Applying Golden Section Concepts to WW2 Suits

I’m making the View 2 Jacket from Advance 2960 for Sherry’s RTW Tailoring Sewalong.  Thanks to miserly cutting, I (probably) have enough fabric left to make a slim skirt.  I already have an a-line skirt with an inverted front pleat so I won’t use the pattern’s skirt.  Besides I feel a desire to stretch my drafting muscles a little.

Some of you may remember my first post on Golden Ratio and how it may apply to sewing:

Sometimes in the course of garment construction or design, the sewist must make a seemingly arbitrary decision about… length, {or} depth… A poor judgment call on one of these seemingly random decisions can render the garment dowdy or ridiculous… The ancients faced a similar problem in architecture, and artists often turn to the golden ratio in their work.   The Golden Ratio stems from a desire to contain aesthetics within mathematical principles.  Why not?”

Since then, I’ve applied the concepts to several projects- Maria Jeans and the Moderne skirt length among them.  I pondered Moderne with a work colleague and wondered about the value of applying the golden section to impose proportionality within a garment, rather than just to my own body.

Let me walk you through my work the other day as I puzzled this out.  I used some rudimentary algebra that looks more technical than it is.

This is a warm-up, so I felt comfortable playing with the equation.  It’s basically:

The constant is 1.618, which is the Golden section constant represented by the symbol.  I used my metric measurement from shoulder to floor to determine the most appropriate division points on my figure.  I illustrated them in my diagram above.  Were I making a pants/ top combo or a dress or a coat or a floor-length evening gown, I’d use those numbers.  What if I wanted to make a skirt?  Or what if I worked with a differently proportioned garment?

I like the length of the 2960 jacket, I have a summer weight one near completion.  It measures .7m from shoulder to hem.  I wanted to make a skirt to go with the jacket, but I want the skirt to appear proportionate.  Too short, I’d shorten my figure.  Too long, I’d look like a dweeb.  I assigned .7 to my “a” variable in the equation and solved it.  I’m telling it to you in a nice straightforward way, but I spent a while head-scratching before I figured out what I was doing:

a/b = 1.618
.7/b = 1.618
.7 = 1.618(b)
.7/1.618 = .43
b = .43
My calculations said that for the skirt to be proportionate to the jacket, .43 of the skirt should show below the jacket’s hem.  Obviously, I needed more information to understand where to place my skirt’s waistband. 
.7 (length of jacket from shoulder) + .43 (visible length of skirt) = 1.13 (total length from shoulder)
So I used the total length- 1.13m and applied my equation using the expanded version:
(a+b/a) = 1.618
(1.13/a) = 1.618
1.13 = 1.618(a)
1.13/1.618 = .698 or .7
Math is not my strong point.  I actually worked through like this to solve for a and b before I realized my work was redundant.  Oh well.
So the skirt and the jacket should have a finished length of .7.  Weird.  The blouse I’ll wear with the skirt and tuck in will have a length of .43.  Weird.  The length from my shoulder to my waist is exactly .43m.  Weird.  
 1.13m from the shoulder
.7 from waist
I was pondering this while I hung out the washing and put it away, then had a sudden flash of inspiration.  Why not measure the jacket and find out if the top of the jacket is proportionate to the peplum?
Jacket to waist seam: .44m (a)
Waist seam to hem: .26m (b)  I decided to use a to solve for b:
.44/b = 1.618
.44 = 1.618/b
.44/1.618 = b
b = .27
Really, really, really weird.  I consider a centimeter or so (half an inch) to be fair enough wiggle room based on how much I round.  Weird weird weird.  I suddenly felt a close connection with the original designer of the jacket, and wondered if he or she used the golden section to decide the length of the peplum.  I’ll never know, but I’m working on a draft to put my theory into practice.

I like this skirt draft from Pepin and feel it is well within my skills.  I want to peg the bottom for sexiness factor, and I’ll add a sort of back godet to allow walking space.
Something along those lines.  I might experiment with nap layouts to accentuate the cutting lines.  We’ll see how I can fit the pattern pieces on my remnant- I set myself the challenge to only use what I have left.
While we’re on the subject of skirts for suits- should I line it with the same stuff I used to line the jacket?  Should I leave it unlined?  I like the symmetry of using the jacket lining on the skirt, but part of me wonders if that’s overkill, considering the thickness of the fabric and the temperature of my climate.  
Opinions greatly appreciated.
As I revised this to publish, I had a blinding flash of inspiration- why not think of my body as a rectangle?  I could measure myself from shoulder to shoulder, use that as a or b, then work out some other proportions- for a good ensemble length, say.  I explained to long-suffering Husband, who measured me.  As he measured, I said “I wonder if it’ll be around 43 cm.”  45 cm.  Basically, the length of my suit is a golden ratio based on my shoulder width.  I can see how I could easily become completely preoccupied with applying this concept to my design work.  
Try this to find your optimal skirt length: Measure from shoulder to shoulder in metric.  Your tape measure does both, it’s easier to use metric for equations.  Then plug that measurement into b in the equation a/b=1.618.  Then solve for a.  “A” will be your optimum ensemble length.  Then plug your “a” from that into “a+b” in the equation ({a+b}/a) = 1.618, solve for “a” and you’ll find your optimum skirt length.  Freaky.
Tomorrow night I’m hosting a 6-hour “Sewathon” at work, so I won’t be blogging.  I’ll be slave-driving and chatting and pestering and ordering dinner for a dozen or so ladies.  If you’re a Brisbane sewist who fancies spending 6pm-12am in the company of other sewists, you bring your own projects and machine, we’ll all order takeout and get some serious work done.  E-mail me and I’ll tell you where to go.


  1. How cool! I love math, so what you did makes total sense. I think I'm going to try this out on a dress that needs re-hemming because the length right now is not flattering on me.

  2. I'm a math nut too, did it at Uni before comuter sci. I love the idea of this, and you're right about it being used by designers in the past, I remember reading about it.I'll try this out too, being petite pear shaped I'm always having to hem things but never knew what proportion would look best.Love it!!

  3. Also, maybe if your hips are wider than your shoulders then you should use the front hip measurement where I used shoulders above…? Just a thought… It's all theoretical…

  4. I wondered if it was Pepin you were quoting. It sounded like her. Great stuff! I once took a one-time sewing seminar with a professor of fashion design and we talked about this. It was a lot of fun when everyone stood up with the tape measure and started moving cloth over each other.

  5. You could analyse photographs in magazines this way too, you know, just for fun ;) Or maybe the models are too disproportionate.The godet in your skirt would look nice in the side panel seams!

  6. Thank you, thank you! I'm going to do the math right now, and I can't wait to figure out what the numbers say is the optimal length for my skirt. I would like to post the math and a photo of the skirt hemmed according to the golden ratio on my blog. I'll link here to give you credit for the lesson. I hope that's okay! Thanks again.

  7. hey, i just stumbled over your blog somehow, and even though i got lost somewhere in the equations, i totally love your brainy attitude to design.i will have to read this article again. thanks for sharing your thoughts.frau e

  8. Fascinating… my degree is in poetry and you can get lost studying the golden mean as how it relates to writing forms. As far as lining the skirt, it sounds pretty but I have two lined skirts and I never wear them in Austin's climate, even in winter. Maybe a removable one?

  9. I'll be sure to link back to you Steph, thanks for writing about this.By the way, I love your idea of a 6 hour sew-a-thon!! I'd jump for that in a heartbeat…I just need to find like-minded sewists here in Ottawa (Canada).

  10. Hey Steph, this post blows my mind. Last week I spent an hour in front of the mirror with my measuring tape, calculator, paper, pencil and tried on many of my clothing seeing how they appear according to the Golden ratio you posted earlier. I determined that I needed to come up with a different formula for skirts and shirts. I basically went through the exact same process as you. I kept getting variations of 55, 88 & 33 cm. Crazy. After reading this post…my shoulder measurement is 53cm (taken from outer edge to outer edge). I have also read a post that talks about skirt length whereby you use the hem length to give the illusion that your femur (thigh)and tibia (shin) are the the same length. Using this formula all my skirts end up above my knee or at the 88cm shoulder to hem line. A bit short for some of the conservative circles I travel in. Re lining skirt. You'll have to somehow keep it from gripping your legs if you wear anything on them (I am not sure if I have ever seen you in tights or nylons!) Corduroy makes me think of cooler weather where I would wear tights, in any case, I would most likely go for a slip to keep it versatile.

  11. Neat, so interesting we went through much the same processes! I love that I can share creativity with other like-minded types. :) Thanks for the tip on the lining, I think you may be right. I don't wear nylons much… I hate pantyhose, most of my skirts are too short for knee-highs, and I can't seem to find thigh-highs here that stay up with or without garter belts. I do like them in winter, though so it's a good point. Thanks!

  12. I too love it that I now have like minded 'friends'. Every time I feel shame that I am rushing to get to the computer, I remind myself that I am rushing to spend time and connect with friends, not to escape.For over 10 years I have worn these thigh highs and they have never ever let me down. am not sure if they are discontinued. It would be a cryin' shame if they were. I get them locally at most department stores.

  13. I really like the golden ratio, and this is a really interesting idea, but I feel that the length of skirts etc. should be most tied to where it hits on the body. I wonder how the different parts of the body correspond to the golden ratio. I suppose I need to go and take a look at the Vitruvian Man. I wonder what happens if you're short waisted, etc.

  14. Pingback: Drafting the Jumper- For the Pattern Geeks « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

Is it kind, useful or interesting? Great!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s