Which Retailers Might Be Using Skinny Mirrors?

by Miki Hayes

So apparently, some retailers are using "Skinny Mirrors" to boost sales. These mirrors are supposed to maintain a person's realistic figure while making it appear slightly slimmer. At first this might seem like a scam, and frankly, a little sad. I wanted to see if any popular retailers are attempting to manipulate their customers, so I performed a little dressing-room experiment. But afterwards, I realized whether these mirrors are being implemented doesn't matter. One's reflection isn't so much about the mirror being used as it is about attitude. Comfort and confidence (and a little lighting) are what change an appearance. Here's how I found that out:

The Experiment

To see if some popular retailers have manipulated mirrors, I took to the mall with my handy-dandy iPhone (apologies for the less-than-stellar photos). I wore the exact same outfit to every store and snapped a selfie to see if I could tell a difference in my appearance from mirror to mirror. Unfortunately this is not the most scientific experiment that was ever performed, but I tried to control as much as possible. Starting from the base of each mirror, I took three steps backward, heel-to-toe, and tried to strike the same pose for each pic. I then took comparison measurements of the smallest part of my waist in each photo, and also measured a constant vertical feature in each photo to determine a width-to-height ratio for my appearance in each mirror (the smaller the ratio, the slimmer I'm meant to look). Although I used 64ths for the most precise measurements, these ratios unfortunately do not take into account any errors in camera angle, distance measurement, body positioning, etc. I also do not have a control mirror, so all of these measurements can only be compared amongst one another. But even though my scientific measurements are limited, I attempted to draw the most reasonable conclusions possible.

I also made some subjective and objective observations along the way. I tried to take into account my personal feelings regarding each store and my dressing-room experiences when analyzing each photo. I also made sure to notice what type of lighting was featured in each dressing room, and where/how the mirror was situated. (Dimmer lighting hides more imperfections while an angled mirror will create the effect of a taller, leaner reflection.)


Waist measurement: 30mm/77 64ths

Width to height ratio: 5.92

Dressing Room Asthetic: Dimmer lighting; backlit, angled mirror

Other Notes: Widest waist measurement, slimmest ratio


Waist measurement: 30mm/77 64ths

Width to height ratio: 6.42

Dressing Room Asthetic: Yellow, even lighting; mirror flush against the wall


Waist measurement: 30mm/77 64ths

Width to height ratio: 5.92

Dressing Room Asthetic: Even, neutral lighting; mirror flush against the wall

Other Notes: Widest waist measurement, slimmest ratio


Waist measurement: 30mm/76 64ths

Width to height ratio: 6.91

Dressing Room Asthetic: Bright, even lighting; mirror flush against the wall


Waist measurement: 30mm/75 64ths

Width to height ratio: 6.25

Dressing Room Asthetic: Yellow lighting, poorly lit; mirror flush against the wall


Waist measurement: 29mm/74 64ths

Width to height ratio: 6.73

Dressing Room Asthetic: Uneven, yellow-neutral lighting; mirror flush against the wall

Forever 21 (2)

Waist measurement: 29mm/74 64ths

Width to height ratio: 6.73

Dressing Room Asthetic: Harsh, uneven lighting; angled mirror

Banana Republic

Waist measurement: 29mm/74 64ths

Width to height ratio: 6.73

Dressing Room Asthetic: Yellow-neutral lighting; backlit mirror flush against the wall

Victoria's Secret

Waist measurement: 27mm/69 64ths

Width to height ratio: 6.27

Dressing Room Asthetic: Dim lighting; backlit, angled mirror

Forever 21 (1)

Waist measurement: 27mm/66 64ths

Width to height ratio: 6.60

Dressing Room Asthetic: Soft, yellow-neutral lighting; angled mirror

Other Notes: Slimmest waist measurement, third widest ratio


Forever 21 (1) versus Forever 21 (2)

During this experiment, I preferred my reflection in the dressing rooms I was familiar with and/or those with dimmer or controlled lighting. I liked the yellow lighting in Francesca's, the color-saturating lights and familiarity of Guess and Forever 21 (1), and the dimmer lighting and familiarity of Victoria's Secret and H&M. And you know what? I'm sure that's exactly what those retailers want. But even though their lighting tricks worked, there is no direct correlation between my preferred dressing-room conditions and my measured waistline and body proportions.

In fact, I remember thinking Forever 21 (2) and Buckle had the most unflattering mirrors, but they actually portrayed the same, if not slimmer waistlines than some of my preferred mirrors. What actually made my appearance less flattering to me was the lighting and my unfamiliarity with these rooms. As you can see above, the harsh overhead lighting in the second Forever 21 cast awkward shadows and showed off the fact that I was wearing high-waisted jeans even though I tried covering it with my shirt. These details were mostly hidden in other lighting situations.

And after doing all the measurements and math (although keep in mind they probably contain some amount of error), I found that even though a mirror might portray my waist as being slimmer, when taking my proportions into account, that same mirror might actually be making me look wider overall than another mirror where my waist did not appear as slender.


Francesca's versus Guess

Even though I started this experiment knowing there were so many variables, after trying to be all mathematical about my findings, I realized that the amount of variables were actually too high to determine anything consistent about the way these mirrors were changing my appearance. Yes, my waist appeared somewhat slimmer in some of the mirrors, but once I tried to reconcile those measurements with how my height was also portrayed, everything got thrown out of whack. In some of the pictures where my waist appears "normal," against my reflected height, I was actually shown in thinner proportions than other pictures where my waist appears "skinnier."

And even though my measurements include errors that I could not account for, this still goes to show that just because one part of your body is reflected a certain way, that is not how you actually appear.

The thing about mirrors, is that there will always be some sort of distortion. Depending on the angle, lighting, and perspective (which is almost impossible to control), you will always appear at least slightly different in every mirror you look into regardless of whether it is specifically made or positioned to alter your appearance.

The point of these "Skinny Mirrors" is to alter one's appearance just slightly so that she looks slimmer while still looking realistic. After this experiment, I've realized that the slim (heh) margin by which these mirrors are attempting to alter a person's reflection is negligible. Comparing my thoughts and observations during the experiment to the results afterward, it seems that attitude and lighting make more of a difference than the mirror regarding the reflection you perceive.

The moral of this story is to take any and every reflection with a grain of salt. Each one is only how you appear in that exact setting, and none is truly how you appear in real life.

Images: Miki Hayes