The Four Basic Principles of Fashion Design

Understanding Fundamentals

Although all designs incorporate the components or elements of fashion design, the principles of fashion design, its guiding rules or fundamentals, govern whether or not a particular design is successful and aesthetically pleasing. Of course, that judgment can be a somewhat subjective one as anyone who has watched a fashion design show such as Project Runway can attest from having heard the judges, who usually are experts in the fashion design field, disagree at times about a particular contestant's design.

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Fashion designers working at computer in fashion design studio
Monty Rakusen / Getty Images

There are a number of techniques that a fashion designer may use to place emphasis on a feature of a garment or a fashion accessory. Such techniques may include the addition of embellishment, cut-outs, ruffles, peplums, and so on. Use of color and its placement is another way to create emphasis, making some areas stand out more than others.

Exaggerated or unusual designs, such as the leg-o-mutton sleeves that were popular on 1980s wedding gowns, also create emphasis, highlighting a particular area. Knowing about emphasis, which can be part of the design itself or emphasis on the body because of the way a garment is designed, can help any woman when she is selecting a garment or fashion accessory. For example, if a woman wants to showcase her shoulders, she may select a strapless top or dress. If she wants to highlight her cleavage, she may select a gown with a deep V-neckline.

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Balance in fashion design can be achieved with the use of features, such as seams, hemlines, and necklines. Symmetrical applications of balance (for example, a straight hemline) are the norm, but asymmetrical balance can be effective too. In the past several years, asymmetrical necklines have achieved popularity. Asymmetrical balance is more complex and trickier to achieve than symmetrical balance. For example, a one-shoulder gown might look interesting with its asymmetrical neckline, but a jacket with one lapel larger than the other would just look bad.

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Proportion in fashion design is the principle that holds that the size of various components of a garment or fashion accessory must look good together. Proportion is one of the most important principles of fashion design for the petite woman because when she selects garments, their proportion (or size/scale of the garment or various components of a garment or fashion accessory) should be relative to her small stature. For example, a tea-length, a full skirt would have so much volume that it would be overwhelming on a petite woman.

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When the principle of unity in fashion design is applied well, a garment or fashion accessory should look good overall. It should look as though it goes together, and it should look as though all the design elements are contributing to making a harmonious whole. In an effective application of the principle of unity, each element enhances the others, rather than distracting from the design.​