Wear what you want: scientific proof that horizontal stripes don’t make you look fatter.

By Seriously Science | April 21, 2014 6:00 am
Image: flickr/Rikard Elofsson

Image: flickr/Rikard Elofsson

It’s a commonly held belief that wearing clothes with horizontal stripes will make you look fatter. However, adding horizontal stripes to shapes like rectangles makes them look thinner, a phenomenon known as the Helmholtz illusion. To test whether people are fundamentally different from rectangles, these researchers directly tested whether horizontal stripes make figures seem fatter. It turns out that some fashion “advice” is just plain wrong: horizontal stripes won’t make you look fatter. In fact, they may even make you look  thinner. Zebras, eat your hearts out!

Applying the Helmholtz illusion to fashion: horizontal stripes won’t make you look fatter.

“A square composed of horizontal lines appears taller and narrower than an identical square made up of vertical lines. Reporting this illusion, Hermann von Helmholtz noted that such illusions, in which filled space seems to be larger than unfilled space, were common in everyday life, adding the observation that ladies’ frocks with horizontal stripes make the figure look taller. As this assertion runs counter to modern popular belief, we have investigated whether vertical or horizontal stripes on clothing should make the wearer appear taller or fatter. We find that a rectangle of vertical stripes needs to be extended by 7.1% vertically to match the height of a square of horizontal stripes and that a rectangle of horizontal stripes must be made 4.5% wider than a square of vertical stripes to match its perceived width. This illusion holds when the horizontal or vertical lines are on the dress of a line drawing of a woman. We have examined the claim that these effects apply only for 2-dimensional figures in an experiment with 3-D cylinders and find no support for the notion that horizontal lines would be ‘fattening’ on clothes. Significantly, the illusion persists when the horizontal or vertical lines are on pictures of a real half-body mannequin viewed stereoscopically. All the evidence supports Helmholtz’s original assertion.”

Bonus figure from the main text:

Examples of the human figures used in experiment 2. Here the outlines of the two women are identical, but the vertically striped pattern makes the hips appear broader.

Examples of the human figures used in experiment 2. Here the outlines of the two women are identical, but the vertically striped pattern makes the hips appear broader.

Related content:
NCBI ROFL: Getting bad customer service? Maybe you should change your clothes.
NCBI ROFL: Speedos: not just for streamlining your junk.
NCBI ROFL: Apparently, swimming with your clothes on is hard.

  • Avatar1337

    but the stripes must follow the shape of the body -___-, it doesn’t in the image because it is two dimensional. Idiots.

    • lazy_panda

      It’s even worse when the stripes bend with the body. In any case, the point is that the white spaces appear wider than the black spaces, making the overall width appear wider than if the stripes were horizontal.

      Not so idiotic after all

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Seriously, Science?

Seriously, Science?, formerly known as NCBI ROFL, is the brainchild of two prone-to-distraction biologists. We highlight the funniest, oddest, and just plain craziest research from the PubMed research database and beyond. Because nobody said serious science couldn't be silly!
Follow us on Twitter: @srslyscience.
Send us paper suggestions: srslyscience[at]gmail.com.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »