Women’s bodies have been judged and grouped into categories since time immemorial, even as beauty standards shifted through the generations.
Many of us grew up watching makeover shows and reading magazines that told us to stratify ourselves into apples, pears, or hourglasses to dress for our body shape.
We learned rules like ‘apples should never wear slim fit trousers,’ and ‘if you have an inverted triangle shape, play down your cleavage’.
For one, these rules can be too dogmatic to let allow someone to enjoy fashion and experiment with it.
Mostly, though, these types reduce us to a couple of body parts, focusing on what we should downplay and hide rather than highlight.
Kibbe Body Type theory, created in the 1980s by David Kibbe, is different, instead looking at someone’s overall image to see what works for them.
Although it’s come to be known as a ‘body type’ theory, Kibbe actually refers to them as archetypes or image identity types in his book, Metamorphosis, A Personal Image And Style Book For Women.
He outlined five Kibbe ‘type families’ in the book: Dramatic, Natural, Classic, Gamine, and Romantic. Within these families are 13 more detailed sub-categories, from Flamboyant Natural to Theatrical Romantic.
Someone’s personality and the lines their body creates are taken into account (grouped into bone structure, body flesh, and facial features) to decide which they fit in to, assessing everything by the masculine and feminine energy the person or features give off.
In Kibbe theory, masculinity (which he called Yang) is expressed as lines and angularity in a person, whereas femininity (Yin) is a softer silhouette. Some people have a mixture of Yin and Yang features, and neither actually mean looking like a stereotypical man or woman.
The aim isn’t finding out what you shouldn’t wear because of your body, but to examine your overall style and build on what makes you feel and look great.
We’ve complied the main characteristics of the five type families, so you can get started with elevating your look.
The Dramatic type is one that’s comprised of long lines and angular features, which David Kibbe also called ‘sharp Yang’.
Most people in this category are over 5ft 7in, with a visible bone structure (not much flesh on the face) and no defined curves on the body.
Prominent features can include high cheekbones, almond-shaped eyes, thin lips, long limbs, a square jaw, and a narrow frame.
Some women who have a Dramatic image type might have a negative association with it, considering their bodies ‘boyish’.
This isn’t the case, though, and it must be stressed that masculine doesn’t mean manly. Instead, try to see this shape for what it is; striking and sharp, with the ability to experiment with fashion.
Because a Dramatic is made up of Yang features, they can rock tailoring and sleek lines better than most, suiting unfussy and structured pieces best.
Most supermodels would fall into this category, and celebrity Dramatics include Keira Knightley, Cate Blanchett, and Faye Dunaway.
Whereas the Dramatic image ID is completely Yang, Classic is right in the middle between Yin and Yang.
A Classic will have an even balance of soft and sharp, with a symmetrical face and evenly-matched bust, waist, and hips.
Considered a ‘low contrast’ image ID, the Classic won’t have extremely defined curves or angles, nor will they have prominent features like large eyes or fleshy cheeks.
In this sense, a Classic should consider the contrast of their outfits too, looking for their clothes to reflect the balance of them.
Opt for symmetrical clothing that’s minimal but well made, highlighting your elegant style.
Ginger Rogers and Grace Kelly are just two examples of celebrity Classics.
The Gamine image ID is also both Yin and Yang, but where the Classic’s features are balanced between the two, Gamine has a mish-mash of sharp and soft contrasting against each other. David Kibbe called this ‘soft Yin’.
Petite at under 5ft 5in, Gamines are both delicate yet angular. They typically have large eyes and an angular bone structure, with a small bust and a lithe frame.
The juxtaposition in this style gives Gamine types the ability to play with fashion, and they particularly suit quirky accessories over a more simple outfit.
They should go for fitted clothing that reflects the delicacy of their type, but add to their Yang with bold geometric prints and attention-grabbing shoes, bags, or jewellery.
Short hair also looks great on a Gamine, as you can see on Audrey Tatou above. Other celebrities in the category include Mia Farrow and Audrey Hepburn.
Also described as ‘soft Yang’, the Natural type is one shared by a number of actresses, including Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston, Priyanka Chopra, and Liv Tyler.
Although this image ID is closer to the Yang end of the spectrum, it differs from Dramatic in that Naturals have blunt features and a slightly wider frame.
Most Naturals will be moderate to tall (usually up to around 5ft 8in) and have a muscular but lean physique. They typically little to no waist definition and a small bust, with slightly broad shoulders.
Facially, a Natural’s features are described as ‘blunt’ rather than angular, with those features set slightly wide, creating an open appearance.
If you fall into the Natural body type, you should look for relaxed clothing to keep your frame from looking boxy and give your silhouette some movement.
You can also highlight your long vertical frame (height) with oversized accessories, and use colours and patterns to add drama to your outfits.
As the furthest along towards Yin in the Kibbe spectrum, Romantic is characterised as ‘lush Yin’.
Marilyn Monroe has been considered the archetypal Romantic since the theory was created, with her hourglass figure and full facial features.
A Romantic will normally be under 5ft 5in, and have a small waist in relation to their hips, as well as fleshy arms and legs.
The facial features may be slightly wide, with large eyes, full cheeks, and larger lips, with no harsh angles on the bone structure.
Romantics should embrace the round shapes in their image ID through their clothing, opting for soft but still fitted silhouettes. Defining that small waist will accentuate your curves.
You can also play up the femininity of your look, with bows, ruffles, and delicate floral prints suiting a Romantic well.
As well as Marilyn Monroe, there are a number of famous Romantics, including Beyoncé, Dolly Parton, and Elizabeth Taylor.
Find out your Kibbe body type
As mentioned above, there are 13 sub-groups that fall into these five families.
You can try the Kibbe Body Type test here to find out yours.
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