Picture Perfect Clothing – A Beginner’s Guide to Sketching Clothes

how to draw clothes clothed figureWhile sketching portraits is all about capturing the facial structure and its emotions in a realistic manner, drawing people requires you to not only focus on the human frame and posture, but also learn how to draw clothes, as well as how to draw shoes and other accessories to render a complete image. Drawing picture-perfect clothing is about the design, fabric and its texture, and the multitude of creases, wrinkles or folds that reflect the true state of a real-life or fictitious character.

“Clothes maketh the man,” said Shakespeare. Extending the same quote to the art of sketching, clothes add life to an image. Learning how to draw a shirt, for instance, will come in handy to quickly differentiate between a formal shirt on a working executive, a creased uniform on a service provider, or a casual shirt on a teenager – just to mention a few of the possible variations.

Here are a few things to decide upfront before you attempt this exercise:

• Is your character fictional or a real-life person?

• Are you sketching a male, female, or a child?

• Are you trying to design new clothing or simply attempting to clothe your characters using available designs?

• What is the purpose of the clothing, occasion, or situation?

These help finalize how exactly you can proceed to clothe your character. That said, let’s move on to learn how to draw clothes that go well with a chosen character or image.

Start with the Frame and Posture

One effective way to start practicing is with the outline of a form and its posture. To begin this lesson, sketch a rough outline of a person or people. You can sketch poses from your imagination and use reference photos for the clothes, or use a reference photo for the whole thing.

If you are looking to draw from a photograph, place the photograph against a natural light source and trace out the outline. In the example below, I used the following photo to trace outlines of the two people.

how to draw clothes from photograph

 how to draw clothes outline

These are your basic body shapes which you will be looking to drape or clothe. What we will do is start very basic and then gradually add layers of detail.

Decide on the Design

Beginners can safely opt to mimic tried and tested clothing designs on their characters before attempting to get creative. Draw out your design on the body shapes to fit the apparel on the forms. Take care to stick to a line diagram to keep the design simple. You can, of course, get creative once the basics are in place.

how to draw clothes design

Move on to Details

The posture of the characters – to a great extent – decides on the direction of detailing on the clothes. Begin adding noticeable folds to the fabric. Minor details such as the positioning of the accessories, buttons, seams, hemlines, etc. help add some relief and movement to the fabric. The more detail you add to the clothes, the more realistic the appearance becomes.

The key here is to simply ignore any overlaps of lines until the final detail is ready. Once you’ve finalized your fabric and direction of movement, other lines can be erased or covered eventually.

how to draw clothes detail

Understanding Fabric and Folds

It is definitely easy to clothe your character in a simple sleeveless/sleeved top and a pencil skirt or trouser. If you are looking for some realistic effects, then you will realize that folds and creases are an integral part of clothing.

Pleats, folds and frills are an important aspect of dress design. On the other hand, the drape, the wrinkles and the fall relate to the use of clothing. Capturing all these aspects in a drawing requires an understanding of the different fabric types and fold patterns.

There are, in fact, seven different basic types of folds:

• Pipe

• Zigzag

• Half-Lock

• Spiral

• Diaper

• Drop

• Inert


The most regular of folds, these are seen in both clothing and curtains, in the form of either stretched or relaxed variants. These are pleated fabrics – either held neatly or gathered at the top – forming piped folds. Pleated skirts, or garments gathered at the waist feature this type of folds. Stretched-piped folds are created when the fabric is gathered at two ends, somewhat similar to a wrap around the neck. Simply mimic a pleated curtain or a pegged towel to feature this effect on your clothing.

 how to draw clothes pipe folds


Commonly found in bent tubular clothes, zigzag folds occur on the bends on the sleeves of shirts and coats, as well as behind the knees of pants. Heavy fabric tends to result in distinctly sharp folds, over time. A couple of well-positioned zigzag lines with appropriate shading will help you achieve this effect.

 how to draw clothes zigzag folds


Half-lock folds are found in the very same places as the zigzags, bent sleeves or knees, just that the fabric tends to fold over itself rather than stand out sharply. A slightly rolling curve is all that is needed to render a half-lock fold on the clothing. They are, in fact, more visible from the side or even the front, as the folds slip beyond the outer edge of the garment.

 how to draw clothes half lock folds


Spiral folds, true to their name, occur when tubular objects are fitted with long and round fabric. Common examples are curtains that are put up on rods, as well as long sleeves and pants on the human form, or even waistbands with elastic bands or drawcords within them. You can observe this effect by simply pushing up the sleeves of your sweaters or full-arm shirts. The softer the material, the more pronounced is the spiral formation. This effect again is quite easy to mimic.

 how to draw clothes spiral folds


Diaper folds are the result of a fabric being supported from two points or areas, very similar to a towel pegged to the clothesline using two clips on either end. The fabric between these support points tends to sag towards the center, with folds originating from either side. A distinct classic medieval look, Grecian necklines are still very much in vogue. The effect can be more pronounced when more fabric is gathered at either ends, or with triangular-shaped fabric. Mimic the folds of a military scarf for a diaper fold.

 how to draw clothes diaper folds


Drop folds are those that originate when a fabric hangs from a single support point, resulting in either a simple single conical fold, or multiple folds that make for elaborate patterns. A typical example of a conical fold that comes to mind is the impeccably folded table napkins at posh restaurants. Simply holding up a kitchen towel or a handkerchief is also a good way to mimic a drop fold.

 how to draw clothes drop folds


Inert folds are characteristics of large masses of fabric; the more heavy and bulky, the more folds there are. These help create a story or a situation from a pile of otherwise static fabric on the floor or bed. Every time, the same piece of fabric can sport a unique fold pattern, suggestive of a different situation that has already occurred. Folds can also be used to depict any underlying structures, as the fabric tends to take up the shape of these structures.

how to draw clothes inert fold

Adding Details to Clothing

With this basic understanding on the types of folds, you will definitely find it easier to achieve the required effect based on your character’s posture and the chosen outfit. Depending on the type of fabric you choose for the clothing, the folds and wrinkles can either be more pronounced or subtle. Take care to enhance the sharpness of the folds and creases for bulk, heavy fabrics. Make them crisp in lighter fabrics and tone them down in case of fragile, soft material, for a true-to-life effect.

Accessorize Clothing

Shoes, belts, ties, scarves, bling and handbags are just but a few accessories that compliment clothing to create a great appearance. Your images, too, may be a tad incomplete without these accessories, if and only if the situation warrants it, or you are planning on some satirical or comic renderings.

Either way, learning how to draw shoes is an equally interesting and relatively easier experience, as you concentrate only on the structure of the feet, at least during the learning phase. Here again, the stance and the type of the shoe are two basic factors that need focus. The learning process again remains the same. Trace a basic outline of the feet, make alterations as needed, add a few details, and fit in the shoe of your choice.

Practice is the key to mastering how to draw clothes. Simply use a reference grid to sketch out the body shape of a model from your favorite magazine or snap, and follow these guidelines to reproduce the image to the T.


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    I am hoping to give a contribution & assist other users like its helped me.
    Good job.

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  3. Darnette Taylor

    Thank you for all the information. It is very helpful

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