The Print-Placement Experiment

By now, it's no secret that I have a swim-sew obsession. I love it to bits! I mean, so long as I'm making suits like these, what's not to love??

Plus - suit making is incredibly scrap-friendly. I've made at least two suits from every 1 yard cut of swim knit I've ever purchased. So when I had the idea to do this print-placement experiment, I knew I could pull it off with scraps, and sew it up fast now that I know the right tool for the job

Before we talk about this experiment of mine, I'd like you to examine the two scrappy swim suits I made. I used the Splash Suit from Lily Sage & Co. Take a second to form your opinions of each suit:

  • Which suit do you like better?
  • Why is that your favorite?
  • Why do you like the other less? 
  • How does each suit change your impression of the body in it?

Now let's zip back in time to one night a few months back sharing a post-kid's-bedtime couch convo with the hubs....

My husband is a business school grad, and one heck of a commercial banker. So, you know, most conversations we have on the subject put me to sleep. But on this particular night, he introduced me to a psychology term called "priming". 

Priming is an implicit memory effect in which exposure to one stimulus influences the response to another stimulus.
— Wikipedia

Which is a fancy way of saying, our first impressions heavily influence our overall experience. Regarding anything. Ever.

Of course, given the context of his life, I got to hear all about "priming" in terms of salesmanship. "When I call a potential client, I ask them a question they're likely to say 'yes' to first - like "did you enjoy your weekend?"- and then I ask them if they have time to talk with me about their banking needs. That way, they're already 'primed' for an agreeable response." (or, you know, something like that. My brain wandered to daydreaming about beautiful fabrics halfway through his sentence.) When I asked for another example, he said "Say you need a mechanic. You look up garage listings and see "Discount Auto" and "Elite Auto." The name of the garage gives you a first impression about how expensive they'll be. You may end up paying the same for your oil change, but you're more likely to feel like you got a good deal from "Discount Auto" because you expected to pay less there."

Now the only thing that bores me more than banking is cars. So I found myself looking to sewing for my own understanding of "priming." I came up with print placement in garment design. 

What are you more likely to look at when you see a garment - a vibrant print? Or a neutral solid? Ok, so that answer is rather obvious... the print is more visually stimulating, so you're more inclined to look there first, and form your first impression of the garment around it. This pin visualizes the concept nicely, but today - we'll put this theory to the test on a real life body: MINE. Grab your sunglasses now. Paleness ahead!

Let's see those suits again:

If I were to guess, your eyes went RIGHT to the print here. You may have even just said to yourself "BOOOTTYYYYYYY"! (Just me? Oh, ok, carry on!) Maybe that's a good thing, maybe that's a bad thing. But when your eyes finally hit the navy top, you probably think "Wow, that looks smaller compared to her mega-tooshy. Big bum, little boobies is not exactly what I want to go for.  What I WANT is balance. I want my shoulders and hips to appear at equal widths, and my lady curves up top to look as proportional as possible to my lady curves ...behind. (This is a cultural preference of course. But this "priming" can be used to emphasize whatever silhouette you crave)

So let's see again what happens with I flipped the print placement:

Again, our eyes probably followed the print. From the front, anyway, you might be thinking "her body looks much more proportional! The top looks more or less the same size as her bottom." Which is interesting, considering my breasts are smaller than average, and my rump is larger than average. (How do I know?? Because I "KNOW THYSELF"!) Hooray for balance!

"But wait... those booties both look pretty sizable, Becca..."

Well look - this is an optical illusion, not cosmetic surgery. I AM still working with the same thick layers of dimply bum fat. It might surprise you to see that the "slimming" black suit really doesn't do my toosh any favors. It's tall, and flat, and it just kind of looks like a big, black, blob of fabric. No bueno. And while the contrast waistband on the print suit helps to visually shorten the same "big bum" problem, it doesn't solve it. Why didn't print placement matter? 

Well... because this is priming, too. Your eyes go to the only thing there really is to see from behind. Regardless the fabric, your first impression is "WOAH, that's a big butt." And when you eventually notice the  tie straps (IF you ever get around to noticing them) they look flimsy and insignificant.  Which is exactly what they are - when compared to the big chunk of fabric on the bottom.

"They're like, 1/4" ties, Becca. They'd always look that delicate."

Really though? Because I've always thought that those same ties look perfectly proportional on a triangle bikini top with bow-tied bikini bottoms.  On this particular suit, I think that I'm PRIMED to interpret those ties as "too small" (and the booty as "too big") when compared to the other - for better or worse.

If I make this suit again, I'll use a wider bias - maybe as much as 1-1.5" finished strap width, to balance the overwhelming presence of the bottoms. I also know now to shorten the height of the bottoms, and that that contrast waistband really is my booty's best friend. 

Anyhow - that's my print placement experiment! I hope you learned something about first impressions, how to make sure they work to your favor, and how to approach your garment design and fabric auditioning with balance in mind.  As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts! Leave them below :)