FAQ: Why are fashion proportions distorted?

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Fashion Proportions:

That’s kind of funny.  Me blogging in a few hundred words about a topic that could easily be a BOOK.

Perhaps Naomi Wolf’s the Beauty Myth, for starters?

People’s eyes get “used” to anything, if they see it enough. Yet we still haven’t gotten to see images that tell us that our bodies and their realities are okay.  All media points to the contrary.  All we want is to be reminded, assured, affirmed, that our bodies are okay (and they are so much MORE than okay…they are amaaaaazing) -Laura Volpintesta

I think extremely leggy and thin fashion proportions are some really stinking nonsense,  (as opposed to benign, harmless or silly nonsense.)

So I can’t REALLY answer this question for you.  Fashion illustrations SHOULDN’T be longer in proportion, under any circumstances, unless you are designing for the big+tall shop, and even then, they can only be as long as a human can be long.

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(If you are reading this, then you probably know what I’m talking about, those photographs and illustrations with the endless legs twice as long as the torso itself.)

Well, from an artist’s perspective, long limbs become linear, and lines can carry a lot of directional movement of energy. So long skinny limbs perhaps can add these elements to a drawing in a really easy way,( like the way artificially colored and flavored hydrogenated oil can behave like butter, ) especially for someone who doesn’t want to or can’t take the time and care to commit themselves to learning to draw or photograph the human form as  excitingly as it is. I wouldn’t have a problem with that if the implications weren’t so painful!!  (Photographers, as we now know, are stretching the models after the photos are taken)

WHY?

Fashion illustrations can be exaggerated in many ways, it is fun to play up whatever you see as the most brilliant or exciting part of what you see or imagine by playing it to the hilt in your drawing: the depth, the drama, the curve, the contrast, the personality,….  But longness and skinniness? We are all humans, so we know what is possible.  We really do… Or do we? Fashion illustration would have you ask yourself twice.

Design is design.  If you’re designing a jacket, it really doesn’t make any sense to draw proportionally any differently than it’s actually proportions in real life.  I’m not sure what is attained by that.  I see beautiful men and women, anywhere and everywhere, every day, and none of them look like any of that “longer proportion” stuff that keeps getting pumped out in the name of fashion.  It seems like adding length to the legs to “say fashion” is an “easy way out” to make your drawing stand out when what it really needs to stand out is BEAUTY ( or whatever other quality you value in fashion– message, story, color, feel, texture, movement, etc).

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Longer fashion proportions are lazy, they don’t do the real work to get past the long legs and into some awesome clothes.  I feel they are left over from the time when women consumed fashion but didn’t have much control over the industry. (AHEM- is that time behind us?)  We are still largely buying into this system of imagery that excludes us.

 Somehow , on some level, we may BEG for fashion to exclude us, or we wouldn’t call it fashion.  Please tell me I didn’t just say that?

It takes a simple decision to move beyond this.

Moreover, as a student and teacher of design, as well as  someone who was born with a deep curiosity about anthropology, peoples, cultures, and artifacts and how they all intertwine,… I was always aware of the  power of fashion (and its media power) to influence the masses however it pleases. That’s what drew me to fashion!  Unfortunately, it is often speaking down to the same people it purports to uplift, but there are always exceptions, opportunities, and hope.

One thing I know for sure: If the media , the advertisers, so chose to (and we individual business owners are becoming creators of the media more than ever), they would create images of any form they chose and people would take it in and accept it.  An excellent example of this is when you are looking at an extreme fashion image sometimes and suddenly realize that something is really wrong with the body that you are looking at, that it looks ill or deformed by bony emaciation that you realize in that moment is so normal and widespread that you have stopped noticing it (and I’m not saying that all fashion images are like that , but do you know what I”m talking about?)  Whatever the media accustoms us to, we “learn” to see beauty in that form, even though we know that beauty is really everywhere.

I hated the shape of “skinny jeans” when I first saw it (lover of bell bottoms, yes), but now I wear them (hardly have a choice) and have gotten used to them. These overhauls of the culture’s fashion happen all the time.  But while it happens with the clothes, it isn’t happening much with the bodies.  Boobs and butts come in and out of season…sort of, but not -so- tall, curvy beauty (like most of the population) is like an endangered species in fashion.   Actually, it is endangered.  And starving!

I’m a huge fan of Brazilian fashion for many reasons, like craftsmanship, cultural history, color, energy, creativity, but one of the first things that pulled me in was that (15 years ago) the models were significantly fuller and shorter than what I was seeing here, and I wanted a way out!!!  I found this healthy body there, but over the years, and especially in the HIGH FASHION scene , I’ve found that it just gets more and more skinny, tall,  and SERIOUS.

And I’m all for thin people, and tall ones, being exactly who they are and how they are!!!!! They should! But so should everyone else. So COULD everybody else.  But nobody’s taking the time or the risk to do it. And please, let me know who you see doing it, and let’s spread it!  Women certainly come in many shapes and sizes.  Throughout my life, I personally have been many different shapes and sizes.  It seems I had a completely different body each time I had a child…. and each one of them needed clothes, obviously.

Beauty is diverse. Beauty is diversity, and diversity is beauty.

That’s how I see it.

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Vlisco is my favorite fabric producer of Dutch Wax, veritable wax hollandaise, the popular African luxury fabric. Pure art, I love these high quality printed cottons in rich color and creative patterns.  For the African market, their ad campaigns used to feature an organic range of  body types.  In the past few years, they too have taken over with super long, super tall, super slick and straight haired African models.  The images, the fabrics, the clothes and the women  are beautiful, but sometimes I feel there is a message behind those images that hurts me and the rest of us, and I mourn the “new look” for crossing over into tall and skinny land.

Is everyone going to still “sign on” to extreme proportions in fashion images?  While we still go walking around as the same humans we’ve already been, not sprouting longer legs or skinnier limbs?  We’ll still be beautiful, no matter what fashion’s saying.  I actually thought we were signing off…. I have to believe we are, from the skinny dominance. ( In researching my book , I found that I couldn’t include many beautiful designs because either the designer refused to represent models of color or because they used extremely thin models.)

Personally, I don’t encourage this kind of proportion in any of my classes,  nor my online fashion foundation intensive course, although I was trained this way in the 90s,  and I encourage realism and extreme beauty!  Most students, at first, make their mistake not in exaggerating what they see in model drawing, but UNDERSTATING it, the movement and pose of the human they are drawing.  But they are VERY comfortable in exaggerating the thinness and length of legs to compensate.  I’ll continue to redirect them to the model and make sure they’re drawing what they are seeing. There are a million ways to embellish and build your own message into your illustration, your SOUL, without stripping the body of its soul.

It’s never been necessary, but it seems that not enough of us are willing to stop and ask why and what we are saying in our image creation.

The human eye can get used to ANYTHING!!!!!!!!!, like a lousy song on the radio that got played a thousand times, or a model who looks beat up, these images will be plastered in front of our eyes and ears until we have internally lost consciousness that we ever thought (knew) it was weird, or how low the quality really was.

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Let’s continue to express ourselves, let’s try a LOT harder, actually, to create images in our own image, and to boycott images and companies that do not serve use.  You do realize, don’t you, that design exists to serve you, not to suck your energy or your self -esteem.

We’ll do it ourselves if we have to.  Longer fashion proportions is just plain laziness, if you ask me.  I have no patience for something so widely accepted and so whacky, so obviously not in our best interests and often painful to look at.

in closing, as I’ve said before, a chair designer is not going to exaggerate the dimensions of the chair he’s designing. He can illustrate a really incredible rendering of the chair that is totally exciting, but the proportions are going to be spot -on.

So, as I’ve asked also before, what’s UP with fashion proportions?

(Remember, the more that you are sketching, drawing , showing or draping on a real human form, the more fine-tuned your design is for its intended purpose.

I’m not convinced that ready-to-wear makes sense for fine fitted clothes, anyway, but that’s another conversation).

Please chime in here, because I’m still asking.  Comments are welcome below, and share, like, tweet, PLEASE keep the conversation going!

Thank you!

Love you (no matter how tall, how skinny, how wide, how petite, muscular, soft, fuzzy, smooth, or however many colors you are or aren’t),

Laura- remember that as long as you’re buying their stuff you’re supporting their message- Volpintesta

while on this topic, I found some gorgeous curvy models images to show you how fashion looks awesome without extremely thin bodies as a focus:

Please visit my fashion model resource file of plus-size photos I collected on line for model drawing practice.

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