Researchers to resolve the big bum dilemma

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One of the greatest female sartorial dilemmas - does my bum look big in this? - is to be answered by a team of researchers.

Experts are launching what is thought to be the world's first scientific study into how clothing can affect the appearance of the female rear. The team from Heriot-Watt University's School of Textiles and Design near Galashiels in Scotland believes the study could have major implications for retailers.

Female volunteers wearing hundreds of different types of clothing will have their rears photographed for the research.

Participants will then be asked to look at the pictures to assess how big or small each model's backside appears. The study will examine how various designs, colours, patterns and fabric types affect perception of bottom size.

Dr Lisa Macintyre, who is leading the research, said four models had been chosen to provide as representative as possible a sample of female rears. She said: "There's much discussion in the media of clothing styles that flatter the body and it's generally accepted that enhancing body perception can improve confidence and self-esteem. But the factors behind this have never been fully investigated in a proper scientific manner. This study will provide for the first time detailed and usable information that would enable designers to make the clothes that help women make the most of their natural assets."

The results from the first phase of the study, which will look at different trouser styles, are to be published in May. Dr Macintyre plans to apply for a government research grant to expand the study.