Style Typing

Style typing is the aesthetic interpretation of the combination of body outline, angles, face, and shape. Before you proceed, I recommend a refresher on the yin and yang concept of style typing and where it has gone.

Briefly, your style type or style identity is based on your body and face type, angles, and outline — with details . . . kind of . . . well, last, actually. Do not confuse your style type or identity (whichever word you prefer) literally with a personal style. That’s different, but connected. What if you don’t like the recommended styles for your type? Well, you aren’t locked in. BUT . . . the correct style type will give you an idea of how to pull the lines, proportions, and angles together you need to create what works for you in any mode of dress you prefer.

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Because David Kibbe’s method is the style typing gateway for many, I will frame this topic — for now — in his terms. The general concepts are easily grasped, but the application of them is largely misunderstood unless you are extremely astute to what is going on. [Now is the time to brush up on the yin and yang concept of style typing, if you haven’t already. Otherwise you will be totally lost.]

Kibbe’s style types are based on commonly occurring combinations of body outlines, angles, and proportions that suit them aesthetically to similar lines and proportions in clothing. His core categories in the Metamorphosis book can be broken down like this:

  • Yang – Dramatic, Natural
  • Balanced Yin/Yang – Classic
  • Yin – Romantic
  • Combination Yin/Yang – Gamine

If you add extra yin or yang to these types you end up with subcategories that expand into Soft Dramatic (extra yin), Flamboyant Natural (extra yang), Soft Natural (extra yin), Dramatic Classic (balanced with extra yang), Soft Classic (balanced with extra yin), Theatrical Romantic (extra yang), Flamboyant Gamine (extra yang added to yin/yang combination), and Soft Gamine (extra yin added to yin/yang combination).

Kibbe later eliminated some of his core types, and many complained the loss of straight-up Natural, Classic, and Gamine categories. I think, in hindsight, that it was probably no big deal, because the yin and yang spread of these pure types was all a matter of degree anyway. For example, one Soft Classic may be more yin than another, who may be closer– relatively speaking — to the perfectly balanced yin/yang of the pure Classic. It’s quite simple to adjust the yin/yang balance of the individual: go only as far yin or yang as you need to go. Okay, I won’t break my head or yours on this point anymore: the best representation of this idea is highly negotiable.

Kibbe’s method as presented in the book has a huge problem, in my opinion. It starts with his test. He gives you a list of questions about your height, proportions, shoulders, details of the face and so on and then asks you to rate how yin or yang each of these is. Too often answers are skewed because a feature seems yin and yang at the same time, maybe blended but possibly not. You start wondering, “Yin or yang compared to what?” If there is no one else with a good eye, you are in a pickle.

Additionally, the face can actually be quite different from the body, which can skew the answers disproportionately. I know a lot of people who think the head and face create a 50/50 split in the way you should dress if they are at odds with each other. Still others think you should dress for your face, not your body in such instances. I don’t think that’s what Kibbe intended, and I don’t think it works like that when he has a personal hand, but it often ends up like that when there is no guidance.

The Answer

Kibbe’s type descriptions are not designed to account for every possible departure of facial or figure detail within types and that’s why they seem confusing. (There are so many divergences in real life!) But they are not intended to lock-step you into an incomplete style either. The primary thing in Kibbefication is your overall outline — even if it diverges from your facial details, even if you are straighter or shapelier relative to others of the same style type. There will still be a primary body line and set of proportions that defines your look. That is your core style identity.

Taylor_Swift_onstage_Ford_Field_in_Detroit_-_The_1989_World_Tour
Taylor Swift has been typed by some as a Dramatic and by others as a Gamine. Still others have suggested she is a combination. In Kibbe’s system, I believe she is a Dramatic, but her Gamine qualities are a strong addition. That would mean the structured, long straight lines of a Dramatic (style i.d.) with the broken up lines of a Gamine added (strong detail divergence of facial features). PSC would handle the issue by assigning percentage of her dominant qualities and dressing her accordingly–two ways of getting to a similar result. Photo: Tony Shek  CC BY-SA
512px-Shirley_MacLaine_-_1960
A young Shirley MacLaine — a Flamboyant Natural at her core. Gamine clothing would be diminished on Shirley’s larger frame, yet there is no ignoring the Gamine-ness of her face. As with Taylor, that vibe would go into the details of her garments, but not her overall lines. movie studio / Public domain

The details may be something very, very unexpected at times. I’m convinced that Kibbe doesn’t spell it out, yet he knows perfectly well that your personal style identity may pull from many more influences than his description indicates. Once you figure out your style type, and once you locate your divergent features, you will maintain the basic macro-outline in the cuts of your clothing, but express that extra dimension where you depart from the norm through your choice of fabric, patterns, accessories, and so much more.

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John Kitchener and Personal Style Counselors (PSC)

Everyone who has been successfully typed probably has her favorite system. For me, it was John Kitchener’s of Personal Style Counselors. The PSC system is much easier to break down conceptually. It has seven “essences,” the last which was discovered by Kitchener personally. Seven turned out to be that perfect number, which Newton was looking for in his prism colors, for you can fit six into a perfect circle with one in the middle. PSC breaks them down like this:

On the Yang half of the circle – Dramatic, Natural, High Spirited

Balanced in the middle of the Yin/Yang circle – Classic

On the Yin half of the circle – Romantic, Youthful, Angelic

You will notice there is no Gamine at all in PSC. The closest thing to it are the High Spirited and Youthful essences, and they are not defined entirely the same as Kibbe’s gamine versions (though there is definitely some overlap). Kitchener is credited with discovering the Angelic element, which completes the PSC essences. It is absent in other systems and very rare to find as a leading essence. It often appears combined with Natural and Classic essences, though it can actually occur with any essence.

Some find the mix of essences a little complicated, and I think that’s why a few jump ship and swim back to Kibbe. Yet PSC has the best system, as far as I am concerned, for helping the client “see” the different traits that make up her look and their proportionality. You probably know what I’m talking about when I explain it like this. Someone will say something like, “Oh you have fantastic cheekbones — you should play them up more.” Then you get to thinking a bit about how to jazz up your look, and you say to yourself, “Oh, maybe I should go a little more Dramatic.” So you try out some sharply tailored clothing you’ve seen on other women who seem to have something going for them and do a bit of contour makeup. But something doesn’t look or feel quite right. It’s because you’ve gone overboard with a secondary or tertiary influence and tried to make it primary.

Now having said all that, I credit Kitchener with helping me find my Kibbe style type. I know that sounds ridiculous in the aftermath of all I have said, but I am convinced that a Kibbe style type usually approximates the same thing as the leading essence in PSC. (But not always!) You can have a mere 30% of a leading essence (even two or three essences of 25% each) and it can be enough to qualify your Kibbe type. If that’s all you have, though, it may produce a slightly different vibe than your “kibbegory” suggests. So, if you’d like to see how I tested my PSC percentages in various combinations to see how they stacked up in Kibbe, read how PSC actually revealed my Kibbe type to me. (How ironic.) I think you’ll find it enlightening.

Some Other Methods

I have covered and compared the two currently best known style assessment services. Nevertheless, I feel to mention briefly David Zyla, another style maker renowned for creating individualized styles. Both he and Kibbe approach their clients from a theatrical point of view. That is to say that they envision the client in a literary, theatrical, or movie role. (I can’t help thinking of the J. Peterman Co. catalog stories here.) It is a wonderful bit of creativity, though I wonder how much input the client has?

If Kibbe acts a casting director, then Zyla certainly is the costume designer. He draws iconic clothing styles for each client with her ideal lines and accessories for formal, casual, and everyday wear. In this way she always has a template to work from, and she knows that she will always look right in it.

But now I digress to Carla Mason Mathis, co-author with Helen Villa Connor of The Triumph of Individual Style: A Guide to Dressing Your Body, Your Beauty, Your Self. As with Kitchener and another prominent style consultant, Jennifer Butler, she approaches style from the perspective of fine art and nature. Mathis teaches principles of aesthetics and art: color, line, texture, composition, and more. You may not have the “eye” for everything she describes at first, but you can learn with a lot of effort and are more in control of the outcome.

To me, the freedom to create with confidence is how you know when you have arrived. You need a vision of your own, one you can create around. Your vision should be your template. If you are lucky enough to find a stylist who defines the vision you always wanted but didn’t know how to acquire, more power to you. But most of us don’t work that way. It is easier to have a flexible vision that you have learned to manipulate to effect than to have someone else’s vision, which may look right objectively but still feel alien to you.

I want you to be able to close your eyes, think about your favorite things in the world, and know how to incorporate some element of them in what you wear. I want you to have JOY in your style, confidence that you have it right, and make it so simple as to eliminate last-minute doubts. Now that’s freedom.

A Quick Word on Body Shape

Believe it or not, the least defining thing about your style identity is probably your body shape. Surprised? It’s usually the first thing people look for when trying to figure themselves out, but maybe it should be the last. It’s mainly important if you want to balance something. Yet there is criticism that if we are no longer trying to correct what isn’t wrong, and rather agreeing with the lines that are native to us, why are we now concerned about balancing our shape? It’s a decent argument.

I would say it’s up to you if you feel the need to balance some part of your body or camouflage it. Some women like being wider in the hips or shoulders, etc. And to tell the truth these different imbalances seem to work really well in certain styles. I have found that most of what I’m not sure of is reasonably handled just knowing my outline and body type. So . . .for what that’s worth. . .