Helmholtz illusion

Do Stripes Make You Look Taller?

One persistent piece of fashion advice is that vertical stripes make you look taller and slimmer. Then, at some point in the noughties, fashion advice flipped ninety degrees. Horizontal stripes were suddenly in vogue.

But do either horizontal or vertical stripes actually make you look taller?

Short answer: no.

And the long answer? Well, I've read the internet so you don't have to. Here's what I found.

In favour of vertical stripes: tailors say ‘vertical stripes draw the eye’ 

When I Googled ‘do stripes make you look taller’ the top result from Henry Davidsen gave me this answer:

‘Vertical lines draw the eye up and down. This tricks the viewer into perceiving height where there isn't much of it to speak of otherwise.’

Then, further down the search results, you find this from Oxford Shop:

‘Under 5'6, but don't want to feel like the smallest guy in the room? The vertical effect of pinstripes, chalkstripes and herringbones will instantly make you look taller.’

There are a bunch of others who say the same thing. It generally revolves around ‘drawing the eye', which I’m not sure I understand. However, many of these sources are established tailors or menswear brands. They know their stuff. Unfortunately they're a little thin on evidence.

In favour of horizontal stripes: the Helmholtz illusion and Dr Peter Thompson

Horizontal stripes, on the other hand, have evidence to burn. They've listened to the wild theories peddled by the vertical stripe brigade, they've scoffed into their real ale, and they've sharpened their pencils. They have science on their side.

In particular, the Helmholtz illusion. Have a look.

helmholtz illusion

Hermann von Helmholtz was a 19th century German scientist. He developed this illusion to show how horizontal lines made a box seem thinner and taller. I can sort of see it. And this - according to the theory - shows that horizontal lines are the way to go if you want to look taller.

This was confirmed by Dr Peter Thompson in 2008, who somehow got funding to test this theory with real people. You can read the full rundown on this Guardian article. But, in a nutshell, he found that people looked about 6% thinner in horizontal stripes.

However, this is where it gets contentious. In 2012, science decided to turn on its old friend horizontal stripes. 

Val Watham - Dr Thompson’s student - published her own research (here on BBC News) which showed that, in 3D, the Helmholtz effect doesn't work, and that vertical stripes are actually more slimming. So we've come circle. Also, these studies mainly talk about width, not height, so they might be useless anyway.

The winner? No-one knows.

Having read all these articles, here is my conclusion:

If there's no consensus on whether stripes make you look taller, clearly they don't make you look taller. Because you would look obviously taller.

Even with three scientists involved, one of whom was German, no-one knows.

Not even Reddit knows. And Reddit knows everything.

Sorry for wasting your time.

Jack, Founder of Ruler of London

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