Mastering Illusion: What You Need to Know About Vertical Lines

Theory - Vertical Lines4.png

Our eyes are fascinating. They don’t wait for our conscious commands to tell them what to do. Healthy eyes automatically survey the world. They assess movement. They are drawn to light. They follow lines.

The best artists know the truth about eyes and how they operate. They apply the principles to guide their audience’s visual experience of a painting or photograph. By doing so, they define a focal point. The painting as a whole is clearly visible, but the most telling component is defined by the artist.

Stylists can do the same thing by harnessing linear illusions to create balanced outfits that guide the eye. The most powerful linear illusion is the vertical line.

What is a vertical line?

Just what it sounds like, really. In garments, the most common sources of vertical lines are stripes, seams, pleats, and rows of buttons.

How do lines work?

They tell your eye where to travel. A strong vertical line quickly draws the eye up toward your face. Isn’t that the goal? When someone looks at me, I don’t want their eyes to automatically focus on particular parts of my body. I want them focusing on my face, my smile, my words. A strong vertical line will do just that.

What’s so great about vertical lines?

Besides drawing the eye towards your smile, they have a lengthening and slimming effect. This is where the optical illusion factors in big time.

A quick word about slimming illusions

Before I continue, however, I would like to state firmly that while vertical lines slim and lengthen, “tall and skinny” should not be our objective here. What matters most is inner beauty. Style is a confident woman, not a dress size. The goal is always to look and feel your best.

Many people—young and old, man or woman—harbor negative feelings toward their bodies. It’s a sad fact. We live in a world full of unrealistic ideals and altered photographs. For many people, myself included, our reflections can sometimes cast a long shadow over our confidence and self-worth. Sometimes a quick pick-me-up is as simple as reading positive affirmations and changing clothes.

My objective as a Style Coach is not to dictate rules and advise you to pursue one definition of beauty. My objective is to help you understand theory and decode garments, teach you how to shop wisely, and identify what makes you feel your absolute best. For many women, dressing in garments with strong vertical lines are just the ticket.

Let me say it loud and clear: Beauty comes in every shape, colour, and size. We are far too strong and talented to let our reflections dictate our worth. Rant over. Let’s talk illusions.

Different and yet the same

Recognize this image? It’s called the Müller-Lyer illusion. 

The center segments in both illustrations are exactly the same size, but they don’t look like they are, do they?

The line on the right appears to be longer because of the extended lines on either end. Your eye is instinctively draw to follow the direction of the lines.

The line on the left appears shorter because of the opposite direction of the arrows at each end. One’s eye is drawn inward, rather than out, causing the center line to look shorter than it actually is.

Are all vertical lines created equal?

Yes and no. A single unbroken vertical line, one that moves from the floor or hemline in an unobstructed way, right up to the base of the neck will complement all women, rain or shine.

“The Magic Y” is a real zinger. It’s the line created when the vertical line continues upward on either side of the neck, just like in the Mueller-Lyer illusion. Think open-collared shirts, V-necklines, long slim silk scarves tied around the neck, long necklaces and so forth. These lines automatically make a person appear longer and leaner. It also explains why V-necks are universally flattering. They showcase smiles better than crewnecks.

Michael Kors at

Michael Kors at

If we’re talking multiple vertical lines, the closer they are to one another running down the center of a body, the more they will slim and lengthen your reflection. 

Conversely, two vertical lines placed far apart will shorten and widen it. Why? Distant vertical lines form three wide panels that draw the eye across the body. These types of vertical lines have the opposite effect.

Notice the subtle difference between these two jackets. Both are three-quarter length basics with vertical lines but the black and white one makes me look taller. Do you know why?

The solid jacket has princess seams, vertical lines that divide the body into three segments. These visually shorten and widen my body. The black jacket’s buttons reinforce and emphasize that center line but the subtle division is enough to make the black and white jacket the clear winner. Nothing distracts from that contrasting black center line. It’s lean and mean.

Neither effect is better or worse, per se. it all comes down to balancing your shape and nailing the look you’re going for. Do you have a long torso? Your eye might prefer the appearance of wider set lines. Are you short-waisted? Perhaps your eyes will gravitate more toward narrow lines that lengthen your proportions. 

Does this mean I should avoid horizontal stripes?

No. The key is simply to understand how linear illusions work. Sometimes horizontal lines are a girl’s best friend. It depends on her frame and shape and what brings her joy. More on those in another post.

How to make vertical lines work for you

  • Take a spin through your closet. Can you spot any garments with strong vertical lines? If so, try on those pieces and then notice how you look and feel.

  • Discover what you love. Maybe you find shirt dresses suit your lifestyle and personality. Perhaps you like skirts with buttons down the center or long coats with simple plackets. Whatever you do, figure it out, either at home or in a shop. This is part of pinning your personal style and honing your ability to dress your shape.

  • Keep your favourites in mind as you shop. By keeping close tabs on the silhouettes you love, it will be easy to spot the winners from afar. This will save you lots of time when you’re out shopping.

  • Wear them often. Who doesn’t want to feel amazing each and every day?

Enough about illusions. How do you wear your lines? Drop a comment below.

Thanks for joining me as I dive deeper into my 11 Strategic Style Solutions guide. Don’t know what I’m talking about? I created a resource for you as a thank you for joining my mailing list. If you’re interested in receiving all things Marilee directly to your inbox, head over here to follow along and claim your free copy. There will be some fun announcements in the near future too. I hope you’ll tag along. I have so much I want to teach you.