Two Ultra-Quick Tips For Learning How To Draw Any 20th Century Fashions

2017 Artwork 20th Century fashions article sketch

Well, I’d planned to make another instructional article like this one about drawing 1990s fashions, but I couldn’t decide which decade to focus on. So, instead, I thought that I’d talk about how to learn how to draw fashions from any decade (of the 20th century).

1) The Basics: Take look at this simplified chart (which I made in MS Paint in about 10-15 minutes) that shows you the basic shapes of many common types of clothing. Most vintage clothing from the 20th century will usually be a variation on one or more of these things. There wasn’t enough room for hats, but these old drawing guides (here and here ) might come in handy if you want to draw hats too.

So, copy the pictures in the diagram from sight alone – paying attention to which lines are straight and which ones are curved – until you can do it without thinking about it:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE]. Here are the basic shapes of a lot of elements of 20th century clothing, but thinking about it, the sleeves on the shirts should probably be slightly longer.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE]. Here are the basic shapes of a lot of elements of 20th century clothing, but thinking about it, the sleeves on the shirts should probably be slightly longer.

Remember, most types of clothes that you want to draw will just be a variation of one or two of the things in the chart. Likewise, if you want to learn how to draw slightly more realistic clothes, then this old article might come in handy, as well as any other guides that you can probably find online with a quick search.

2) Look at lots of pictures: Firstly, open a search engine and do an image search for either a decade’s fashions as a whole, or a specific fashion (eg: “1990s fashions” or “1980s power suit”). The trick here isn’t to mindlessly copy one particular picture (depending on how detailed/specific the design is, it might even be considered plagiarism to do this) but to look at as many different pictures of a general type of fashion or clothing as possible until you have an understanding of how it “works”.

This is a bit tricky to explain, but it includes things like knowing which general clothing types were popular in a particular decade, what colour schemes were common in clothing from a particular decade, knowing which clothing combinations were popular, learning which other clothes go well with a particular item of clothing, knowing which types of patterned fabrics were popular etc…

Once you’ve done this, you should then be able to come up with original and/or generic designs based on the general facts that you’ve learnt from looking at lots of different pictures of the same type of fashion. Either that, or if a generic type of clothing was popular in a particular decade, then work out how to draw it by experimenting with altering the outlines in the chart above.

For example, here’s a reduced-size preview of a 1970s-style sci-fi painting that will be posted here in April. For the fashion design in this painting, I used a slightly timeless formal outfit, but with the 1970s look achieved through the use of a slightly gloomy and muted light brown, dark brown, black, grey and blue colour scheme:

This is a reduced-size preview of a painting that will appear here in mid-late April. As you can see, I’ve used a fairly gloomy and muted colour palette, which is contrasted with parts of the background.

So, yes, learning a lot about the general features of a particular type of clothing and/or historical fashion can help you to work out how to create new examples of it in your own art.


Sorry for the ludicrously short and basic article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Creating Unique Fashion Designs For Your Art

2016 Artwork Creating Unique Fashion Designs In Art article sketch

Coming up with interesting, memorable and unique fashion designs to use in your artwork can be a slightly complicated subject.

Whilst you can obviously copy fashions from real life and from photos, this is probably something of a grey area (in practice at least, if not in theory) when it comes to copyright. Not to mention that it also means that you are limited to only using fashions that you actually see too. So, how do you come up with slightly more unique fashion ideas for your art?

The day before I wrote this article, I happened to see a really interesting old photo of a group of people from 1993 in the local paper.

As someone who is fascinated by vintage fashion, I was drawn to this photo pretty much instantly. The fashions in it were wonderfully interesting, but the outfit that really caught my attention was an outfit featuring a slightly baggy white T-shirt and a knee-length black pencil skirt. The contrast between formal and informal was really cool (and very 90s) and it stuck in my mind.

Although this is the kind of generic outfit that probably wouldn’t raise any copyright issues (unless I exactly copied the logo on the T-shirt), it made me think about coming up with unique fashion designs.

And, yes, I used a slightly similar generic outfit in one of my surreal “1950s America” paintings -albeit with much more of a beatnik-style look to it. Although, for the guy in the background, I kind of based his generic outfit more on modern hipster fashion than on beatnik fashion.

"On The Lost Road" By C. A. Brown

“On The Lost Road” By C. A. Brown

But, how do you come up with unique fashion designs? Here are three tips:

1) The type of outfit: Thanks to the internet, artists have literally thousands of reference photos at their disposal in a matter of seconds. So, if you see an interesting outfit, then work out what general type of outfit it is (eg: gothic fashion, tunic dress, trilby hat and suit, plaid suits, denim skirt and knee boots, T-shirt and pencil skirt etc..) and then just enter this into a search engine and do an image search.

Seeing lots of different images of the same general type of outfit is surprisingly useful when it comes to coming up with unique fashion designs. At the very least, you can come up with a much more original design by taking elements from different outfits (of the same type) and combining them in a unique way.

But, if you want to do more than this, then just spend a while looking at all of the photos, then don’t look at them when you design your outfit. Because memory isn’t perfect and because you’ve looked at lots of different pictures, you’re probably going to end up making something that looks similar – but different – to the outfits that you looked at.

If, for whatever reason, you can’t use a search engine – then you can still use a version of this technique. Just think of the general type of outfit that you saw and then try to draw another outfit that fits into this type, but looks slightly different from the one you saw. Again, since memory isn’t perfect, you’ll probably end up making more changes than you think.

"And Pixels In The Sky" By C. A. Brown

“And Pixels In The Sky” By C. A. Brown

For example, in this digitally edited 1980s/90s-style painting from last year, I’d originally just planned to draw a generic 80s/90s floral maxi dress, but I wanted to combine it with something more unique.

So, thinking back to all of the vintage fashion photos that I’d seen from this time, I remembered that patterns using geometric shapes were all the rage back then.

Since the only other item of clothing I could think of which would go well with this outfit was a short-sleeved blouse, I added the pattern to the blouse (in addition to using some cross-hatching too). So, even having an imperfect memory of lots of similar outfits can allow you to come up with something fairly original.

2) Patterns, designs and colours: Once you’ve learnt how to draw a particular type of outfit, one of the easiest and quickest ways to make it look unique and interesting is to just come up with an interesting pattern, colour scheme or design to add to it.

Even if your outfit design is based heavily on other designs, it can still look unique if you come up with your own pattern for it. For example, in all of the versions of the background image that I use for this blog, the character in it wears a blue and black T-shirt, which shows a rectangular picture of a city broken up with several black bars.

"The Silent Future (VI)" By C. A. Brown

“The Silent Future (VI)” By C. A. Brown

This was inspired by a black and pink (or was it black and yellow ?) T-shirt that I saw in a shop back in 2011, where an anime-style picture was split into several oval-like sections using a similar technique.

Likewise, I’d originally planned for the character’s outfit to include a plain blue miniskirt but this seemed a bit dull, so I decided to add a spider web pattern to it – since this looked kind of edgy and gothic.

You’d be surprised at how unique and original a generic outfit can look if you add an interesting pattern to it, if you change the pattern completely or even if you use a different colour scheme.

3) Mix and match:
I’ve alluded to this earlier in the article, but one of the easiest ways to come up with interesting outfits for the characters in your artwork is fairly similar to how you can create interesting outfits in real life. Just mix and match lots of different pieces of clothing.

You might have to do a bit of trial and error here and you’ll probably have to make a few creative changes, but this is probably the easiest way to come up with unique fashion designs for your artwork.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Some Very Basic Tips For Learning How To Draw Realistic Clothes

2015 Artwork Realistic Clothing  article sketch

Although I won’t really be giving that much specific advice about how to draw any one type of clothing here, I thought that I’d give some extremely basic advice about how to learn how to draw realistic clothing.

One of the first things that you should realise is that clothing looks very different when it is being worn to when it doesn’t. When someone is wearing a piece of clothing, there are often additional creases and contours that you wouldn’t see if that piece of clothing was hanging in a wardrobe.

To use a very simple example, here are two pictures of a skirt – one is being worn by someone and the other isn’t.

Notice how the top and bottom of the skirt are curved when it is being worn. I've also added curved contour lines to give the picture a 3D effect.

Notice how the top and bottom of the skirt are curved when it is being worn. I’ve also added curved contour lines to give the picture a 3D effect.

So, how do you work out how to do this?

Well, there are several ways to do this – the first is to just study lots of other drawings by other artists and see how they do it. The advantage of studying drawings rather than photographs is that line drawings are usually a lot simpler than photographs are, this means that it’s a lot easier to see what techniques the artist used.

But, if you’re feeling more confident, then don’t be afraid to do a Google image search for reference photos.

If you haven’t learnt how to copy by sight yet, then try tracing some of these drawings ( either traditionally or digitally) until you have worked out what the artist has done. Don’t worry if you make mistakes (and you probably will), just keep trying until it looks right.

You can pick up a lot of cool little artistic tricks (and basic rules for drawing clothing) from studying and copying other drawings, but it won’t teach you everything.

No, in order to learn how to draw realistic clothing, you need to learn how to think in three dimensions (or to think in a more physical way).

What do I mean by this? Well, you need to build up a realistic 3D model of the person you’re going to draw in your mind and then you have to work out how whatever they’re wearing will be affected by their body (or how their body will be affected by what they’re wearing). A basic knowledge of the laws of physics is also very useful too.

For example, if someone is wearing a baggy long-sleeved shirt and holding their arm out – then the fabric will only sag on the underside of their arm (because of gravity).

Notice how only the underside of the sleeve sags when the person's arm is outstretched.

Notice how only the underside of the sleeve sags when the person’s arm is outstretched.

But, how do you learn how to think in three dimensions? Well, if you do a lot of drawing practice, then it’ll probably just kind of happen naturally after a while.

Observation exercises can help too. If you don’t have a mirror nearby, then look at photos of people wearing different clothes and notice how the outlines of their clothing change depending on how they are standing (eg: does the fabric sag more? Is the outline sharper? etc…). Now, try to work out why this is happening.

All in all, there’s no one way to learn how to draw realistic clothing. It’s an ongoing process that can take years (and I’ve still got a lot to learn about it), but observation, practice and critical thinking are incredibly useful tools for learning how to draw realistic clothing.


Sorry for such a short and basic article, but I hope it was useful 🙂