This section is from the book "Clothing For Women: Selection, Design, Construction", by Laura I. Baldt. Also available from Amazon: Clothing For Women: Selection, Design, Construction.
Someone has said that "The delicate human eye, with common sense behind it, is the best dress critic a woman can have." With an accepted ideal of form, and principles of design in mind, one may set about establishing correct modes of clothing for oneself. A person should first of all study, courageously and critically, her silhouette in the reflection of a triple mirror; she must note the strong and weak lines in her contour, her heighth and breadth, the proportion and balance of the masses, and her coloring. Then she may choose her materials and build up her design. She is not limited as to choice of shapes, or decoration. All the galleries of the world are open to her. Her garments should carry some note of the wearer's own individuality, something which enhances the charm of the wearer, but does not call attention to the garment itself.
It may be helpful to become familiar with proportionate divisions of the normal figure, which are as follows:
Figure ............7 ½ - 8 heads high;
1st head...........Just below crown of head to chin;
2d and 3d heads..... Chin to waist line;
4th head...........Waist line to end of torso;
5th head...........Torso to half way down thigh;
6th head...........Half way down thigh to center of knee;
7th head...........Center of knee to near ankle;
7½ -8th heads......Near ankle to foot.
Inside instep (center of foot) to top of knee-cap, equals center of knee-cap to hip bone.
End of torso to end of breast bone, equals from below the crown of head to shoulder, or one-sixth of body.
Arm (wrist to elbow), equals 1 ½ heads.
Neck, equals ½ head.
A general idea of these proportions may aid in judging one's own limitations of form.
The following suggestions as to choice of fabric and design for diametrically opposite types of figure may also be found helpful. Intermediate types are not so difficult to clothe. Tall women, if slender, appear taller than they are, while short women, if stout, appear shorter than they are. Our endeavor then must be to counteract one optical illusion by the substitution of another. The tall woman should adopt some mode that will increase her breadth, and so appear to decrease her height; likewise the short woman must adopt lines that seem to add to her height and decrease her breadth. Slender figures need full skirts made of materials which seem to give roundness to the figure. Loose, full draperies, flounces and horizontal trimmings suggest breadth. If the figure is very tall, do not accentuate height by the use of many long lines; introduce horizontal lines. If the length of the body is out of proportion to the length of the legs, i.e., too short, lower the waist line of the gown so that this defect is concealed; if the reverse, raise the waist line in the gown to make a good design. Full, loose blouses are becoming to tall, slender figures. Fluffiness, rather than severity, should be sought after. The displeasing effect of very sloping shoulders may be overcome by horizontal lines brought high upon the waist and extending across the shoulder (Fig. 27, a.d. 1854). Plaids of striking color and broken up into large areas are admissible only on slender figures.
It is more difficult to design clothing for the short, stout woman; she needs always to make every effort to suggest height and slenderness. Keeping in mind the fact that the curves which more nearly approach straight lines are the more beautiful, she should strive to achieve the silhouette to the right of Fig. 22, and avoid that to the left. Her garments should be of loose, easy fit, admitting freedom in breathing and ease of movement. Unbroken lines from shoulder to foot add height. When desirable to have garment in two parts, let the lower part run well up under the upper, so that it may appear to be supported by the shoulders. Diagonal lines from shoulder to waist, thence carried throughout the length of the skirt in a diagonal tuck, or in deep straight plaits in front, suggest height. Appearance of slenderness may be achieved in the back by having the waist of loose fit, hanging in straight line from shoulder-blade to below the waist. Great care must be exercised in designing skirts. For the stout figure full circular skirts give too much suggestion of roundness, but the introduction of a rather straight panel effect in the front, of broad well-pressed forward turning plaits, and keeping the flare of the skirt back of the full part of the hips and below the fullest part of the back, make the circular skirt possible to the stout figure, if the design of the upper garment be well chosen. If the skirt design be broken up into gores, the proportionate width of panels and gores must be carefully observed. A narrow front panel on a stout figure accentuates its width. Sometimes seams over the hips break up the design too much, especially if there be a pattern in the material. The short, stout woman must avoid all true horizontal lines in her design. Yokes, deep turnover collars with square corners, girdles that circle the waist in horizontal fashion, or confine the material closely, and bands of trimming at the foot of a skirt (especially when of contrasting color or texture), decrease the height of the figure as much as their depth. The fabrics chosen should be such that neither bulk, weave, finish, color, nor design, will add to her proportions. Thick, loosely woven cloths, those that are rigid in weave, and those with high gloss, are to be avoided. Soft clinging, low-luster fabrics tend to reduce the proportions. Figured materials are apt to increase size, unless in self-tones. Stripes should be chosen most carefully as to color and balance. Plaids are inadmissible for the stout figure.
Fig. 22. - Silhouettes of stout figure.
All decoration should have some function, or at least appear to, even if it be only for the sake of variety in design, i.e., a row of buttons on the front of a gown, which may or may not be used for fastening, but without which the whole mass would be unattractive. Neck lines should conform to the contour of the face and mode of dressing the hair. All parts of garments should be supported at structural points; to illustrate, sleeves should be set so as to appear to be supported by the shoulder (a principle often sadly set aside).
The principles of design may be very finely executed in the selection and construction of undergarments. The fabric of which the garment is to be made should be of the first consideration in planning the design; then the use to which it must be put, that a simple treatment or one with more decorative element may be carried out. The cut or line of the garment is of the utmost importance, because it bears close relation to the outer garments. As few seams as are compatible with good fitting need be used in its construction. No lines, whether in the body of the garment itself, or introduced in the decoration, should contradict the lines of a sheer outer garment. Fastenings should be carefully planned, and if colored ribbons are desired only those of the most delicate tints should be used. The whole should bespeak simplicity and orderliness of arrangement.