Principles & Elements: Aspects Of Design

When designing, there are several ideas or aspects of design that need to be kept in mind. These aspects of design can be categorized into two areas: Principles and Elements of Design. One way to describe this is: “The princples are the directions for a cake recipe and the elements are the ingredients. The directions (principles) are flexible and should be interpreted within a current fashion or problem the designer is trying to solve. For example, the directions (principles) would apply differently for a design of a costume than for a design of a current fashion garment. The ingredients (elements) are raw materials that must be combined. These elements change the taste of the garment, just as the ingredients can change the taste of a cake. A dress is more eye-catching in a bright color than a dull, neutral color, even though the design is the same.” - 1998 Fabric & Fashion Design Competition Guide.

There are four elements of fashion design: shape and form, line, color/value, and texture. There are five principles of fashion design: proportion and scale, balance, unity (harmony), rhythm, and emphasis.


Shape and form are among the most important in fashion and accessory design. The shape, or silhouette, is the most obvious visual element of a garment; it is probably the first thing that is seen. The silhouette can be described as the outline of the entire garment, and it is often called “form.” The goal of a silhouette is to compliment the shape of the body. However, exaggeration is often used in order to create a certain type of effect or emphasize a certain part of the body; whichever is the current fashion trend.

Line is the simplest element of design. There are two types: outline and style lines. Outline is the outer edge of the design whereas style lines are the lines that divide up the space inside of the outline. For example, if you were to trace around an outfit in a magazine or catalogue, you would be following along the outline. Style lines can be created by several things: belts, ruffles, seams, a color line, or a pocket.

Next to the silhouette, one of the first things noticed about a design is the color. Color has an enormous effect on how you feel. Everyone loves wearing their favorite color, and in fact, it makes them feel good!

Texture is another important element that actually can determine a lot. The way the fabric feels is a big thing to consider. When designing, it’s important to know how a fabric will drape and feel. For example, overalls are great in denim, but would you wear silk satin overalls? Probably not. The design should be paired appropriately with the right fabric.


The first principle is proportion. This creates the feeling of unity that is created when all of the parts (sizes, numbers, or amounts) relate well with each other. Also, when drawing or sketching the human form, proportion refers to the size of the head when in comparison to the rest of the body. Scale therefore refers to the overall size of any object or its parts when compared to the size of other parts or objects in the design.

A simple concept to understand is balance. There are two kinds of balance, and in fact they relate to more than just fashion design; these two types relate to almost any type of design and art. Symmetrical and asymmetrical balance are the only two types that designers and artists use when it comes to balance of their piece. The outfit is symmetrical if you were to divide it right down the middle and both sides are exactly the same. Therefore, if you divide an outfit right down the middle and both sides aren’t the same, the balance is asymmetrical. Asymmetrical balance is quite popular in dressy evening wear because it is dramatic and eye-catching.

Unity is the feeling of harmony between all parts or objects of the design. The overall design creates a sense of completeness.

Rhythm refers to the repeated use of lines, colors, trims, shapes, or details that create a pattern that the eye can follow throughout the design. Examples could be stripes, polka dots, ruffles, etc.

What your eye is drawn to on any outfit is considered to be emphasis. It could be anything that you focus on, from a horizontal stripe, a belt, jewel, or contrasting color.

So after everything is all said and done, it really isn’t that difficult to understand these basic principles and elements. And once you do come to understand all of this, you won’t be able to stop finding them in every outfit that you look at for now on. Just take a look in your drawers and closet…see how many principles and elements you can find!