Elements of Style

What makes the difference between a stylish garment and an ordinary one? Ultimately, you will have to develop your own sense of style, but understanding some of the underlying principles of design will help you with this. Unlike fashion, style is something that remains consistent over time, so stylish clothes will always look good. A familiarity with the elements of style will allow you to design and alter clothes to bring out the best in your fabric and your figure.

Different Shapes and Sizes

No matter what impression the fashion press may give, you don’t have to be tall and thin to look stylish. You do, however, have to design clothes to suit particular body shapes – you can’t just scale up or scale down, even adjusting for curves, and expect things to work.

In order to make clothes that flatter different shapes and sizes, think of each garment in terms of how it suits particular features. These guidelines will give you some hints.

  • Vertical stripes lengthen the body on long garments but emphasise shortness on tops or short dresses. Horizontal stripes flatter curves but can make broad bodies look broader still.
  • Large-print patterns break up unflattering lines and can make a big impact on simple garments, but can easily look too crowded on small garments with details work, or on smaller bodies.
  • Narrow skirts look more sophisticated but flared skirts are good at hiding rounded bellies and emphasising narrower waists. They can still look chic when paired with tailored tops.
  • Wide shoulders create an authoritative look but only when the sleeve fabric below them hangs straight down; they shouldn’t form triangles at the top of the arms.
  • As a rule, less is more. Especially when you’re starting out, it’s best to avoid adding too many extra touches to simple designs, as this is likely to reduce their impact.

Mapping the Body

As every body type can look stylish, it’s important not to treat less fashionable bodies as if they should be hidden. If you don’t like a particular feature, the best response is to distract from it by emphasising another.

The body can be mapped as a series of horizontal lines: the shoulders; the breasts or pectoral muscles; the waist; the hips; the knees; and the ankles. These are the points that clothing hangs from or hangs to (there are exceptions, like mid calf length skirts, but getting these right is aided by understanding the rules they break). Style is not about prettiness, it’s about presence. To flatter a particular body, aim to emphasise the lines that make the most impact.

When you think about where to place the seams on a garment, bear in mind the way the shape of the body changes at each of these points. This will provide a guide when seams need to be angled, and will help fabric to hang better.

The lines of the body extend outwards across the arms, so when you design the waistline of a garment, think about how the elbows will look. When you design cuffs, consider how they will look alongside the line of the hips.

Selecting Colours

Colours can be chosen based on several different priorities. You can think about what’s in fashion, about what flatters a particular garment, and about what flatters the person who will be wearing it. A good designer considers all these elements.

Beginners will find it easiest to create stylish clothes by sticking to dark or pale colours – bright colours are more complicated because of the ways they interact with bodily features and the surrounding environment. Avoiding complex patterns is also advisable when you’re starting out. Simplifying your colour palette allows you to concentrate on shape and ensures your clothes will make an impact without looking brash.

Once you’ve got the hang of the basics you can start introducing bright colours for effect. Very pale or dark skinned people can wear almost any colour, but reds, oranges and pinks always need to be balanced against similar tones in the skin. Green tones bring out redness and can make you look flushed. Yellows bring out greys and enhance the dullness of older skin but can work well on healthy young people.

Selecting Textures

As with colours, the rule for new designers who want to create stylish clothes is to keep textures simple. Most importantly, avoid clashes of texture when working with multiple fabrics. Pay close attention to the way fabric shines. Flat, bright shine should usually be avoided. Softer fabrics which absorb a lot of light are a safer bet. As you grow more confident you can experiment, but generally keeping shiny and sparkly fabrics to a minimum makes for a more flexible and stylish wardrobe.

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