I am going to preemptively warn you to grab some tea and cookies because this post is promising to be quite long. It’s pretty much an info-dump of 2 weeks worth of reading and research, plus some musings about what this all means in terms of developing my future sewing plans. I’m sure at least a few of you have seen all this information before, and will be quite unimpressed by the (somewhat now obvious) observations that these other sources have made, but I found the information to be rather insightful or at the very least really interesting. I also find that it has severely colored my perspective when looking at sewing patterns, especially when considering which patterns to add to my wishlist from the past few releases. So with all that in mind I hope you’ve found a cozy spot and that your tea is almost ready, because this is going to be a long one.
I’ve been pondering a wardrobe update/overhaul/sewing capsule for a while now, and my interest in this process was only cemented by my participation in the Pattern Review Sudoku Contest earlier this year. Recently, while I was at the USA Roller Sports National Championships this summer (costume post coming soon for those of you who are going to ask!), I found myself watching YouTube and reading blog posts in my down time. Although costuming consumes my sewing time pre-nationals, wardrobe planning has been on the back burner of my brain pretty much non-stop since last year. So, as luck (and astute YouTube algorithms) would have it, I stumbled across a great YouTube vlogger who discussed the body style types in a multi-part video series. Now I know what you are saying – body types are nothing new. There is pear, hourglass, rectangle, apple, triangle, etc. etc. While I had definitely heard of the shape types before (they are often used with patterns to describe who the style would be best on), the body style types described in the Aly Art series were based on the typing of David Kibbe, and focus more on the combination of body and facial features. This typing is based on the idea that everyone is made from a combination of masculine and feminine features (yin and yang), and they way these traits combine give each person a style identity.
According to the videos, there are 13 original Kibbe types. There are five main types each of which has one or two subtypes. If we think about this as a spectrum from yang to yin, the types would be:
- Dramatic: Associated with the masculine/yang side of the spectrum, this body type has strong angular features and a fairly straight body shape.
- Soft Dramatic: Mostly dramatic, but with softer facial features and slightly rounder body shapes.
- Flamboyant Natural: Strong yang, but with blunter edges than a dramatic.
- Natural: Tends towards a more muscular body type; blunter/squarer angles to the features (not as sharp as a dramatic), has some elements of a classic.
- Soft Natural: The bone structure is that of a natural (very square) but the flesh/musculature is softer and tends towards the yin side of the spectrum.
- Dramatic Classic: Symmetric, with slightly angled facial features. Tend to have more narrow shoulders and proportional, but straight torso.
- Classic: A total blend of yin and yang; incredibly symmetric, no overly round or angular features.
- Soft Classic: Very symmetric like a classic, but with slightly rounder/fleshier features that tend towards the yin.
- Flamboyant Gamine: Gamine in shape but with slightly more dramatic/yang features.
- Gamine: Yin/feminine in facial features and height (petite), but masculine in body shape (very straight), leading to a youthful/perpetual teenager look.
- Soft Gamine: Very soft and round features mixed with angular bone structure in the shoulders, and delicate or petite appearance.
- Theatrical Romantic: Very soft and round, but with some angular/yin facial features. Overall appearance is delicate, with only a few features being angular.
- Romantic: Associated with the feminine/yin side of the spectrum. Everything is very round and soft.
Further descriptions of Kibbe’s system can be found at the following sites:
- How I Lost Half of Me But Became Whole – a concise rundown of the physical features of each type
- Truth is Beauty – contains links to Polyvore collections for each style type
- Beauty and Elegance – links to Kibbe quizzes (though I recommend using the YouTube quiz, linked below)
And books for the various style typing systems can be found here:
- David Kibbe’s Metamorphosis
- Nancy Nix-Rice Looking Good Every Day
- Carlos Mason Mathis The Triumph of Individual Style
The Aly Art videos do a great job describing each type, subtype, and which styles do and don’t work well for each style type. She also includes a video with a quiz to help you determine your Kibbe type.
Of course, I took said quiz and came out with a fairly even mix of C, D, and E answers, which resulted in my being typed as a Soft Classic. At first I was a little disappointed (wow, I’m super boring), but the more I looked into the Soft Classic Kibbe recommendations, I was actually fairly convinced that this is a pretty accurate representation of styles that look good on me. It is also fairly good at explaining why certain styles don’t work particularly well for me. I’ve always felt uncomfortable in overly girly looks (romantic frills overwhelm my features), like a stuffed sausage in very straight looks (I have a very round body, which doesn’t carry off angular styles well), I feel ridiculous in cutesy looks (gamine is too youthful and straight on me), and I feel sloppy in too casual a look (though I’ve tended to wear this natural style, which is perhaps why I’ve started down this wardrobe planning adventure in the first place). I do find myself drawn to classic pieces, but I often feel like they are just slightly too austere on me. The realization that the pieces need to be classic, but with a slightly softer vibe to the details makes perfect sense, and really does describe the sorts of clothes I feel most put together in. When I think about my favorite clothes, they all have soft draping details, feminine fabrics in classic cuts, and very clean, fitted, and tailored lines – the perfect description of the Soft Classic style.
Similarly, I always feel pretty when I do full, yet simple make-up styles. My love of fun colors has had me playing with crazy dramatic makeup looks from YouTube more than once, but this never looks that good on me. I mean, for dramatic performance/skating/stage makeup looks, sure, I can go a little over the top. But I really can’t get away with a bold colorful look for a night out; it ends up coming off as wannabe drag queen. (Nothing against drag queens – their makeup is always on point. The key word here is “wannabe.”) On the other side of the spectrum, I’m often too lazy to do makeup, which only serves to highlight how exhausted I look (well, how exhausted I am), and doesn’t do much for creating the appearance of an overall “look.”
The only thing I found a bit odd was that Kibbe includes color recommendations along with his style suggestions. While I’ve sort of bought into the idea that the lines of a person’s body and face can be generally categorized (to an extent – I certainly very much agree with Aly Art’s comment that everything is on a spectrum and no one perfectly fits into any of the categories, but that the general suggestions can be helpful), I also sort of feel that the problem of coloring should be entirely separate, as shape and coloring are independent features of a person.
Despite my pondering the color suggestions (which I shall also elaborate in a future post), this concept as a whole was fascinating to me, and led me down quite the rabbit hole. Turns out there is a long line of style typing, with many different systems, classifications, and sub-classifications. Being me, I spent
far too much quite a bit of time reading and researching, and have found the following helpful resources that provide slightly different perspectives on this topic:
- Carol Tuttle’s Dressing Your Truth – This was actually recommended to me in the comments of my last wardrobe planning post by The Naughty Bun. The main concept here is that there are only 4 categories, with colors and styles based mainly on your energy type or personality. I found this really interesting as it results in a similar breakdown (softer vs. more dramatic) from a completely different direction. Looking into it, I’m pretty sure I’m a type 2 – which contains the softer clothing styles, somewhat reconfirming my Kibbe quiz results. I don’t know that I necessarily love the colors that are paired with the style, as I’m not that drawn to softer colors, though I suppose they might look better on me than the bright neons in some of the other palettes? I’ve never really worn overly muted colors that much; I always feel so blah in them. Interestingly, I found myself also being strongly drawn to some elements of type 3 on her system, and really did like the style associated with that type as well. In a weird way I think a blend of Type 2 and Type 3 could result in something very much like a Soft Classic look from the Kibbe system.
- Truth is Beauty and Bestdressed both detail style typing that is similar, though somewhat more nuanced, than Kibbe’s method. Truth is Beauty uses 7 main style types (dramatic, natural, classic, gamine, romantic, as well as adding ingenue and etherial to the mix), but also allows for 2-type and 3-type combinations, resulting in 63 different style identities. Interestingly, though the 3-type combinations feel as though they should be muddled due to the many influences, Truth is Beauty’s Pinterest pages are actually quite good and defining a unique style for each combination.
- Style Syntax is another blog that contains a lot of great information about style typing; especially the history of the topic. She looks at the difference between Kibbe’s and McJimsey’s classifications, and the early Bonomo classifications as well. Lots of interesting/insightful posts about the struggles of identifying style types and very informative about the different typing systems and classifications. Very well researched with documented sources.
- This page details the combination of the body shapes with the style types, and gives suggestions about what looks best on each type.
Personally, I actually rather like the Truth is Beauty system – her use of 7 basic categories highlights the key differences and justifications for her typing system, and her 3-type combinations (63 categorizations total) really does allow for the wide range of combinations of features that exist in the world, as well as fine tunes the style recommendations to go with them. I was pretty sure I’d be some combination of Romantic-Classic under her system… but I keep feeling like I may be some sort of 3-type combination (because of the 3-way split on the Kibbe test), but in reality I might also have fallen square into the 2-type category. As is suggested at Style Syntax – if you can’t say the description with a straight face, it’s probably not you. The Romantic-Classic “Sexy Sophisticate” I can get behind, and”Sexy Amazon” (Romantic-Classic-Dramatic) sounds aspirational, whereas the other 3-type combinations “Sexy Prep Schooler” (RCG), “Prim Princess” (RCI), “Alluring L. L. Bean” (RCN), and “Polished Aphrodite” (RCE) all leave me in stitches. I feel like I could maybe have some natural in the mix, but I’m probably just a straight Romantic-Classic.
So, in the name of science (and obsessive curiosity) I shelled out for the Style Calculator. The calculator works thusly: you take a picture of your face, and look at it in comparison to the numbered Pinterest boards from Truth is Beauty. You rank how good the face looks next to the clothes, the spreadsheet does some magic, and reports your style identity. Here’s what I got:
Talk about aspirations becoming reality! That’s a straight up Romantic-Classic-Dramatic, no question. The funny this is the only boards I gave the highest ratings to were the Classic board, the Romantic-Classic Board, and the Romantic-Classic-Dramatic Board. My comments for the Classic group was that the jewelry was perfect, for Romantic-Classic that it was slightly too ruffly, and for Romantic-Dramatic-Classic I just wrote “wow.” Of the 6 boards I gave a medium-high score to (RCG, RNC, DC, NCG, RN, EC), 5 contain some element of Classic, and the Dramatic Classic was included. The interesting thing is that, as you start this, you think, this is so not scientific. Yet by the end I could just open a page and without scrolling know that nothing was going to work. I mean, I did scroll all the way through everything anyway (science!), but it was interesting to see how easy it was to classify a boards as one that works or doesn’t work. It was also interesting to see how I could find clothes that I loved (the beadwork in Romantic Etherial – gorgeous!), yet know it would be too much on me and still give it a low score. I was skeptical of the results from this test, but I’m actually pretty shocked by how accurate it felt. And I got to play with a spreadsheet (science nerd!). Plus, now I’ve got confirmation of my suspicions (that I was Romantic-Classic of some variety) and can use this to be more discerning when choosing items for a capsule wardrobe/sewing plans/etc. Which, ultimately, is the goal of this whole journey of discovery and whatnot right?
Just to further the experiment, I performed the same procedure, but this time using a picture of my sister. Although we have similar characteristics, we always look good in wildly different clothes. Before I found pesky board 29 (hiding at the bottom of the page), her results also came back a 30-30-30 split, but as Natural-Classic-Ingenue. Fascinating, because I think Classic is my own strongest trait, so it would make sense that we have that in common, and the equal 3-way split between a masculine, mixed, and feminine category is also similar. My Dramatic is comparable to her Natural, and my Romantic could be compared to her Ingenue. Really, really interesting to think about how genetics mix and how all this plays out in physical features…
However, it seemed really weird to me because I actually gave her a 0 in that particular 3-mix category because everything felt so close to correct but all slightly off. Once I entered the score for board 29, however, she came back as a 50-50 mix of Classic-Ingenue, which was one of the two boards I scored her as 3 in! (They were Classic-Ingenue and Classic-Natural FYI). Really happy to see I wasn’t so terrible at identifying her style, but crazy to see how much one number changed the results! I made the similar correction to my own sheet, but it had zero effect on the results.
Anyway, these sources also provide some interesting justifications for this theory and why using a photo of the face (and not the whole body) should be used for this experiment:
- According to Truth is Beauty, people look primarily at your face, so your style should primarily compliment your face, while only slightly taking into consideration other aspects of your body type. The photo examples in this article are used to good effect to prove the author’s point. Of everything, this might have been the most convincing article to justify style-typing based on facial features.
- Styles exist on a continuum, so while the ultimate goal of classifying anything is creating categories that are as simple to define as possible, it is also important to be as precise as possible in creating these categories so that objects can be categorized accurately, and not arbitrarily. Similarly, when trying to classify something as subtle and varied as facial features, it would make sense that more, rather than fewer, categories would best be used to describe this continuum.
Perhaps almost as interesting is considering the reasons for various points of difference between the Truth is Beauty and other style systems:
- The idea of essence or personality seems to be one of the most conflict between systems. For example, The Dressing Your Truth system seems to place utmost emphasis on the individual’s personality/energy, whereas the other systems rely entirely on the physical features to perform their typing analysis.
- In some systems, your personality is not dominant, but it can “bleed through” to your exterior and combines both with how you should find your style shapes and your best colors. (In practice this seems similar in to how Truth is Beauty combines three style types.)
- In other systems, personality plays no part in determining your style. These systems focus on the idea that visual perception only has to do with body shape, lines, and colors that are immediately visible. This visible representation has nothing to do with personality, but it does create a more cohesive image and thus a more memorable image for those who perceive you. Conversation is for revealing personality; dress is there to impact the visual image only.
Many of these systems further go on to discuss color typing (the majority using the 12-season color system), resulting in somewhere between 4 (Dressing Your Truth) and 756 (Truth is Beauty: Style Type + Color Season) style types. I plan to do a more in-depth look at these color systems in a future post, as well as my own color-analysis experiment, so I guess you’ve got something to look forward to? That is, if you want to look forward to lots of pictures of my blotchy make-up free face next to a bunch of paint swatches. But, you know, it’s all in the name of science. Or something.
- While I’m definitely in the camp that there is too much variety in the world to really create definitive categories for everyone, the scientist in me really likes the idea of being able to observe something and come up with some way to explain it. There is a strong mathematical nature to body proportion and type classification, as well as interesting realties about the nature of color and the interaction of colored objects with light. I think I might be obsessed with this because it is the perfect blend of mathematics and art – colors, light, and proportion are all things that intrigue both sides of the brain.
- I also love how this makes me appreciate the beauty of different people more. I find myself looking at people more closely and pondering what type they would be, and this in turn makes me really appreciate the features that make them unique. It is a different perspective to view the world from, one which looks at detail and subtlety, which I quite enjoy.
- The idea of finding styles that compliment not only your body but also your face makes so much sense! It explains why I feel like an inelegant potato when I try to wear overly dramatic clothing (I have no particularly angular features to offset the lines of the clothes), and why I feel like I’m drowning in frills in overly girly clothes (too far towards romantic or ingenue for me). Having a tangible type (Soft Classic/Classic-Romantic-Dramatic) makes visualizing what sorts of styles I should be looking for easier to comprehend. The fact that it tends to reconfirm the styles I’m typically drawn to is also somewhat of a relief. Rather that being drawn to things that don’t look good, I’ve just been too lazy to seek them out and actually wear them. This seems like a fixable problem. I think.
- My hope in all this is that having more rigorously defined parameters and a clear definition will make it easier to select patterns in the future, and not have as many wadders due to unfortunate style choice. Especially when choosing between similar patterns, being able to classify something as dramatic-classic (what I’m visually drawn to) and romantic-classic (what I seem to type as) could help me produce more cohesive pieces that I really love, instead of a lot of pieces that I generally like.
- I was slightly worried that blindly following a type would curb the creative process, but the more I think about my “type” the more I realize that these are styles I’ve naturally gravitated towards in the past. If my goal really is to have a more cohesive wardrobe, having a clear vision for what I’m hoping to achieve isn’t a bad thing. It’s why I’ve read so many books and blog posts about this topic in the past few months. Plus, I’ve still got a few ideas on how to keep things creative enough to be interesting.
- I feel that anyone in this industry says that it is impossible to self-identify your type, but I felt pretty confident narrowing it down. I mean, am I 100% sure that I’ve done it correctly? No, but if I’m not satisfied, I’ll just tweak a bit and see if I feel better in a different category. I mean, if we go by the 63-type Truth is Beauty classification, I’ve tested as a Romantic-Classic-Dramatic. Before taking the test I’d thought I was likely a Romantic-Classic, possibly a Romantic-Classic-Natural, Romantic-Classic-Etherial, or, “if I get really, really buff and chiseled,” a Romantic-Classic-Dramatic (LOL me from the past – though we should totally work on that whole getting stronger thing). I’d ruled out anything Gamine or Ingenue – far too cute and sweet for me. Before the test I’d had 4/63 choices worth looking at, which means I’d ruled out 93.7% of the style options on my own. If we factor in the color choices, and assume I’ve narrowed it down to 2 or even 4 seasons (which I have), I was still looking at only 1-2% of the possible combinations. Based on personal observation and experiences from the past, I was feeling pretty confident that I’d at least be in the right ballpark, and the Style Calculator pretty much confirmed that. Nice to have the Type narrowed down a bit farther, but I got pretty close without spending a dime, let alone having a full on consultation.
want tohave already tried color draping to play with the 12 season color scheme. Although in my last post I discussed individualized color palettes, further research into color typing has me somewhat convinced that hair and eye color are not as important as skin behavior when deciding colors. Which means that much of the personal color palette I came up with, while good, has the potential to be even better. I’ve also come to the realization that not all colors in a season look good in all contexts (ie, I might not look great wearing a lot of a particular color, but it might suit as an accent or as a makeup color), which was an interesting thought. This fits more with the idea that people have an individual color scheme that works best for them – some people would probably look best in yellows and oranges from a palette, with accents of blues and greens, whereas other will look great in the blues and purples with pops of yellow for accent. What I do like about the 12 season system is that all the colors in a season are cohesive with each other – great for creating a capsule palette – and if you can find a season that works, choosing only 7-10 colors from it that work well for a wardrobe should be much easier than pulling lots of colors out of the ether. The reasons for this will also be detailed in my next post, but suffice it to say, learning a bit more about color typing theory has changed my mind somewhat about how to proceed with my own personal wardrobe. Plus, playing with colors is fun. This is definitely something I’m going to play with some more, so be sure to look for my personal experimentation and more crazy ramblingsdetailed musings in an upcoming post.
Whew! Told you it’d be long. I really needed a place to sort through and calcify my thoughts, plus organize the massive collection of links that I’d saved from my research. I’ve got lots of questions for my readers in this post:
- Have any of you tried any of these various style typing methods or wardrobe systems? Which ones worked for you and which didn’t?
- Do you find yourself identifying with any of these classifications, or are you a free sprit who does what they want, rules be damned?
- Would having a style identity help you be more focused in your sewing plans or would it disrupt the creative element of seeing something you want and making it?
- Is my obsession with this concept a product of jet-lagged inability to sleep and spending too much time on the internet in the midwest? Am I wasting a lot of time and energy on nothing?
- How do you feel about the style typing industry? Are they all specially trained gurus who know more than the rest of us and are the only true path to knowing your true style essence? Or can us poor DIY hackers get close enough for government work on this one?
- Have I set you down your own rabbit hole of obsession, for which you will curse my name as you find yourself reading ever more articles about color seasons and style types instead of doing important things like cooking food and sleeping?
Feel free to get a discussion going in the comments!