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Length and Proportion in Fashion

Christine Jonson Patterns

How to make yourself look taller, slimmer and better proportioned by playing with length when sewing clothes

by Christine Jonson

Is it possible to develop a discerning eye?  Is it intuitive? Or can it be learned? Learning through experience is a long process. Is there a shortcut to “seeing” exactly how long your skirt, sleeve length or jacket should be to be most flattering? Proportion in garment making is the same as perspective in a painting. Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not great for most sewers. For some it is best to follow the designer’s lead and just make small adjustments according to the pattern directions, but for others these decisions are opportunities to develop a critical eye for design.

 Jackets should hit the fingertip length and sleeves should meet the wrist bone. Shown here on Isabelle, our mannequin, this boyfriend jacket, an oversize style, still has good proportion and fit even though it's designed with casual, relaxed ease.

Jackets should hit the fingertip length and sleeves should meet the wrist bone. Shown here on Isabelle, our mannequin, this boyfriend jacket, an oversize style, still has good proportion and fit even though it's designed with casual, relaxed ease.

Cutting garments longer than necessary is the only way to have enough length to play with. Trying to make a length and proportion decision at the time of cutting is not possible. Expecting that you can shape a garment to perfection in tissue will only be disappointing.

On your next garment cut it longer than you would normally, even if you think it is fine as is. You may find that you don’t use the extra length or that you use every inch of it. Sometimes the extra length will make you see an entirely different outfit possibility. Make this a normal cutting process. 

In my pattern making and designs my aim is to make you look taller, slimmer and better proportioned. I can be in control of the design of the garment but you are in control of the lengths and proportions. For example, the Boyfriend Jacket, Boatneck Shell and Cuff Pant suit has 6 length decisions to be made and each of them is dependent on the other to give the perfect look. Stand far back from a full-length mirror and keep pinning the hems until you find the perfect combination. If you don’t have a full-length wall mirror buy an inexpensive freestanding mirror.

First of all the length of the jacket should be at your fingertips and the sleeves at your wrist bone. More importantly is the button placement. Because it is a loose fitting, straight cut jacket the distance between the shoulder and button should be shorter than from the button to the hem. The jacket should hit the pant leg below the widest part of the thigh and the cuff should just bend on the top of the shoe and be even with the top of the heel in the back. If the jacket is too short and the button is too high it throws off the proportion and shortens the torso.

The Shell untucked should just hit the seam where the waistband is sewn to the pant so when the jacket is open the eye sees the body divided not in half at the waist but higher so the hips and legs appear longer.

If you were making the Fitted Jacket you would want it to hit just below the widest part of the hips to hide them and because it is a fitted jacket, shape it enough to give definition to the waist so how you actually see the proportion of the suit is determined by the distance between the shoulder and the waistline and the waistline and the jacket hem and the waistline and the cuffs. Note that it is not the jacket hem and the cuff but the waistline. Interesting.

The Three Tees tunic length should hit your thighs at their narrowest point so that one would assume that they are that narrow all the way up! This is my favorite length for my tee because I have heavy thighs and no one would know it ;)

 Keeping the underarm area from the armpit to the waist open gives needed definition at the bust line.

To practice seeing the right proportions just look around you at what others are wearing. Think how you could improve the outfits you see by simply lengthening or shortening their proportions. Try on some of your finished garments and look at them critically with a sewing friend and ask if they could be improved by changing their proportion.