As your keen eye for style has surely noticed, one-shouldered frocks and tops have been quite popular in recent years. Personally, I’ve always been a fan of shoulder exposure. It feels like a way to show some skin without wearing something cut down to there. But, evolutionarily, according to science, we shouldn’t like asymmetric looks at all.
Symmetry, rather, is more our thing. For example, we’re more attracted to symmetrical faces because, scientists tell us, a symmetry indicates stronger, healthier DNA. Studies have also shown that babies will gaze longer at pictures of symmetric faces than asymmetric ones. Researchers have done experiments in which they created a composite of several faces to create one that looks very symmetrical. A panel of judges found the composites more attractive than the individual photos they were created with.
So that got me thinking: am I a freak of nature for loving asymmetrical styles (though others are presumably just as freaky, judging by the number of off-shoulder looks available)? And how is it that such tops and dresses also strike me as rather flattering? I certainly wouldn’t have been surprised if it were nothing more than self-delusion.
But I did want to get to the bottom of it, so I emailed Audrey Lustig, a perception specialist whose writing I was super excited to come across previously on topics including color, V-necks and vertical versus horizontal stripes. She told me about a recent paper that showed women care less about symmetry than men.
That could certainly be part of the explanation. Maybe we’re running around thinking we look fetching in our asymmetrical dresses and dudes aren’t feeling it at all. At the same time I do wonder if they really care or notice? I recently asked by husband what he thought the body-hugging one-shouldered Herve Leger number a friend was wearing the previous evening and he said: “If you put a gun to my head I couldn’t describe it.” (Though he may have feared it was a trap! Poor husbands, can’t win.)
Another explanation could be that an asymmetrical neckline (or elsewhere on the body), has a slimming effect. If you have broad shoulders and you wear, say, a boat-neck top, it will exaggerate width across your clavicle. But an asymmetrical cut takes the eye downward creating the perception of a norrower torso. I couldn’t find any scientific studies looking at this specifically, so if you happen to know of one I’d love to hear about it! I did, however, find plenty of sites that mentioned the phenomenon, and it makes a lot of sense, no?
It also seems to call into question the idea that the strapless, A-line dress is the most universally flattering, which is apparently quite controversial in certain circles. A strapless dress, after all, often cuts straight across the top of the chest. We’ll just have to explore that one next, won’t we?