Thursday, March 5, 2009

Restored: Elements of Design: The Line of Beauty

We can use the elements of design to help us dress in real, authentic ways. As women we possess two aesthetically pleasing lines. One is the vertical line. The other is the “line of beauty."

Vertical lines look good. We’re often told they're the most flattering in clothes. They’re “slimming;” they make us “look thin." Growing up, most of us absorbed messages about being thin. I do not wish to appear "fat," but the pressure to appear thin is damaging, and I don't want to feed it.

We can give ourselves different messages that achieve the same thing but don't feed a compulsion for thinness. Vertical lines appeal to the eye because we are vertical. In art, vertical lines invoke action, strength, even spirituality. Horizontal lines invoke stasis and passivity. If my overall visual image is vertical, I will convey aliveness.

Women also have a unique line that never goes away. The 18th century painter William Hogarth identified a “line of beauty” (above) critical to visual aesthetics. This line, or its parts, are found all over nature: hillsides, waves, leaves. In humans, the female form captures it more than the male form. Artists and designers still use this ideal.

Hogarth didn't say only young, skinny women have lines of beauty. You could say it's our inherent feminine line. The problem (for me) is that the media translates this into notions of "hot" and "sexy," as defined by much younger women.
I want to look my best, but I don't want to take my cues from the media. I'd rather trust historical standards of beauty. The concepts of vertical line and the womanly "line of beauty" are two aesthetic standards I'm never going to lose, no matter what my age. I like that.
On a practical level, I believe these ideas mean we can dress with integrity by aiming for the vertical line, and by choosing clothes that fit our feminine lines. There's an art to this, but we have a lot of guidance. You can see some ideas at my other post on line, here.


Seeker said...

This is such a great post and food for thought.


Unknown said...

Great post. I think today's older women are looking great. The baby boomers are not slowing down and are into health and exercise and being all over healthy. Living a good life spiritually as well.

Zuzana said...

I never knew of the "line of beauty". I love your blog as you always bring up these small, but priceless pieces of information.;)

I do not adjust to the magazines ideals of beauty. To me, a woman that is beautiful is very rarely young and thin. Furthermore, how ever cliche it may sound, beauty in a person is truly internal; style, spirit, attitude and an overall sort of charisma defines the way I perceive beauty. In men and women;))

Stephanie N. said...

Fascinating way of seeing it. I refer to this concept very vaguely when addressing some concepts with my costume design students, especially when discussing the function of "focus" within an individual costume and within the overall stage picture. I draw a line like that one in the air in front of me, from the top to the bottom of my body while facing them, explaining that one way to make a costume aesthecially pleasing is to make the audience's focus follow an invisible S-curve down and then up the body, eventually landing our focus comfortably at the performer's head and shoulders. Impossible to explain it well in writing here, but the gist of it is very much related to the thoughts you have shared here.

san said...

I love your blog right down to the soothing colors you have chosen for this page.
You thoughts and musings are very wise and lead me to "think"!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful! You're going from strength to strength. Time to wear that red pashmina, SallyMandy!!!

Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP said...

Great post Sallymandy - I love the S curve line - it's very feminine and works well on the female body.

Classic clothes are all vertical and horizontal lines and more masculine in appearance.

Feminine clothes have soft curves and lines are thus are softer and more feminine in appearance.

I think the reason that so many go on about slimming verticals, is just that so many people want to know how to look slim, so this concept is talked about frequently.

sallymandy said...

Seeker and Protege: I really like connecting ideas of style with history and art. There's so much overlap, and gives it more dimension.

Doreen: I agree with you. It's kind of uncharted waters in some ways, as our lifespans have increased. Thanks for visiting.

Stephanie: That's very interesting about your costume design instruction. Once I learned about this "line of beauty" I noticed that it's everywhere. Maybe Hogarth just consciously wrote about something that's all everywhere in nature.

Saje and ProSup: thank you for the kind comments. Red pashmina---a definite maybe.

Imogen: Haven't really thought about "classic" styles that way, but I see what you mean.