When I first fell down the rabbit hole of style typing systems about 2 years ago, I never thought it would lead to writing such an in depth series about style systems, as I’m coming at this from a perspective of wanting to sew wardrobes that work for me. But it has led me to some fascinating website with really interesting takes on how to create “style.” I feel as though I’ve seen a lot of interesting takes on how to modify the Kibbe recommendations lately, so I thought I’d take a look at what’s out there.
One of the sites I really respect is Style Syntax – this was really the gateway to Kibbe for me, and really started my interest in this topic. The research on that site looks in depth at both modern style systems (Kibbe, Dressing Your Truth, and Zyla) and historical systems which have similar concepts. While a recent blog post indicates that she would not be a fan of the concept of ethereals, combinations, modifications, or any of the other topics I plan to discuss here, I felt the need to do it anyway, even if only out of a sense of academic curiosity. While Kibbe certainly dresses the body, I think it isn’t entirely fair to say he disregards the face; I feel he looks at the person as a whole. Other systems place much more emphasis on the face than Kibbe does, but I think it is worth considering some of these modifications in the context of this system. I’ll give more of my own thoughts at the end of this post, but I did want to point out that the topics I’m covering aren’t really a part of Kibbe’s original system, though I think they do exist in a way that creates an interesting conversation.
And with that, let’s jump in!
I have briefly discussed this on the blog before, but Kibbe himself has made modifications to his system, removing the Natural, Classic, and Gamine types, leaving only 10 Kibbe ID categories (the subtypes for these three IDs still exist). Personally, I choose to keep these types in my Kibbe discussions, not because I think Kibbe is wrong (it is his system after all), but because I think it is helpful to understand these main types, especially if you are one of the subtypes for this system. Additionally, I have many blog readers who feel they fit best into the pure Natural or pure Classic types, so it would feel a bit wrong to leave them out of the conversation at this point.
Personally, I take a bit of a mathematical approach to understanding the reasoning to remove these three types. If we consider the basis of Kibbe’s system, with yin representing curved lines and yang representing straight lines, then the human form is really a continuum of how those shapes get blended together. While I definitely agree with Kibbe on the idea that you have a single type (no secondary types), I also think it is possible that, if we think of this as a continuum, you could be closer to the central main type and may wish to draw some recommendations from there. I’m imagining an axis line running from Yin to Yang that is divided into “bins” that represent the Kibbe types. But the Natural, Classic, and Gamine types are all perhaps just a single point on this continuous line. It would therefore make it very unlikely for anyone to land on/be these types, but not completely impossible for it to happen. However, the statistical likelihood is so small Kibbe may have chosen to remove them for this reason. I’m sure if I went to the trouble of joining the Strictly Kibbe Facebook group I could find out more, but that would require interactions with Facebook, which is effort, so…. eh.
Anyway, all of this to say, that Kibbe is still modifying his system and even moving around celebrity examples as he sees fit. While he obviously isn’t wrong (again, it’s his system!), I think this does open up the ground to consider some things that may not have been covered in the original book, which often give people pause when it comes to figuring out their own Kibbe type.
The “Traditional” Essences
One of the largest criticisms of the Kibbe system is a lack of an “ingenue” or “ethereal” type. However, when one looks at Kibbe’s system, he is using body lines to indicate types, and in this sense his system is self-consistent and complete. The idea of these ethereal types actually tend to come more from the face, not the entire body, and lends an extra element to the appearance that tends to throw people off when attempting to do Kibbe typing. Watch Me Glow Up has a video on this topic, and Merriam Style has videos about ethereal and about ingenue. Essentially it breaks down into the idea that “ethereal” types can often be described as “angelic,” “alien,” or “unearthly,” whereas “ingenue” types can often be described as “youthful,” “alluring,” or “babyfaced.” Having these essences can impact the Kibbe recommendations, but I think more in a self-tailoring modification sort of way, and less in a throw out all of the recommendations because the “ingenue type” and “ethereal type” is totally missing sort of way.
As an example, Cate Blanchett is probably one of the more popular “exceptions” for the ethereal/angelic type. As Merriam Style points out, she would be a Kibbe Dramatic, but the addition of the ethereal essence really gives her a softer overall look. And while I think we can all agree she looks great in soft, flowing, angelic styles, much of her overall look still fits in with the Dramatic recommendations; she often uses a long column of color to create a strong vertical line. The fabrics may be softer than would be anticipated per Kibbe’s recommendations, but her best red carpet looks are still essentially Dramatic in nature. They certainly aren’t completely unconstructed or asymmetric in a way that a Natural could pull off, nor are they they crisp, clean look of a Classic. Her hair may be less angular and severe that we would expect for a Dramatic, but the coloring fits in with Dramatic recommendations. Overall, her best looks follow the general principles of Dramatic, but avoid the dark colors and sharp angles that contrast with the angelic ethereal.
Ultimately, when someone has one of these additional essences, it can play into how they look in certain styles, but I don’t think it really changes the Kibbe type. One of Kibbe’s main points is that, although you fit into one of the image IDs, you ultimately have to become the star of your own life, which makes things very individual. I think these essences really play into that idea; if you have one of these additional essences you might need to modify the Kibbe recommendations to adjust for it, or you might choose to ignore it, especially if it isn’t a dominant feature. It all goes back to that mathematical axis/continuum idea – you need to decide just how strongly these essences are presented to determine how much modification you feel you need to make to the original Kibbe types to have everything look cohesive and harmonious.
If having two additional essences to mix in with the Kibbe types was blowing your mind, hold on because it’s about to get really wild up here. Olga Brylinska is an image consultant who uses the Kibbe system, but felt that it wasn’t detailed enough to really get individualized styles, so she created her own set of 18 Ethereals. Watch Me Glow Up has a great overview video, and explains these really cleverly as “Instagram filters for the Kibbe types.” Olga has an extensive website and Pinterest pages for each of the Kibbe types and Ethereals, and it is definitely worth checking out. So is her guide on to how to implement the ethereals to create a unique personal style.
I will caution that Olga’s celebrity typing doesn’t necessarily match Kibbe’s in all cases, and I tend to agree with Kibbe’s typing over Olga’s (it is his system after all). I also don’t think finding an Ethereal subcategory is really in the vein of Kibbe’s goal of individualization; however, looking at the Ethereals as a pre-made “Instagram filter” I do think it can be helpful to narrow down some possibilities if you really don’t know where to go after figuring out your Kibbe type. Even within Kibbe’s recommendations, the possibilities can be overwhelming (especially for sewists who can control so many aspects of a garment), so I do think this is a good place to go for inspiration as a jumping off point. I also find that seeing what mix of Ethereals suit you can help give an inspiration or mood board for creating a really unique personal style.
Finally, while I may not be completely understanding the translation from Polish, it seems that anyone can have any mix of Ethereal and Kibbe type, and that a single person can have any number of Ethereals, though some will be more dominant than others. She has a list of celebrity examples, indicates which Kibbe type she thinks they are, and the Ethereals they have. There is a lot to unpack here, but for you convenience I have linked each Kibbe type page and their most common Ethereal types below:
- Dramatic – Crimson, Sunny, Windy, Shining
- Soft Dramatic – Royal (Queen), Mahogany, Crimson, Sunny, Energetic, Lunar, Shining
- Flamboyant Natural – Endless, Royal (King), Mahogany, Windy
- Natural – Windy, Endless, French
- Soft Natural – Lunar, Slavic, Mermaid, Windy, Endless, Mahogany
- Dramatic Classic – French, Sunny, Crimson, Shining
- Classic – Crystal, Sunny, French, Rose, Slavic
- Soft Classic – Crystal, Mermaid, Rose, Fairy
- Flamboyant Gamine – Energetic, Royal (King), Mahogany, Windy, Crimson, Sparkling, Fairy, French, Shining
- Gamine – Sparkling, French, Crimson, Sunny, Fairy, Shining
- Soft Gamine – Rose, Alabaster, Fairy, Sparkling, French, Royal (Queen or King), Mahogany, Shining
- Theatrical Romantic – Star, Fairy, Crimson, Crystal, Rose, Shining
- Romantic – Mermaid, Crystal, Rose, Star, Mahogany
I spent a bit of time going through all of Olga’s boards and have come to the conclusion that I’d best fit in with the Lunar and Mermaid ethereals, which makes sense as they are both strong options for the Soft Natural type and, as she notes, often go together. I find I’m also drawn to aspects of Star and Royal Queen, and to a much lesser extent Slavic, French, and Crystal. Since Star and Crystal go with Romantic, I figure those make sense with the yin undercurrent of Soft Natural, and French makes sense as it related to the base Natural type, as does Slavic, which is another Soft Natural recommendation. Royal Queen is perhaps that one oddball/aspirational ethereal that I can’t really justify in terms of Kibbe types, but I will say that I really respond to the aesthetic and from experience making and wearing skating costumes I really think I can pull off that level of intricate and rich detail. Perhaps not for every day, but for really grand occasions I’m keeping it in mind. Looking at all of these styles together, it is all perhaps all a bit much, but many of the celebrity examples had up to 6 ethereal types, so I’m rolling with it. I gathered all of my favorite inspiration images from her boards onto my own Pinterest board, and think I might use this to do some wardrobe planning in the future. I can’t say that there was anything scientific about this – I really just looked at everything on the Pinterest boards and took note of each one that I found I was drawn to a majority of the images. It was a sort of intuitive thing. I must say, I also really like how this relates to Kibbe’s idea of making a complete outfit/look. It makes sense that for a formal event you might want to wear something that feels very different than what you would wear to work on a daily basis. I like the idea that you can create different moods depending on which “filter” you want to use, but that some of the ethereal types will work much better or more consistently than others based off of your base type.
I think the addition of essences and ethereals are an interesting concept that can help explain why some people have such trouble finding their Kibbe type, but I don’t think either of these things should replace the base Kibbe system. I feel that Kibbe’s system is consistent and complete; it provides what it needs and these extras are just that – extra. They can potentially be helpful for someone who feels stuck because their face doesn’t necessarily match with the general description of the Kibbe type, or for someone who feels they need a more concrete example of style inspiration to get started with a wardrobe overhaul. I don’t think Olga’s ethereals cover every possible style type, but I do think they offer a wide range of “filters” that can be used to create a more focused Kibbe based wardrobe.
On a personal note, I think I might have a touch of ingenue to my face, mainly because I am often mistaken for being younger than I am. I don’t know that I want to necessarily dress for this (I’m going with Merriam’s recommendation to ignore it if you have one of the more yang skeleton types), but I think it is a possible contribution to why I struggled to find my Kibbe ID at first (the babyfaceness covers the blunt bone angles). On the other hand, I’m excited to use Olga’s Ethereals as an inspirational “Instagram filter” for my wardrobe. Not that I’m going to go completely grey and teal (from the Mermaid and Lunar ethereal types), but, let’s be honest, I’d be pretty happy living in a grey and teal wardrobe. Or, at least, maybe as a mini collection. Actually I’d love to do mini-collections for each of the ethereal types I identified for myself, or even mixed collections so everything coordinates. When you consider everything as being an element that adds together, it really does give an interesting springboard for creating very unique, very personal styles.
I’m curious to hear from you all in the comments – do these modifications make sense with Kibbe’s system? Or does it add an unnecessary layer of complexity? Do Olga’s ethereal “filters” give you a springboard for wardrobe ideas, or does it feel restricting in the framework of sewing, where everything is fair game? Also, I’m curious for those who have been doing their own Kibbe typology – do the recommended ethereals work for your type, or do you find yourself drawn to ethereal types that have nothing to do with your Kibbe ID? There’s a lot to discuss, so feel free to contemplate it all in the comments!