The horizontal stripe has suffered in the fashion press for years, with most ladies giving it a body swerve because, as a friend bemoaned recently, ‘Stripes make me look fat!’ There’s nothing like diet and exercise to clear the mind of weight worries, but a well-chosen wardrobe can do a lot to help. And this includes horizontal stripes. Chosen carefully, they can do a body a lot of favours, which is great news this season when nautical is most definitely nice.

We’re seeing lots of stripes in the shops at present, and it would be a shame to miss out on this season’s fresh and funky nautical theme due to an outdated myth, so let me help you through the minefield that is ‘Dressing With Stripes’.

Received wisdom states that wearing vertical stripes makes you appear thinner. Just think of the traditional pin-stripe suit, often chosen to help the successful businessman disguise a few unwanted kilos. Well, it transpires his choice of pattern may have little to do with the slimming effect, or so says German scientist Hermann von Helmholtz.

Helmholtz suggests that a space filled with horizontal lines appears taller and thinner than its counterpart, filled with vertical lines. The natty diagram (inset) illustrates his point. Helmholtz’s explanation of the illusion hinges on the ‘filled’ areas of each square, with the square on the left being ‘filled’ along top and bottom resulting in a taller appearance, and the right-hand square being ‘filled’ at either side, resulting in a short and squat appearance.

Helmholtz discovered this illusion in 1925, and debate has continued since, with many subsequent studies into its application in the fashion world proving inconclusive. Why, after nearly 100 years is this debate still open, with people being so vehemently opposed to wearing horizontal stripes? Surely, the proof can be seen in the illustration above. Yes, it’s an illusion, but fashion uses tricks like these all the time. Clinching in at the empire line to draw the eye to the narrowest point, a deep v-neck to disguise a large bust. Fashion loves nothing more than a little trompe de l’oeil. So what’s different here? Seemingly, it’s all to do with transferring Helmholtz’s 2D illustration onto a real, live 3D body. Once we take curves and movement into account, the situation changes and you have to work at your stripes, rather than blindly choosing Helmholtz’s dull black and white affair.

The High Street is currently awash with stripes of all types, and there is a stripe to suit you. If you find black and white too draining (many British complexions will, despite our beautiful Mediterranean summers), try smart navy and white, or choose from the coral, red, lemon, and all-colours-of-the-rainbow stripes currently on offer. Also, look at the composition of the stripe. Regulation prison-bar stripes, like the ones above, may not be for you. Look out for stripes of varying widths as, if designed cleverly, they will draw the eye to a small waist, disguise a large bottom, and do all manner of wonderful things to your figure. Chevron stripes have a great slimming effect, and mixing in some verticals with your horizontals looks really fresh.

Of course, choosing the wrong stripes will make you wail, but stick with it you’ll have to try a few. My current personal favourite is a nautical-stripe maxi skirt with broad horizontal stripes. Not the natural choice for the person with wide hips and small bust (I am a size smaller on the top than on the bottom), but the correct stripe for my body-shape plus a slight A-line to the skirt, teamed with a plain top makes a fresh summer outfit. And my wide hips? Well, I’m told they’re kinda sexy…