I’m on my second day of “fashion illustration” and so far, I’m still having fun with this. I’m not taking myself too seriously, you know. Learning fashion illustration is part of my long-standing desire to be a fashion designer, and while that dream was left far, far behind as I pursued other (more realistic) interests in life, there’s no reason why I can’t enjoy my love of fashion as a hobby of sorts. That’s why I want to learn fashion illustration. I want to fill sketchbooks with my long-legged models. I want to dress them up in my own couture collections. I want to play with fabrics, textures, and colors… just for the fun of it.
So, today, I’m learning to draw legs. It’s really not as difficult as it might seem once you look at the structure of the bones and the joints. If you have an “art mannequin” close at hand, you can easily see how legs are put together: ball, tube, ball, tube, ball, with a foot added on at the bottom. In other words, you have three ball-like joints: hip joint, knee joint, ankle joint. Those are joined by more-or-less straight, tube-like forms, with a bit of flare below the knees for the calf of each leg.
In the book I’m using for my “beginner’s crash course” — Master Fashion Sketches in 9 Days — this is illustrated with circles to represent the various joints and curves:
One thing to note — which I’d never really considered before — is that the leg swings up and out in a curve. Yes, of course it does. That’s common sense, but then again, I’ve never been one to use a lot of common sense in learning to draw, so I’m very glad this was pointed out.
As far as the “idealized proportions” of fashion illustration, the legs make up 2/3 of the body (excluding the neck and head). So the formula is torso, hip to knee, knee to foot, with each “section” forming 1/3 of the height, again, excluding the head and neck.
Since I’m having fun with this new hobby, I decided to browse around a bit to see how different fashion illustration models are from the body proportions of a realistic woman. There is, indeed, a lot of difference.
For fashion illustration, remember, the ratio is that the legs are twice the length of the torso. In reality, the “perfect” leg/torso ratio is 1.4: 1, or if we follow the rules of the “Golden Mean”, the perfect ratio would be 1.618:1. Only in the realm of fashion illustration do we find women with legs twice as long as their torsos.
Of course I had to wonder what it is about “long legs” that makes them so persistent in fashion illustration. Obviously long legs are considered more attractive — in both men and women — and a lot of studies have been made. I gave up reading all the statistical evidence. It’s really irrelevant to my own studies.
I know that the long-legged models in fashion illustrations have a certain mystique about them. They look elegant, sophisticated, and refined. In the past, I think this was what women wanted to be. Maybe that’s not so true nowadays, but back in the 1950s, most women, I believe, aspired to those unrealistic standards.
I looked online at a few Simplicity sewing patterns available today. These patterns no longer feature the glorious, long-legged creatures of vintage patterns. Today we see real women wearing real clothing.
Take a look at Pattern S9265, a lovely tiered dress, modeled here by a beautiful — real — woman. I love this dress, so much, in fact, that I’ll probably buy this pattern and make this for myself.
Yet, I’ll be honest. There’s a little charm that’s missing for me when I think back to the pattern illustrations I grew up with, the ones that called out to me from the Simplicity, McCall, and Butterick sewing catalogs.
So different. So unreal. And yet so quick to catch my eyes, to make me believe that the right fashions could turn me from an awkward girl into a sleek, stunning beauty, to make me think that with the right dress — and all the right accessories — I could walk into any room and turn heads. This is what all those long-legged beauties did. Maybe it’s not a good thing, but it’s something that I want to hold onto in my fashion illustration because for me, this is truly what fashion is all about. It’s about make-believe. It’s about letting us imagine ourselves in different ways.
I suppose it’s that imaginative quality that I find important. Anything that can make us dream is good. In time we come to see that those dreams aren’t realistic, yet still I feel we’re better for having had those dreams. I think fashion touches us in a special way. To me, fashion is its own sort of magic, and that’s what I love most about it.