Wear Your Knits: the Rule of Thirds

In a couple of recent posts (here and here) I shared examples of how I create outfits with my handknit garments. In this post I want to share a tip I often use when putting together outfits with handknits: the rule of thirds. This rule of thumb is based in a concept called the golden ratio.

The golden ratio, is a concept that is used frequently in art, architecture, design, and photography. Here is an illustration, using what is known as a golden rectangle. The golden ratio occurs when the ratio of side a to side b equals the ratio of the total length a+b to side a. (In case you’re interested, the golden ratio is also closely related to the Fibonacci sequence of numbers, which converges toward the golden ratio.)

A rectangle with a square and smaller rectangle inside. The square has side length a and the smaller rectangle has short side length b.

Numerically, the ratio is equal to approximately 1.618. So proportions of 1/3 to 2/3 are close to this ideal ratio, but so are proportions of 2/5 to 3/5. This means you can also break an outfit into fifths (even though we call it the rule of thirds). Any proportion that is near the golden ratio will appear harmonious to the eye, and the asymmetry creates more movement for the eye than an outfit that is divided in halves.

Using the Rule of Thirds in Outfits

Here is an example of how I use the rule of thirds in my outfits, using the Suora tee. The top is about 1/3 the total length, and the pants about 2/3.

An outfit that illustrates the rule of thirds. The top is approximately 1/3 the lenght of the outfit and the wide leg pants 2/3.

The rule of thirds doesn’t have to apply to every garment in an outfit. If I were to add a cardigan or jacket to this outfit, which I frequently do on cooler mornings, it could be longer than the top and your eye would still register the underlying top-to-pants proportion. You can play with this proportion by tucking in your top, or wearing a cropped sweater over a longer layer underneath. If you’d like to see some other outfit examples, check out this post.

I also use the rule of thirds in designing garments. Below is a photo of my Campus Cardigan sample. As the arrows show, the length of the lower dark gray section of the body is approximately 2/3 the length of the upper medium gray section, or 2/5 of the overall length. The sleeves are the reverse – the dark gray section is approximately 2/3 the length of the sleeve. (The medium gray section is the same length as the medium gray section from the armhole to the top of the stripe on the body, so that the stripes line up when the sweater is worn. But I digress.)

Flatlay of a colorblock sweater illustrating the rule of thirds. The dark gray lower portion of the sweater body is approximataly 2/3 the length of the upper lighter gray portion.
The rule of thirds applied to sweater design. The lower dark gray section of the sweater body is approximately 2/3 the length of the upper medium gray section.

It goes without saying there are no hard and fast rules. Wear whatever looks good to you. But if your knits are stuck in your closet because you can’t figure out how to pair them up with your other garments, the rule of thirds can be a handy trick to help you create outfits you’ll be confident wearing.


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