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The Requirements of Dress Design

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Dress means as much to a person as a good speaking voice, or a pleasing manner. And as one eminent authority has said, "One's dress attracts or repels at all times." Its elegance depends on two fundamental principles: the search for greater simplicity, and the search for detail and personality.

If more dressmakers knew and practiced the principles of design, we would not see so many unbecoming and inharmonious dresses. Even the woman who does not expect to make clothes for others should be able to design for her own form and colouring, and learn exactly what clothes are the most becoming to her. If one achieves suitability, comfort, becomingness and good taste, one will be at all times well dressed.

In dress, just as in the design of all other things, there are two kinds of design, structural and decorative. Structural design deals with the mass, line, size and shape of the object. Decorative design is that part which deals with color and ornament.

In order that you may be successful in the making of beautiful clothes by the proper application of structural and decorative design, there are certain essential points for you to learn.


Harmony is the agreement of all parts to make up the entire object. That is to say, there must be created the impression of unity. If any part appears to be out of place, improper as to size, shape, color, etc., we fail to produce a harmonious whole.

Harmony applied to a dress requires that the structural design, as well as the decorative design, must be in accordance with the definition just given.

A dress must harmonize with the human figure, or a displeasing effect will result. There must be the suggestion of the lines of the body. Do not get the impression from this that the dress must be tight fitting, for this would interfere with ones movements, and as we all know too tight clothing is not healthful.

If you refer to some of the historic costumes you will see how the silhouette or general outline has been greatly exaggerated by the hoop skirts, wasp-like waists and puff sleeves, which are not in keeping with the human form at all, and therefore do not harmonize with it. Such extremes in the silhouette should always be avoided as it is only for the moment that they are looked upon with favour and at no time can be called beautiful or artistic.

The Effect of Line

One's general appearance can be changed by the use of lines in the dress which tend to emphasize certain features or detract from them.

You can easily see the effect of line in the dress, upon one's appearance. Certain lines may harmonize well for one type of person, and at the same time be very inharmonious for another type. If you are to look your best, you will have to study your own case and apply these principles when designing your dress.


Proportion enters into all things of beauty. It was found by the ancient Greeks in their wonderful works of architecture that the whole structure as well as portions of it had to conform to certain rules of shape in order to be pleasing to the eye. This relationship of the dimensions of the object is spoken of as its proportion. The Greeks developed the most beautiful columns which have ever been used and which no architect has ever been able to improve upon. They developed the relationship of width to height which strikes the eye at once in a pleasing way. A variation from these dimensions at once creates the impression that the column is either too slender for its height or too wide.

Just as buildings must be in good proportion, so must the dress you wear. You can acquire the ability to judge whether a dress is in proportion or not by studying the effect produced by different dresses on the same figure. You will find that dresses having horizontal lines created by the use of tucks, ruffles, overskirts, etc., add width to the dress and therefore make the short, stout person appear even shorter and stouter, whereas a dress with vertical lines has the opposite effect.

In this way the proportion of the figure appears to have been altered. The person who is not of the average normal figure must take advantage of such devices to detract from that appearance and enhance her charm.

Decoration Must Be in Proportion

If your figure is large, avoid the use of very tiny and minute decorations, for they will look out of proportion to the dress as a whole; on the other hand, avoid the extreme the other way, lest it call attention to your stoutness. Likewise if you are quite small, a very large figured material or a large hat would be out of proportion to your general build and the entire picture would not be a pleasing one or the one which you desire to make.


Balance in all art, of which dress designing is a part, means the grouping about the center line of shapes and colors, so that there shall be just as much to attract the eye on one side as on the other. It does not follow that in all cases exactly the same objects or colours need appear on either side of the center line in order to present the appearance of balance. In case we do have things exactly alike on either side of the center, which may be either horizontal or vertical, we have what we have what we call "formal balance," and when we use dissimilar objects which attract equal attention, it is called "informal balance."

In order to establish formal balance, objects of equal size and shape and colors of equal attracting power must be placed at the same distance from the center of the object that they have the same weight and attract the same attention. On the other hand, to create informal balance, we place the larger shapes near the center and the smaller ones farther away.

Of course, formal balance should not be used for all dresses, as it tends to be rather too severe for some occasions. It is most fitting for street dresses and sport clothes, whereas informal balance lends itself to the afternoon and evening gown.

When designing a dress in accordance with the principles of informal balance, be sure that you place large decorations or colors which have a strong attractive power close to the center line. If you do not do this the top-heavy or one-sided effect will be produced.


Rhythm in dress is that so-called line movement which causes the eye to travel easily and freely over the costume. Nature realizing that curved lines are lines of rhythm has omitted all sharp angles and straight lines from her works.


Emphasis brings the eye first to the center of interest, then to the minor details. In dress design the person wearing the dress should be the center of interest and therefore the dress should be such as to emphasize her personality and attractiveness. The person of a quiet reserved nature would appear out of place and out of harmony in a dress having a great deal of emphasis, whereas the naturally gay, high-spirited, striking personality could wear such a dress very well. Of course, one must never lose sight of the requirements of the occasion upon which the dress is to be worn.

The interest is emphasized by the use of decoration, contrasts of colour, by the location of some object and by the use of lines which carry the eye where you wish it to go. For example, the interest is drawn to the face or head by means of the lines of the collar or by some bit of decoration.

We have now covered the five fundamental principles of dress design and by which you will be able to make truly artistic and beautiful dresses, coats and other garments. No matter what you are planning to make, consider these principals of art which apply to dress, just as they do to the painting of beautiful pictures or the construction of a magnificent building.



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