It is perceived wisdom that vertical stripes on clothing make a person look thinner and horizontal stripes make them look fatter.

Has any research been done into these optical illusions that support either of the claims?

1 Answer 1


Psychologist Peter Thompson says horizontal stripes make you look thinner.

The basis for this is the Helmholtz-Square Illusion:

enter image description here

The horizontal stripes make an object look "taller".

His experiment revealed that when two women were the same size, the one wearing the horizontal-striped dress appeared to be the thinner of the two. And to make the women appear to be the same size, the one wearing the horizontal stripes had to be 6% wider.

enter image description here

While it is uncertain when the idea that horizontal stripes are fattening took hold, the opposite - and now apparently correct - view was documented 150 years ago. German physiologist Hermann von Helmholtz noted in his 1867 Handbook of Physiological Optics that 'ladies' frocks with cross stripes on them make the figure look taller'.

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    When I skimmed this, I thought it said the opposite. I saw the picture and thought, "Damn, he's right! The one on the left looks huge! The one on the right, tall!" Suggestion fools me again. Apr 2, 2011 at 23:27
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    I hope this wasn't the image they used for the research. I don't think it is the stripes that make the difference as much as the shadowing on the hips. The 'horizontal' stripes actually draw the eye down with the light central vertical stripe created down the center.
    – user4507
    Aug 16, 2011 at 13:03
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    That picture proves nothing. I know for a fact hirizontal stripes are slimming. The colors have to be the same without a control the experiment is rendered useless. With a picture that uses the same colors its more controled. If you look at the first picture with the bars it shows all. With controled color and the same size square it proves that horizantal lines are not only slimming but also gives the illusion if being taller. Its all in the science.
    – user5651
    Jan 4, 2012 at 2:35
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    @Blnik You are focusing way too much on just the image of the girl. It's a bad example on it's own but with the other material it makes sense. Look at the squares, and you'll notice the horizontal stripes make the square look taller for sure. Also, if you read the material, horizontal stripes help show 3D shapes better and therefore make you look more sliming in comparison to a 2D blob, which is as wide as its edges. The shadowing on the hips was added to demonstrate this point I would assume. Jan 10, 2012 at 23:49
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    It's still unrealistic. The stripes on clothing are not perfectly straight like in the squares or the image with the girl. They are deformed with the clothing as it conforms to body shape, and if the visual effect of that is not accounted for in an experiment, the experiment is useless. Apr 30, 2018 at 8:25

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