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Fashion Design Principles

Today you’re going to learn all about fashion design principles, so that when it comes to drafting your first female bodice pattern or skirt pattern, you are aware of all the ways that you can experiment and develop a style!

So, what are the design principles to be aware of when getting creative with patterns?

Fashion design principles are important when drafting patterns.

Fashion Design Principles + Elements

  • Proportion
  • Balance
  • Shape
  • Line
  • Rhythm
  • Scale

There are more principles and elements to consider, but for now, we will focus on these six.


Proportion is the biggest and most important fashion design principle when it comes to fashion design and pattern creation.

I wrote this article about body proportions a while back which will help explain how to assess your own body for proportion.

The reason proportion is important is down to how it can affect the way we look in clothing.

If elements of a design do not relate well to each other, there will not be unity, and the design will look and feel ‘off’ as in the two images below…

The above garment has far too much going on.:

  • Proportion
  • Line
  • Rhythm
  • Shape

Altogether it looks a bit of a mess.

The next image, below, is an interesting dress. That said, the proportion and scale rules have affected it in such a way to make it ‘aged’.

Let’s take another example: if someone were rather petite, they would most likely not want to be wearing anything oversized – either in length or in width – as this will usually enhance their petite-ness, and make them look and feel ‘drowned in cloth’.

As noticeable in the image below. This photo shows a woman looking very top heavy, in an oversized sweater.

At the same time, someone who is plus size and average height will want to play with different length proportions of garments in order to not look boxy and square, and thus look longer.

Understanding your own body proportions is essential then, when it comes to creating patterns for yourself that work well proportionally.

It allows you to play around with vertical and horizontal lines in a way that emphasises the elements of your body that you do like, and minimising the areas that you are not so keen on.

The jacket in the image below works well as it meets a key rule of one third / two thirds.

The jacket falls below the thigh which is two thirds of her body length. It looks well balanced because the proportion is great for her height.


Balance boils down to symmetry and asymmetry. The design is symmetrical if you can cut it straight down the centre front and centre back and have both sides match exactly.

Any deviation – even just a pocket placed slightly at an angle on one side – makes for an asymmetric garment.

Symmetrical balance is considered to be more usual and normal, but asymmetrical balance exists too, and can also work very well, though most often as evening dresses for that ‘wow factor’.

Examples of symmetrical would be:

  • Consistent and even hemlines
  • Seam lines balanced on both sides of the body
  • Design features such as collars and sleeves being equal on either side
  • Even and equal placement of pockets, embellishments etc

The dress below is a great example of symmetry. the entire dress is symmetrical, from the overall shape / silhouette, the neckline, even the different colour blocks.

Examples of asymmetrical would be:

  • A collar / lapel that is longer and thinner on one side of a jacket only
  • A pocket on one side of a skirt
  • One sleeve only on a dress

A very simple example of asymmetry, this still gives a balanced feel to the dress.

Now, as I said before, having asymmetry in a garment / pattern doesn’t necessarily mean that the balance will be off.

Allowances can be made to offset one side of a garment against another, so that even though they are asymmetrical, they still feel balanced.

This dress is asymmetrical – yet the contoured bodice adds to the very rhythmic skirt / trail of the dress work to complete a balanced design (insofar as we can tell while she is seated).


Shape, also interpreted by people as silhouette, is a very obvious element of fashion creation. From an A-Line skirt to a couture evening dress by Dior, shape plays the second most important role in successful fashion creation.

My paid pattern making membership site utilises shape and proportion in interesting ways in the design blueprint area.

We will also cover shape in more detail other posts, but for now lets get our eyes on some amazing silhouettes.

This is a very relaxed, loose shape.

The jacket in this image is rather boxy with a minimal waterfall effect front. There is a definite ‘square’ shape going on, which works well when offset with a fitted lower body.

I think it would be interesting to see the boxy jacket paired with quite solid, structured trousers to better understand the effects of shape and proportion…

This dress is slightly A-line though the effect is lost in the use of a lighter, drapey-ish fabric.

The line connecting the gathered section to the main dress works well to emphasis the shape and also make the design more interesting by adding rhythm to the lower section.

You can imagine that without it, the simple upper bodice would make for a rather uninspired dress.


Lines are everywhere in fashion.

  • Vertical lines
  • Horizontal lines
  • Waistlines on dresses
  • Pleat lines on trousers

The way we use line to break up a pattern into style lines, can help to draw attention to or away from an area of the body.

Lines that are created on a pattern can also be emphasised with seam detailing or adding in ‘rhythmic’ elements such as ruffles.

While the dress below isn’t overly heavy on the use of line, it does show how adding line through the use of altered and minimal ruffles can make for an interesting and balanced garment.

With the layers appearing at the bust, I would suspect that this model was less busty than many others, who would struggle to wear this design in a way that didn’t accentuate their bust.


When we think rhythm, we typically think of music. And to be fair it is kind of the same in fashion creation.

The use of colour, shape, line and details all play their part in creating rhythm in a garment. Sometimes certain colours or details jar and feel ‘off’, while at other times we are blown away by the perfect rhythmic combination used.

This is important to remember when creating patterns. If you were to take a dress and cut it up into sections, how you treat each section will affect the rhythm of the dress.

The image below shows many outfits which have a sense of rhythm throughout. The use of the pom pom detailing – in the outer leg seam on trousers, on the hem lines of dresses – help to build up a rhythmic feel to a collection.


Smaller or larger? Playing with scale when it comes to creating patterns is a lot of fun.

Taking a fitted sleeve, increasing the overall scale of it yet constraining it in its original armhole size is a great playful way of dealing with scale. Or maybe you love pockets, and instead of having two regular size pockets on a jacket, you have multiple pockets scaled up and down in size.

How does a pair of trousers look with regular sized pockets on the butt? And how does the garment change when the scale of those pockets is changed? What effect does playing with scale have on the overall design?

The most obvious way to think about scale though, is in the print on a fabric.

If the print is smaller and less discernible, it has less of an impact and the shape of the design will be clearer. Prints that are louder and busier, take away from the shape, line and can even affect the proportion and balance of a garment.

The simple design of the dress below works very well with the scale of the print. If the print had smaller circles, it would feel a bit ‘meh’ because the shape is so simple.

In this image below however, two different scaled prints are used. The smaller scale print on the bodice works well to minimised the bust, drawing attention away from it, while the larger scale print on the skirt helps with this.

The shape of the skirt also helps to balance the models figure, adding more substance to her hips for an hourglass effect.

Fashion Design Principles Recap

A lot of fashion design principles in this post, to help you see the possibilities open to you once you start creating your own patterns. For people who have not studied design, it can seem daunting, or a mystery, to get your head around. But think of it like this..

  1. When you see sewing patterns, you get an idea of what it is about them that you like.
  2. Then you see a few sewn up, in different fabrics by different people, and you have a stronger feeling of what works and what doesn’t.
  3. Sometimes it may feel ‘off’ or just wrong. In these scenarios it is usually because a design principle or element has been broken but not in a very effective way.

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Saturday 28th of September 2019

I’ve read all about slopers, and making you own patterns. My question, now, is How do I use the sloper to make my own design? Do I just use the sloper for placement of neckline, armholes and shoulder seams? I don’t see the relationship between the sloper and my garment design. For instance, how would I use a bodice sloper to make a,”big shirt”?


Thursday 27th of February 2020

Thanks for this, now that im learning about body types and what fits each. This priniciple is a grt guide to creating something grt for diff body types having to draw attention away from certain parts and drawing in attention to certain parts. How do i join the creative cutting class. Thanks

Eve Tokens

Thursday 3rd of October 2019

Hi Deborah! So, your sloper is the starting point of any designs that you want to make up. You can create slopers with different amount of wearing ease, with each being more suitable for specific styles. If you wanted to make a 'big shirt' you would have a sloper developed with a good amount of wearing ease included, and would then use this as a basic for any designs. I teach all this inside my Creative Cutting Class membership, but it isn't relaunching until January 2020.

Mary Sadlier

Friday 23rd of August 2019

Excellent observations, Eve. Thank you.

Eve Tokens

Thursday 3rd of October 2019

Thank you Mary for taking the time to comment! :)