this pictures. Most people see left one thinner than the right one.

But again it’s not universal. There is a trick that could make thin vertical stripes like this slimming: it’s gradiented distance between the stripes.

The important thing to keep in mind is print distortion on curvy body. Because when we have clinging dress we can get instead of parallel stripes something like that:

This is dress from ASOS on very slim and tall fashion model, but stripes distortion and its width make her body quite voluptuous, if you are already voluptuous, avoid such dresses like a plugue

This is a dress from ASOS on a very slim and tall fashion model, but stripes distortion and their width make her body quite voluptuous, if you are already voluptuous, I would suggest to avoid such dresses like a plague

Compare it with this

Another stripy top from ASOS, but this one makes girl to look smaller despite widening stripes, just because it's so oversized

Another stripy top from ASOS, but this one makes girl to look smaller despite widening stripes, just because it’s so oversized

Distorted stripes are completely different case than parallel. They create an illusion that all curves are curvier than they actually are: because we have so called 3D illusion on top of real 3D shape and often psychological effect of too small item. And too small clothes makes us larger in the eyes of viewers, even if there is only impression and actually the item feels absolutely fine*. And in this case it’s completely irrelevant what is direction of stripes. This effect is the most prominent for regular dark and light stripes, for stripes of different width and shade it’s much less noticeable.

Classic black'n'white vs multicolor vs paisley (from hourglassy.com)

Classic black’n’white vs multicolor vs paisley (from hourglassy.com)

These are photos of Darlene of Hourglassy from her post about tankinis (you can find there also some interesting thoughts and visuals about swimming bras and how they affect the look). You can see that stripes on the left got more distorted and vertical row of buttons not much of a help, because they work as an accent here drawing attention to the bust area. Top in the center has different kind of stripes and they are less distorted and work as a whole, but when you are looking along the stripes you see how underbust and waist are slimmer (stripes help us see this because they create wide dark groups), but they also make the bust to look wider by comparison, the whole look is rather flattering I would say.

So if you don’t want your bust to look bigger then avoid stripy jersey items, where stripes visibly widen or curve on your bust when an item of clothes stretches to fit. If it’s desirable effect then go for wide contrast stripes.

And don’t forget that the same effect takes place for buttocks**, thighs and tummy.

Diagonal lines are neither slimming, nor widening, but they add dynamics and concentrate attention on themselves. In some cases, if there is color blocking with colors that have different widening/slimming effect, diagonal lines can distort shape of the body, but with thin or moderately thick stripes it’s hardly the case. Although if the angle is not 90 degrees vertical stripes behave a little bit differently. Dynamics is still there, but more vertical diagonal stripes are slimming and more horizontal are widening.

If diagonal stripes meet at some point this point draws attention the most and we can get the acute angle overestimation illusion in play, so be aware.***

Combination of vertical and diagonal stripes strategically placed could be very flattering.

Todd Lynn. Photo by GoRunway via Vogue.co.uk

Todd Lynn. Photo by GoRunway via Vogue.co.uk See how point where diagonals met creates focal point of the dress

So as you can see there are a lot of factors which affects how stripes would look on you, but when you begin to think about it, it all becomes more and more clear. But there is also a shortcut: sites usually use the same models for different items, try to look for the same girl in similar (or the same) items which have solid neutral color or stripes, or different kinds of stripes, it will help you to understand what print adds to the impression.

Series continued: Prints and optical illusions. Plaid and check, Prints and optical illusions. Polka dot.

* Main culprits there are print distortion, proportions which are slightly off (sleeves which are too long for 3/4 and too short for full length, e.g. the same applies for pant legs), gaping buttons (even if it’s elastic pulling them and much larger person could fit into the garment).

**I highly recommend making photos of yourself from behind, because it can give you a completely new point of view on how you look.

*** You can look it up on Wiki, short version is: <—> make line in the middle appear shorter, and >—< make line in the middle appear longer.