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Overcoming Natural Deficiencies By Illusion

( Originally Published 1924 )



We are made in certain molds, born with a trend of character, type of beauty, which we shall never be able to lose utterly, but we may with good craftsmanship create the semblance of our heart's de-sires. To employ illusion means to apply the principles of design wisely. A myriad of ways the clever brain may devise. A few may be pointed out here.

In a design, a gradation or gradual and unbroken movement upward or downward gives an effect of height. Sizes large at bottom and decreasing toward the top, or large at top and decreasing toward the bottom, have this tendency. When the large sizes are at the bottom we have a feeling of stability, and when the small sizes are at the top the feeling is one of lightness. When sizes are arranged variously to please the fancy, the eye be-comes so fascinated that the sense of movement is lost and height is decreased. When the figure is roughly divided into three parts and the skirt is the largest area, the waist next largest, and head-dress smallest, we have steady motion with height and stability. Where such proportions are reversed we have the more sprightly effect. When the waist is very long, and the skirt short, allowing the feet to appear, where ornament adds further and unequal divisions, we reduce height. [Diagram V (a) and (b).]

Women of childlike proportions (large head and little feet) naturally suggest a gradation from small to large. In youth this flippant effect may be wholly delightful, but as age approaches and dignity becomes more desirable, the gradation should be reversed as much as possible. Wide spreading skirts and close head-dress will give the needed poise.

A woman with a too small head and too large feet tends to look solid and lugubrious unless great craft is used to dissemble the ways of nature. She learns to pose her feet at angles most becoming to them, she wears hats that increase her head size, and since she is usually a tall woman she manages to break up her design in such a way as to attract attention from head and feet to some more fortunate point.

The radiation of outgoing lines and circling curves will produce startling effects. Two lines coming together from different angles must meet somewhere. The mind's eye perceives that point even tho it is not actually visible; and such a point becomes perforce part of the design, the point of radiation for lines in the design. If all the lines in a design radiate from a point within the design the effect will be compact and legitimate, but perhaps uninteresting. If there are two centers of radiation-two points of emphasis, the effect will be more delightful and more difficult. The nearer these centers of radiation come together, the smaller the whole design will seem. If the radiation centers are moved apart, the design becomes larger in effect. Should the radiation centers actually be beyond the outlines of the design, those outlines will seem changed and extending beyond the picture. A center of radiation may be pointed out in a costume by the tapering lines of bodice and skirt. V lines of trimming might enhance this violent effect. No matter what outline the whole costume presented, the eye would be held at the radiation center and perceive the effect to be compact—short. If, however, the tapering lines of the skirt pointed to the chin and the tapering lines of the bodice should point to the knees, there would be established two radiation centers. The design would be less compact and some height would be gained. Should the lines of the skirt suggest a point of radiation above the head and the lines of the blouse indicate a radiation point below the feet, the whole design would be loose in effect and the person would appear taller.

The dress that is short, cutting the figure, and that is held close to the figure, not allowing diagonals to add much length, may still have height because the lines of the dress suggest points above the head and below the feet. A woman who emphasizes a waistline with a short straight costume robs herself of height by bringing the radiation points much closer together.

What is true of a radiation point is true of cell ters of interest formed in other ways. Of course, a good design has only one main center of interest; but there are sometimes lesser centers, and the farther they are apart the looser the construction of the design appears and, therefore, the larger the whole effect may be. For instance, light gloves attracting attention to themselves against an other-wise dark costume give width to the figure; dark hat and shoes with a light costume call attention to height ; a startling decoration near the center of the figure would shorten the figure. Each new center of interest that is added to a design tends to complicate it, and no one effect can be regarded without due reference to others. The placing of centers of interest may cause an even gradation of sizes or a broken one.

It is a well recognized trick of vision that where two lines are treated thus it is impossible to see clearly that they are really of equal length. It is just as true that two women of equal height and similar in proportion may be made to appear very different. Where lines slant downward from the head and upward from the feet the figure will seem short, and where lines slant up-ward and away from the head and downward from the feet the effect will be height. One might suggest in the first instance a drooping bell-shaped hat and round-toed, broad-tongued colonial pumps ; in the second a hat of up-flaring lines and long, slim, pointed shoes. This effect is equally evident with arms; a flaring, backward-turned cuff will shorten the arm, while a cuff that turns downward will lengthen it. It will be seen that the effect is due to the trend of a radiation from centers of interest—the head and the feet. Centers of interest may be placed closer together and the effect of shortening will be more marked, while the effect of lengthening will not be quite so striking. The appearance of shortness is very obvious where a little round cape is worn or upturned frills on a skirt.

A very tall girl made a delightful picture in a bloused coat with raglan sleeves cut to the waist-line. Her skirts were narrower than her coat and a trifle longer. Her broad brimmed hat had two quills that curled to the shoulder. A short woman in the same outfit would easily have been mistaken for a decorative barrel!

Repetition or rhythm is invaluable in pressing a point. Every time we repeat a form or a line we strengthen our argument. Let a design be made up of rounded forms and it will bespeak comfort and fat living; if it be angles that are insisted upon, the point of energy and vivacity will be made; if delicate oval forms and lines are the theme of the design, gracious poise will be the happy effect.

Wherever we have opposition in form or line we have a breaking up of design which tends to make it shorter by entangling the eye within it. Every added button or stitching or pocket helps the broken effect no less than the more noticeable squares, circles, and angles. Opposition, because of its forceful character, is often useful in creating a center of interest.

Other Illusions

It is interesting to remember that in a triangle the hypotenuse is longer than the perpendicular. This fact explains why a wide, flaring skirt or long cape makes its wearer appear taller. This also explains why the small waist-line does not absolutely dwarf a woman, for the small waist is always accompanied by the full and ofttimes very long skirt. The diagonal of that skirt adds height which the very insistent center of interest has reduced.

There is no line like the long diagonal to trick the eye. In seated figures this is very apparent. Free flowing drapery gives height and slimness, while skirts that wrap tightly about the form make it appear short and heavy. Scale relations out of the ordinary will create marked illusions of size. Let a tiny woman sit in a large chair and she will appear doll-like: let her wear an oversized hat and she becomes awkwardly dwarfed: let a large woman surround herself with tiny things and she seems a giantess: let clothes be too large and loose and the wearer seems small: let them be skimped and the wearer seems large.

Last but not least like kills like. A jaunty hat outdoes a saucy nose, just as red overwhelms pink; while a severe and dignified hat may make a regal nose seem insignificant. Hard lines and forms will make those less hard seem quite gentle; while very sweet, soft forms will make other gentle things appear firmer and more poised. Repetition of form emphasizes that form but overemphasis de-creases the value of the original form.

A well known stage favorite whose heavy face and insignificant nose have always caused her great distress has been without sympathy because she wore a perfect antidote—a good looking hat of well-rounded build perfectly completed by curling cocq feathers—and no one realizes her failings. Again, a thin angular girl made herself seem ideally willowy by affecting rather dashing clothes.



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