Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. C. Melody Carswell


Objective: The goal of this research was to explore how the design of clothing, specifically the design of the suit, can create height illusions.

Background: Taller people enjoy many advantages, such as increased income and perceived attractiveness. These advantages motivate people to try to appear taller than they actually are, and clothing experts provide advice on how to accomplish this. However, there is little empirical evidence to validate the illusory effects clothing might have on overall height perception. The few studies that have explored illusions of body size created by clothing design have been limited in two important ways – the test stimuli have included unnatural body shapes and have failed to include naturalistic context (i.e., surrounding depth and size cues available in real scenes).

Method: In the first phase, participants (nonexperts in clothing design) provided suggestions for how to appear taller by changing clothes. In the second phase, participants 1) viewed photographs of a variety of targets wearing suit designs that are commonly believed to manipulate viewers’ perceptions of height, 2) rated the targets on traits associated with height such as income and attractiveness, and 3) estimated the heights of these individuals. This study focused on the potential effects of suit color, specifically overall lightness (light vs. dark) and monochromaticity (monochromatic vs. lightness blocking). The effects of these designs were tested with and without contextual information by presenting targets within a natural streetscape or on a white background.

Results: In the first phase, we found that nonexperts provided similar suggestions as experts in clothing design, including those pertaining to monochromaticity and lightness. In the second phase, we found that estimates were more accurate with more contextual information, and that clothing can impact height estimations, where monochromatic outfits yielded taller height estimates, although other outfit comparisons did not have effects. Outfits overall did not impact ratings such as income and attractiveness, although estimated height did correlate with these same social attributes. In an exploration of the impact of contextual and target-specific cues other than clothing on height estimations, we found that height perception was potentially dependent on a variety of factors such as the target's race, location (indoors vs. outdoors), stance, and the presence of nearby people.

Scientific merit: This study increased our understanding of the conditions under which illusions of size in simple geometric stimuli generalize to the manipulation of size perception in real-world scenes.

Broader impact: A better understanding of biases in height perception is relevant to domains in which such estimates are used to identify individuals (e.g., criminal justice) as well as domains in which visual characteristics of individuals are associated with errors in judgments of performance-based merit. (e.g., personnel selection and promotion).

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)