Some clothing pieces are specifically designed to deceive one’s eyes, and it’s likely that you’ve encountered such an illusion in the past. Perhaps you’ve seen someone wear a piece of clothing that mimics the contours of bare skin, or models on a fashion runway wearing clothes that look like they’re from a pixelated computer screen or a 2D cartoon.
A closer inspection may reveal a deliberate and harmless trickery carried out through the clever usage of established printing and tailoring techniques. This is called trompe l’oeil, which in French translates to “trick of the eye.” This flat optical illusion has the goal of making viewers see something that is not actually there, and it has interesting fashion applications that you can use to elevate your personal style.
What is Trompe L’Oeil and Why Do People Incorporate Illusion into Their Fashion Choices?
First, it may be important to note that trompe l’oeil may not be as unfamiliar a practice to you as you may think. It’s possible that you’ve made use of illusion yourself, knowingly or not, in your past experiments with fashion. For instance, you may have worn skin-tone cotton leggings that made your legs look longer or made people do a double-take to see if you’re wearing leggings at all. Another common application of this illusion is a regular T-shirt that bears the prints of a formal tuxedo. There are also sweaters that have realistic prints of bows, which you might have worn during the colder season.
Putting on such articles of clothing may seem silly if you’re not in the mood for it. But if you’re aiming to make a statement, prompt a second look from others, or pique other people’s curiosity, there’s no better way to do it than to present a well-done illusion through your sense of style and fashion.
Pro Tips for Mastering the Art of Sartorial Illusion
There are plenty of good reasons to put the trompe l’oeil strategy into action. It’s practical to rely on illusion, for example, if you want to wear a piece of clothing that rejects plainness without necessarily decking you out in a lot of ribbons, laces, chunky necklaces, stuffed toys, or other heavy accoutrements. After all, you don’t need to have these accessories on you—you just need to look like you’re wearing them.
It’s also an option to wear a piece of clothing that exemplifies trompe l’oeil if you want to focus on one aspect of your clothing over the other. For example, you may want to dress sparingly, but you’re quite sensitive to the cold and the weather demands full-body coverage. In this case, you can wear a long-sleeved skin-tone dress that has a realistic printout of a floral Venus-cut dress. It’s a smart way of enjoying a sweet, summery look without sacrificing comfort.
You can also do the opposite and don a simple shirt that has a realistic print of a draped jacket near its neckline. The inclusion of this minor detail will make it look like you’re feeling a bit preppy and cool, despite the hot weather outside.
Then, there’s the fact that pulling off an illusion and being at the centre of attention can be quite fun on its own. A pair of shoes or a handbag that’s seemingly stuck in 2D in this 3D world we live in can get attention from just about anyone, and seeing it can even make another person’s day. It’s a great way to communicate to others that you appreciate a bit of fun and you have a whip-sharp sense of humour. Moreover, a 2D-looking dress or even a 2D-style hairpin can even be a great conversation starter and help you gain the appreciation of people who like the same things that you do.
Conclusion: Making the Most of Trompe L’Oeil
One way to maximize the impact of optical illusions in fashion is not to overdo it, especially if your aim is to elicit a reaction from the people around you. Before anything, think of the aspect of your clothing or the illusion that you want to focus on and ensure that that component can be singled out by people from a distance. This way, you can immediately direct people to what you want them to see and have them look at that element a second time.
If you want the focus on to be on illusionary accessories, on the other hand, do so by making sure that the elements of your outfit mesh well together. If you’re wearing a sleeveless little black dress that bears a realistic print of an ornate silver necklace, it’s a good idea to pair it with a blazer that complements the image of the necklace. This way, the outfit will look more put together despite the fact that one of its components is just printed jewellery.
When you’re in need of an outfit that is equal parts a work of art, a means of self-expression, and a way to start conversations, then remember that you have the option to use trompe l’oeil to your advantage. Try it out and see how you can pull off a magical look by just playing on dimension, light and shadow, and other little details of your clothes!