/ AFP PHOTO / PRAKASH SINGH / XGTY
Q: Do pinstripe suits actually make short men look taller, or do they just reinforce the fact that the man is short? Every men’s fashion book I have read over the years has recommended that short men wear pinstripe suits, but a few years ago I heard that pinstripes have the opposite effect. Every job I have ever had until I moved to the West Coast required a suit, so I was always researching this. What is the answer?
A: This is the male equivalent of the line women have been fed for years: Vertical stripes are slimming; horizontal stripes, thickening. The two applications of the optical illusion argument are pretty telling when it comes to gender stereotypes and presumptions. Men must want to be tall! Women must want to be thin! Oh, really? Just pointing that one out.
Anyway, is it true? Conventional wisdom has dictated yes, but according to the 19th-century German physicist and physician Hermann von Helmholtz, the answer is no. He discovered that a square filled with horizontal stripes actually looked taller and narrower than one filled with vertical stripes.
This was called “the Helmholtz illusion” and, at least during Dr. Helmholtz’s lifetime, was used as the basis of fashion advice.
Since then, there has been a fair amount of debate over whether the illusion is true in two dimensions but not three — and hence applies while looking at a flat surface, but not at a person in clothes. There does seem to be general agreement that in either case, thin stripes work best, as opposed to thick ones.
Which bring us back to pinstripes!
I asked David Farber, the men’s style director of T Magazine, what he thought of the issue of suiting and height, and he provided some smart perspective.
“I actually do think a pinstripe suit can make a man look a bit taller as long as the fit is impeccable,” he said. “There can be a nice line created by the vertical stripes.”
But he added an important caveat: “The minute the shoulder slumps or the jacket pulls across the chest, the attention shifts, which breaks the illusion of added length.”
In other words, in the end, stripes or no stripes is less important than fit. And that means, David said: “Instead of having to purchase a new pinstripe suit as your body changes, your investment should be in an expert tailor. That’s really your greatest asset when it comes to looking taller.” #truth.
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