In my previous post, we saw how horizontal stripes don’t necessarily make you look wide. That’s because they can lead the eye up and down the figure, making it appear taller.

When something looks taller, it also looks narrower – so horizontal stripes can help you appear thinner.[1]

But how can you tell whether your striped top or dress will have the desired effect? Well, there are two key principles to understand and apply to your body type.

Principle #1: Horizontal stripes improve depth perception

Horizontal stripes actually make it easier to tell exactly how wide (or deep) an object is.[2]

You can see the effect in action when you compare these two identically-sized torsos.

identical torsos different striped tops

Source: Thompson and Mikellidou 2011.[3]

So if you want people to know exactly how wide your waist is, it makes sense to wear horizontal stripes. They make you look taller and emphasize a narrow waist.

Vertical stripes, on the other hand, have two disadvantages: they lead people’s eyes across your figure (making you look wider), and make it harder to tell how narrow your waist is.

Principle #2: How big your waist appears is how big YOU appear

When we look at someone, we don’t take in every single thing about them at the same time. We tend to treat someone’s waist size as a particularly important piece of information about their overall size.[4]

If your waist appears small, we’ll assume the rest of you is slim too – even if your arms or legs are disproportionately heavy.

Let’s combine these two principles and find out what they mean for different body types.

Slim Waist: Triangle, Pear, and Hourglass Body Types

If your waist is relatively narrow compared to your shoulders and breasts (making you a triangle shape), hips (pear shape), or both (hourglass shape), then you can make people think you’re skinnier overall by highlighting the narrow width of your waist.

taylor swift striped top

Source: What Would Taylor Swift Wear?

So you would want to wear horizontal stripes on something tight-fitting, such as this sweater on Taylor Swift here, to make your slim waist as noticeable as possible.

Thick Waist: Apple and Rectangle Body Types

If your breasts and hips are barely wider than your waist (making you a rectangle shape), or your waist is disproportionately thick compared to your long limbs (apple shape), you’ll want to camouflage your waist size so it’s harder for people to tell exactly how thick it is.

rag and bone ash striped top

Source: Lyst, Rag & Bone Ash striped top.

You should wear horizontal stripes on a top that’s loose and square-shaped, such as this one above, giving you a cute, blocky appearance on top. You could also highlight your legs with skinny jeans or a miniskirt.

That way people will just assume your waist is as slim as the rest of you, proportionally; and the stripes will add an illusion of greater height (and therefore slimness).

A Note on Breast Size

If you have big boobs, remember to choose a low-cut top, or else the horizontal stripes could make you look even more top-heavy.

NO: Crew neck

crew neck striped top

Source: Myntra.

YES: V-neck or Scoop

striped v neck top

Source: Rainbow.

Good for Just About Everyone: Boatneck Tops

A Breton/sailor-style boatneck top that’s not too loose and not too tight will give you a casual French gamine look. This works for any body type, just as long as your boobs stick out further than your stomach.

striped tops collage

Source: SewManju (left), Bright City Brunette (right).

Note that the sleeves should be simply cut and horizontally-striped all the way down; sleeves with contrasting stripe directions can tend to make your shoulders look broader.

And in fact, that advice on how your boobs should stick out further than your stomach goes for all types of stripes. Compare the effects of these diagonally-striped garments:

Source: Can no longer find – please comment below if you know where it’s from (left). Daily Mail Online (right).

On the left, the models are relatively narrow so the diagonal stripes lead our eyes up and down their figures. The horizontal line of the belts accentuates their waists.

On the right, Kim Kardashian is relatively wide, and the diagonal stripes lead our eyes across her figure, making it appear even wider. The stripes are also distorted by her breasts and pregnancy bump. Which isn’t a problem if you’re pregnant, but might be something to consider if want to avoid looking that way when you’re not!


If you’re fat, you may think you should never wear horizontal stripes or you’ll look even fatter. But you would be wrong, because they make you look taller when worn on loose fabric.

If you’re skinny, you may also think you should never wear horizontal stripes or you’ll look wider. But you would be wrong, because they make it easier to notice your small waist, especially when worn on tight fabric.


[1] Beck, D.M., et al. 2013. “A new illusion of height and width: taller people are perceived as thinner.” Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 20 (6): 1154–60. DOI: 10.3758/s13423-013-0454-8.

[2] Apparently we perceive depth best when the surface pattern runs parallel to the maximum curvature of the object. Since the human body tends to be curviest horizontally (at the hips, for instance), horizontal stripes should give the most accurate information about its depth. (This is my paraphrasing of the summary given in the paper I cite in footnote 3.)

Li, A. and Q. Zaidi. 2000. “Perception of three-dimensional shape from texture is based on patterns of oriented energy.” Vision Research 40 (2): 217–242. DOI: 10.1016/S0042-6989(99)00169-8.

[3] *Thompson, Peter, and Kyriaki Mikellidou. 2011. “Applying the Helmholtz illusion to fashion: horizontal stripes won’t make you look fatter.” Iperception 2 (1): 69–76. DOI: 10.1068/i0405.;jsessionid=897EA2A24E95F58DB902A2108B258F05.thrasher?lang=en-ca#R7.

*This article is also the source of the featured image for this post.

[4] Cornelissen, Piers et al. 2009. “Patterns of eye movements when male and female observers judge female attractiveness, body fat and waist-to-hip ratio.” Evolution and Human Behavior 30 (6): 417–428. DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2009.04.003.

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Hi there! I'm a writer and image consultant based in Montreal, Canada. Whatever your goals may be — whether in love, business, or life — I'm committed to helping you achieve them by improving your appearance.