Newsflash! Horizontal Stripes Won’t Make You Look Fatter, Say Scientists

by Erin on June 6, 2012

Stripe-lovers rejoice! Two vision scientists at the University of York, Peter Thompson and Kyriaki Mikellidou, have scientifically determined that horizontal stripes will not, after all, make your rear look like the broad side of a barn:

stripey ladies


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.

(full text available here)

I love science. I also love stripes! (Okay, I didn’t love these, but I did love these.) How nice that one is enabling the other! (Although, truth be told, I never really worry about how big my rear looks in something: once it’s over a certain critical mass, there’s really no point …)

I expect to see a flotilla of horizontally-striped dresses in the coming months. That’s how this science stuff works, right?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Lauriana June 7, 2012 at 5:22 am

Hooray for stripes! I’ve actually heard about this research before, on an episode of QI on the BBC ( ) Do you know QI? You might love it.


Jen O June 7, 2012 at 2:22 pm

not buying that!
I teach this stuff at the college level, and everyone knows that it’s the WIDTH and CONTRAST of the stripes that makes the difference whether the eye runs ‘up and down’ or across a field of stripes.
(nothing is ever that simple, right?)


belphebe June 7, 2012 at 3:42 pm

This picture doesn’t help prove their point to me. They may be correct, but I keep focusing on the fact that the vertical stripes are not uniform in width, but the horizontal stripes are. It looks like the center front vertical stripes are narrower than the side ones, which of course makes the sides look larger. If they made the center stripes wider and the side ones narrower, people might have a different opinion.

Having said that, the horizontal stripes don’t look too bad.


Lynn Mally June 8, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Erin, Did you catch the book The Devil’s Cloth? It is all about the history of stripes. A wonderful read. I blogged about it here:


Rachel June 14, 2012 at 6:36 am

I love that you posted the abstract!! 😀


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