Book Review: David Kibbe’s Matamorphosis

While I’ve been writing quite a bit about David Kibbe’s style system on the blog for the past few months, I have to openly admit I wasn’t working from the primary source at the time. With the book having something of a renaissance in recent years, along with a low supply on the secondary market, prices have been a bit nuts. Other clever and determined folks have made use of their inter-library loan systems to get ahold of a copy, but I went about it the old fashioned way… Having eBay notify me every time someone makes a listing. And then, you know, waiting it out until a “reasonable” price point shows up. Now “reasonable” is of course quite relative, but I sure didn’t pay any $8000 or whatever that crazy Amazon listing was a few months back (and, to be fair, the prices have come down a bit – they are pretty much in the $120-$350 range right now). Anyway, I’ve already spent months researching the clothing recommendations via the internet resources, but everyone always says there is “so much more” to Kibbe’s book, so I really thought I had to check it out.

On the one hand, from a sewing perspective, no, there really isn’t “so much more” to the concepts related to clothing, lines, colors, and fabrications that hasn’t been publicly shared and referenced in the lengthy blog series I posted last year. If you only care about sewing and garment recommendations, then once you figure out your type you can pretty much assume the recommendations have been fully covered in the various internet postings.

On the other hand, I actually found the rest of the book to be helpful in understanding Kibbe’s full vision of this Metamorphosis process. The language, while a bit flowery, actually conveyed a very modern sense of self empowerment and self awareness that I wasn’t expecting.

That’s all real beauty is, my friend: self-expression. […] Ultimately, that is what Metamorphosis is all about. This is a journey of self-discovery, self-appreciation, and self-expression.

-David Kibbe

Kibbe starts the book by discussing the yin/yang theory and how this relates to all things, including body lines. The book then has the infamous body types quiz, but also, to my surprise, a fantasy quiz. The fantasy quiz really is more like a sense of your inner desires – what you would choose to do in a bunch of different scenarios. I ended up a perfect split between being Natural, Romantic, and Gamine. I was a bit surprised at the Gamine, but I actually think it makes sense that the inner desire is a bit opposite of the outward appearance (I’m not a Gamine by any stretch of the imagination). Kibbe explores this concept in more detail later in his resistance segment.

The book goes from the quiz segment to describing the body types. The main types all get a bit more description in the book than they receive in the online sources; there is a bit of personality projection that many people have taken issues with in the past. I think, though, that a lot of this isn’t to say that this is how someone of a certain type necessarily is, but more that it is how they are perceived. One of Kibbe’s main themes is continually comparing how Hollywood stars of the past all had such unique signature styles, and how this is somewhat lost today. In a weird way, part of this is like figuring out which type of role you would be cast as in a vintage Hollywood film. There is this weird sort of antithetical juxtaposition happening with this idea that you both become more unique but also must fit into a category, but, actually, in the way Kibbe describes things it all starts to make a bit of sense. The category is really just a generalized starting place; it is your personal desires and expression that come through the clothes to really showcase you as an individual. In his view it just can’t happen if you are constantly fighting against your outward appearance, which is why he takes this transformation process so seriously.

The body types and their recommendations have been covered extensively on this blog, so I’ll skip over most of that for the sake of this review. After the bulk of the book, which focuses on recommendations for the 13 body types, Kibbe discusses resistance to the image identity. Essentially, he is speaking against the notion that the grass is always greener. His feeling is that Dramatics and Naturals often try to hide in soft things because they don’t want to feel too masculine, that Romantics and many of the Soft types try to wear structured things because they feel too womanly, that Gamines wear boring solid outfits to try and appear taller, and that Classics and Naturals can go a bit far in appearance because they don’t want to feel boring. And, aside from the shortness of the Gamines, I could actually really identify with many of the issues he brought up. His Dramatic/Natural example was the sensation of feeling gawky and awkwardly tall compared to classmates, which was something I always had to deal with growing up. But I could also completely relate to Kibbe’s poor Romantic girl who was the first to really get hit hard by all that puberty had to offer. And the struggle against being boring is real; it’s way too easy to go overboard in the styling, but also way too easy to look like there has been no effort (in a bad way) because I simply don’t know how to style myself. I pretty much have 2 settings: total schlub or a halfway decent attempt at over the top glamor. So, suffice to say, I really responded to the section on resistance. Not because I’m having problems embracing my Kibbe type, but because it really helped me parse a lot of pent up psychological bullshit from my youth that has really been clogging my ability to move forward as far as this whole personal style thing goes.

Underneath these surface reactions is something far more deep-rooted. Our society or upbringing has taught most of us that we are not enough, that whatever we are needs to be changed or altered, and that if we could only alter this or that about ourselves, we would be more acceptable.

-David Kibbe

Past this point, Kibbe moves on to two other major sections, which I feel are often downplayed in other reviews of his work: hair and makeup. I think these are actually really important parts of the book, because this is where he really goes into his perspective on color theory. Kibbe subscribes to the four seasons color theory, but really describes it in much the way Merriam Style discusses color theory on her YouTube channel: there are warm and cool undertones, and each of those is divided into more intense or more muted colorings. It is very much an artist’s perspective on color, and it really makes sense in the way Kibbe describes it. He then goes on to describe makeup for each of the 13 body types, and proves multiple color options for each of the 4 tonal seasons, within each type. Personally, this is something I’ll be wanting to play with in the near future, so I’ll save the deep dive until then, but I actually really appreciate suggestions for both colors and finishes in makeup. Kibbe further exports his discussion of colors to hair and how best to choose coloring and dying processes, both by color season and by body type. Again, something I’ll have to consider more fully in my own appearance moving forward, but really helpful to have included in the book’s discussion.

The book concludes with a simple afterward from David Kibbe, who has by this point imparted what wisdom he has to offer. It’s a rather short wrap up to the journey he has taken you on, but, also nicely succinct. There are, however, a few interesting takeaways I have after reading the book as a whole:

(1) The real expression of the image identity comes from all three aspects of a look working together – clothes, hair and makeup. I’ve heard people say Kibbe considers things in terms of a full outfit, but I don’t think I really appreciated what that meant before. I think this also means you might be able to cheat a little bit in one area if the other two are pretty solidly in place, especially if you are driven to do so to express your inner desires and uniqueness. As long as the overall appearance is in harmony, then everything will mesh and turn out ok.

(2) You don’t change your Image ID or your coloring. Not with weight, not with age. I knew this, but reading the book really underlined the idea that you have the features and attributes you are born with. Those really don’t change, and you really can’t force them to be something they aren’t without a lot of help from true styling wizards, and, even then, it won’t be as great as the authenticity of going with what nature gave you.

(3) There have been a lot of complaints that this is a system geared towards certain racial or ethnic groups, but I really don’t think that is the case. In his color section, Kibbe is pretty generalized in terms of his discussion of skin tones. He doesn’t make any sort of gross generalizations that you see on the internet these days; he is firmly in the camp of 2 undertones, and 2 intensity levels of each, but the overtones can be any shade or depth. He doesn’t go into a long discussion of coloring, aside from undertones, but the wording is such that he is pretty plain that this will apply to anyone of any skin tone, just as his discussion of the features that make up the different body types is generalized enough to be applicable to anyone. The one shortcoming I see is with the celebrity examples, who, for the most part, are all white. I’m not sure if this can completely be the fault of the book, or if it is more probably a fault of society at the time, in that Kibbe seems to have selected not only the most recognizable and famous celebrities of the day, but also of Hollywood’s golden era, from the 1930-1950s. Diversity is a problem in Hollywood today, but clearly it was even more so when you look at things from well over 50 years ago. Now, this doesn’t really fix the issue in the book, but I do think modern style typists have all been much more inclusive in their examples, and have showcased diversity not only within the system, but also within each type and color season as well. It would have been nice if this more overt discussion had been present in the book, but that is likely taking an anachronistic look at things. What the book does have is a very generalized approach that actually treats everyone in a very equal way by not really calling out anyone in particular. I think this is part of what gives the system longevity and has helped spur on its renaissance in recent years.

(4) The book really isn’t afraid of pointing out the weird psychology that leads people to make certain choices. Even though it was written over 30 years ago, so many of the issues Kibbe points out still feel relevant today. Society is still making people look at themselves and feel like they aren’t enough, for any variety of stupid reasons. In some ways it may even be worse now, with the use of social media. Now, as Kibbe points out, this book isn’t going to fix the underlying problems. You have to do that yourself, to really be able to accept change and want to undergo the Metamorphosis on the outside. However, Kibbe has a really great way of pointing out all of the stupid reasons people feel or behave in a certain way, and he really helps you get over these hurdles in an efficient way. Does this mean the years of bullying and teasing in my youth have magically melted away and I’m a totally fabulous being now? Well, no, of course not. But it does make it easier to recognize when I’m thinking or acting in a way that is coming about because of these weird psychological barriers, and to be more mindful in my choices moving forward.

Overall, I can’t say that this book has made me want to change any of my sewing plans for this year, or even reconsider my Kibbe type. But I am really glad I read it because it has given me a much better appreciation of this system, and how to fully implement the recommendations. I definitely was surprised at how modern many of Kibbe’s complaints still felt, even 30 years later. Our obsession with shoulder pads may have waned, but so many other things are still the same. I’m also surprised by how positive and uplifting this book was to read. Not that I really expected a depressing book about personal style, but Kibbe really got to the heart of the matter in a lot of cases, and that was certainly very enlightening. Overall it was a fascinating book and well worth the read; crazy price tag notwithstanding.

True glamour comes from accepting and loving the special being you are, as well as embracing and enhancing the special beauty with which you have been blessed.

-David Kibbe

11 thoughts on “Book Review: David Kibbe’s Matamorphosis

  1. Enjoyed your take on the book. I lucked out and found a copy at the thrift store a few years ago for 2 or 3 bucks. I’d devoured it when it came out at the bookstore since I couldn’t afford to buy it! I always remembered parts but couldn’t remember it all. I remembered how positive it was about celebrating our uniqueness. I’m one of those people that like to read different takes on a subject so I’ve actually got several different books from other systems as well- most out of print- most from the thrift stores as well. I think Kibbe is one of the best on bringing out our uniqueness rather than correcting percieved ‘flaws’. The system is actually pretty timeless. I wish I’d understood it better originally. I might have ended up with pictures of me in so many atrocious outfits over the years! 😉

    Liked by 3 people

  2. “I could actually really identify with many of the issues he brought up. His Dramatic/Natural example was the sensation of feeling gawky and awkwardly tall compared to classmates, which was something I always had to deal with growing up. But I could also completely relate to Kibbe’s poor Romantic girl who was the first to really get hit hard by all that puberty had to offer.”

    Well I felt both awkwardly tall AND was the first to get hit by puberty. Fun tmes :/
    I guess I have to see if I can find the book somewhere and not rely so much on the internet.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review! You have really gone into some detail here, thank you. I’ve found that at least some of the concepts in style books written in the 80s are applicable today if you can overlook some of the outrageously sexist expectations, but from your review it seems that Kibbe managed to avoid all that crap.

    I think most style theory/methodologies are meant to be encouraging, but one thing that’s turned me off from some like Zyla and DYT is the insistence that body type, color, and personality are all tied together and if you are a Dramatic, you can only wear certain colors, or if you’re a Spring, you can only have a certain personality, etc. It’s impossible to force the infinite variety of humans into a few categories and the results are almost as bad as saying all women should wear pencil skirts because they’re slimming. I think if Kibbe is allowing for infinite variation, it’s worth reading and I might actually start the long process for an interlibrary loan.

    Isn’t it interesting that no matter our body types, we’ve all incurred some sort of damage to our psyches due to our perceived faults. I think I probably looked like a runway model when I was growing up, but from my schoolmates telling me I was “so ugly and skinny” to my brother telling me I “looked like a man”, I spent my teenage years and young adulthood hiding my body and wishing for a different one. It’s heartbreaking to think of us all, beautiful healthy children that we were, wasting so much time in sadness and pain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well said! I will caution that Kibbe does allow some of that “personality” expectation bleed into his general description of the 5 main types. However, I think in reading the book it’s also clear that he views each person as the star of their own movie. When he describes the personalities, my take on it was that this is what the outside perception is based on your appearance. I actually found it very accurate, not in that it described who I am, but in that is was a really accurate description of who people *think* I am. And, as you say, much of the rest of the book really does allow for infinite variation, which is nice. Kibbe gives you a curated box to play in, but he doesn’t expect you to stay in there indefinitely.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting about the psychology. I thought I had shed a lot of societal BS, always dressing the way I wished even though I often stood out from the crowd. But I am going into a few job interviews and I was looking at all kinds of very structured outfits. When I tried some more Theatrical Romantic Outfits as per your recommendations, I felt like it was “unprofessional” because feminine? But I didn’t feel well in the button-down+blazer outfits either… This explains why. Thanks so much for enlightening us.

    Liked by 2 people

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