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The 7 Style Essences Explained

The 7 Style Essences Explained

Style essences are essentially the harmonious reflection of your inner and outer self and your style lines.  They seek to bridge the gap between your body and your clothing lines.  They take into consideration your “vibe” and how you come across to the world but are not boiled down to a personality trait.

So just because you’re a super sweet person doesn’t mean you can’t have a dramatic essence.  

Let’s get into the details of this. 

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Where did style essences come from? 

The most prolific example of style archetypes came from David Kibbe in the 1980s with his book “Metamorphosis”.  They included 5 main families:

  • Dramatic
  • Natural
  • Classic
  • Gamine
  • Romantic
main kibbe families and their general descriptions: dramatic, natural, classic, gamine and romantic

The wildly popular Kibbe System is composed of 13 different IDs that fit into 5 main styles families and can be a bit limiting and people often run into issues feeling as though they might not fit into one of the available boxes. 

However, Kibbe was not the first to delve into the concept of melding your body’s most authentic traits and shapes and harmonizing them with what you wear.  

Belle Northrop first proposed this general concept in 1936 in her article ” Approach to the Problem of Costume and Personality”. She postures that “all aspects of personality and every detail of appearance, woven into an integrated whole, must be taken into account” and that some of these traits are “felt” rather than easily explained. She went further to address newly defined terminology to describe these balance shifts under the “yin” “yang” verbiage.

Now her idea was a bit more conceptual and it wasn’t until Harriet McJImsey laid out archetypes to match the yin/yang balance of each that these style systems really started to take shape.

In her book, McJimsey followed on with the yin/yang balance and started to map out different physical traits for each that would apply to 6 main archetypes: Dramatic, Athletic, Classic, Romantic, Gamine, and Ingenue. McJimsey believed you could be a composite of types, unlike David Kibbe.

mcjimsy style essence chart yang to yin

From McJimsy evolved Kitchener’s style essences, and included an important 7th essence; The Angelic also known as the Ethereal.

Kitchener and Kibbe were both producing these systems during the late 1980s. David Kibbe with his book Metamorphosis that came out in 1987, and Kitchener with his Personal Style Counselors.

Kibbe felt ingenue had no place in a system with grown adults so he eliminated it and created his own variations of the style archetypes McJimsy had laid out. He also tweaked where the romantics and gamines fell on to the yin/yang spectrum.

Kitchener, while viewing the progression of fashion lines like Romeo Gigfl and style icons like Darryl Hannah, he proceeded to add the integral style essence of “angelic”. This addition plus his insistence that “ingenue” remain a part ultimately rounded out the identity system itself to be more inclusive.

Romeo gigfl runway show model, wearing ethereal outfit to show the angelic essence: draped puffy cape with beaded top and satin trousers with long ornate earrings
Romeo Gigfl runway
Embed from Getty Images

Quick Recap on Yin/Yang 

scale with two sides, yin (soft/curved) and yang on the other side (angular, structured)
kibbe body system yin marilyn monroe, yang tilda swinton

The yin and yang were originally and authentically part of the Daoist principles to explained how “ obviously opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another”. (source)

They have long since been appropriated by the western world and in the case of body typing and harmonizing style lines to represent two distinct concepts. 

Yang: sharp, angular, straight, long

Yin: Soft, rounded, gentle, short

We could apply other adjectives to these words as well, but I find it to best be described simply so as not to further confuse or bias your understanding. 

It is important to note that often yang is described as “masculine”, and yin as “feminine”.  This is completely incorrect and only further biases your views of the IDs and essences.  This generalization is probably why EVERYONE wants to type themselves as a romantic or theatrical romantic.  

So why do style essences matter? 

Style essences are a great way to guide yourself toward your most well-rounded image. Once you know your essence, it will provide insight into how people see you and how to exude your most natural, authentic, and beautiful self. 

Style essences can be the missing piece to your Kibbe ID concerns. 

The Kibbe system is often criticized for having too much focus on fashion and beauty. Although these elements are important, we should always remember that inner self-love and self-confidence — not material things or outer appearance–are what’s most important in life. Simplicity and authenticity should always come first, even with your style. 

And when I say simplicity, I don’t mean simple clothes.  In today’s culture, fast fashion and chasing trends are prevalent. I am all about trends and love them, but I think most people are going about their personal style in the wrong manner.  They consume pieces, try them on, and then don’t actually like them enough to integrate them into their wardrobe permanently, so the cycle repeats itself a month or two later. 

This is only made easier by the cheap and accessible fast-fashion empire. 

And I’m not criticizing people who buy fast fashion ( I’ve done it myself!), but I’d be remiss not to mention that this is hindering your personal style.  It’s like being on a constant treadmill without ever gaining any endurance.  

And this is where Kibbe and Kitchener can offer some insight.

The Limitations of the Kibbe System and Why Style Essences Matter

Style essences can bridge the gap that some people run into with Kibbe. Kibbe is an extremely useful system to help you harmonize your clothes to your body, and not chase the current “body ideal”. However, a lot of people can sometimes feel boxed in with the system.

I will say that the “boxed in” feeling I think is largely due to an over-emphasis on the original text style lines which is not necessarily in line with what Kibbe says today. Today he insists that clothes do not have an ID and really any ID can wear any piece of clothing, it is about crafting the “full look” to harmonize with your body ID.  I have a video about this here.

However, we still run into some roadblocks. Because if you look at Marilyn Monroe, and Beyonce (both verified romantics), they have two vastly different essences. Marilyn exudes an ingenue essence, whereas Beyonce exudes a dramatic essence. 

beyonce versus marilyn monroe, dramatic essence versus ingenue

Another example would be Rihanna who has been verified as a Theatrical Romantic (with much debate) but who has an obvious dramatic essence. When we compare Rihanna’s style lines over the years she looks best in the more dramatic, trendy silhouettes instead of the traditional flouncy romantic lines.

rihanna style theatrical romantic side by side outfit of dramatic essence look and a more traditioanal romantic dress

Style Essences and How They Deviate From Kibbe

Kibbe’s system has long been adapted and misinterpreted from his original intention. Even his original book has some ideas that seem to misalign with what he says today. Perhaps he’s evolved his ideas, or perhaps he had a pushy editor who encouraged him to give some hard lines for each ID. Because… if you know the “kibbe-world” telling a woman she is a “bright star on top of the Christmas tree” is not solid fashion guidance.

That being said, Kibbe believes that people have ONE ID. The clothes they choose should harmonize with that ID but should not be limited. For instance, there is a large misconception that Flamboyant Naturals can’t wear fitted pieces or show off their waist (exposing their waist is different than waist emphasis!). That is false. They simply have to accommodate their vertical and their width first. And because of their vertical and “kibbe width” they are able to also easily wear more billowy pieces. 

Now, with style essences, John Kitchener evolved the system to yes, add ingenue and angelic essences into the mix, but he also believes that people are not only ONE ID. He believes we are more like blends of the essences. 

A great example of this is Zendaya. At Zendaya’s height of 5ft 10 coupled with her sharp and narrow frame in the kibbe system, she is a pure Dramatic. However, her essence is ingenue which accounts for her youthful demeanor, playful look, and ability to wear both sharp pieces and more flowy silhouettes. I believe she also has a small amount of natural essence as well.

Embed from Getty Images

Now, if you’ve found your Kibbe ID, explored the lines and your fashion and image grew into the perfect representation of your true self well, you need not read further. 

But, if you’ve found your ID, explored the lines, and felt like a component of your style is still missing, this is that piece.

How do I find my essence? 

Essence is far less quantifiable than your Kibbe ID… And, you may be thinking, oh no- Kibbe was already such a journey. But, have no fear, essence is more intuitive so it’s actually less of a process. 

It is also important to point out that, unlike kibbe, your essence does not have to conform to those exact physical characteristics.

Here’s an example of Physical yin/yang:

zendaya showing physical yang, and marilyn monroe showing physical yin

Zendaya is long, angular, and basically all yang as a pure Dramatic. Whereas Marilyn Monroe physically is pure yin as a Romantic.

Here’s an example of Essence yin/yang:

essence yang (woman in sharp blazer and sunglasses), essence yin (smiling, warm woman in flowy dress)

You can see with essences it doesn’t have to do with their proportions or physical characteristics but what “vibe” they exude. The essence yang is sharper, cooler, and a bit more unapproachable. The essence yin is warm, friendly, and inviting.

The 7 Style Essences

kitchener style essence with associated images

Dramatic Style Essence

different ethnicity faces to show dramatic essence

The Dramatic Essence is defined as the most yang and theatrical essence.

Its hallmark traits are angular features (sometimes, not always), intensity, extroverted sensibility, and a love of fashion. They seem to never be afraid to try new, bold styles.

Cher is a great example of a dramatic essence. She has a bold presence with over-the-top fashion styles and always masters them with confidence.

Embed from Getty Images

A Dramatic essence works best with bold designs, asymmetry, animal prints, and an over-extension of the line (pieces that veer away from the body). They can handle bold textures like the rhinestone mesh Cher is wearing above. And they also do well with structured menswear.

woman with sharp sunglasses and black suit jacket with nothing underneath to show dramatic style essence
woman wearing men's suit with bar underneath and black sunglasses to show dramatic essence
dramatic romantic essence example, woman wearing full length black dress with leather harnesses around legs

Here we can see a dramatic/romantic essence combo. While her hair and the silhouette of the dress are slightly more romantic in nature, the leather strap details, makeup, and long flared silhouette harmonize with a dramatic essence.

Gamine Style Essence

different skintone examples of the gamine style essence

In Kitcheners system, the gamines are referred to as Playfully Dramatic with Yang Essence. This is a slight variation from Kibbe who puts Gamines more in the combo yin/yang spectrum.

They are described as “high-spirited” with a pixie nature.

Both Kitchener and Kibbe reference Liza Minelli as a hallmark gamine. And their physical traits are listed similarly. They describe the gamine as petite with compact bodies, captivating eyes, and a slightly “boyish” look.

They tend to have energetic, whimsical energy to them. They also can easily adopt fashion trends or play with fashion looks. It is second nature to them.

For style, they often embrace irreverent color with pattern mixes, menswear influences, and whimsical accessories.

woman wearing a matching plaid suit with quirky accessories to show gamine style essence
woman with beret and colorful glasses and frilly blouse with colorful coat to show gamine style essence

Natural Style Essence

different ethnic faces to show the natural style essence

The Natural Essence is described as the casual yang essence.

It is described as a casual and sportive look.

Physically they often have some broad features and a strong shoulder line. Kitchener describes them as less interested in fashion and they often choose function and comfort over style.

However, I think this is a grave generalization and understanding of the natural essence. Natural style lines were at one point-yes- just functional. However, in the 70’s the fashion industry adopted the natural “style lines” and morphed them into what we know today as effortless, easy-going, and “natural”. (source)

So while some naturals may prefer to have functional pieces, and simple layering in their styles, I think that doesn’t cover the true natural essence of today’s culture.

I think today it includes natural textures, fibers, abstract shapes, free-flowing hair, and a general reference to mother earth.

natural style essence, woman in jungle with knit top and skirt
woman wearing oversized jacket with wide brim hat and natural style essence

Here we can even see a natural essence with a touch of classic essence as well. While some of the pieces she’s wearing have more tailored lines and classic styling techniques, her accessories, hair, and overall vibe are definitely natural.

Classic Style Essence

different ethnic faces to show classic essence face/vibe

The Classic Essence is balanced yin and yang.

They have an elegant feel with even features and often exude timeless style. At times they can even appear a bit more conservative in their style.

Kitchener mentions Nicole Kidman as a celebrity example with a classic essence. While Kibbe has Nicole Kidman as a Flamboyant Natural. So here you can see the importance of considering your essence.

Embed from Getty Images

Physically, Nicole Kidman meets all the requirements of the Flamboyant Natural with verticality, width, and blunt yang being her physical profile. However, her overall aesthetic is more polished and timeless than free-flowing. We can see her opt for flowing dresses or relaxed hairstyles on occasion, but most of her style influence is classic in nature.  

The Classic essence will choose timeless pieces with slight construction and shape to them. Pieces that are moderate, balanced, and look put together.

classic woman tying traditional coat trench
woman wearing turtlenck, trouser, and open trench coat to exude classic style essence

Romantic Style Essence

different ethnicity faces to show the romantic essence

The Romantic Essence has a sensual deep yin essence.

Here is another example of where Kitchener deviates from Kibbe with his essence theory. His celebrity example for romantic essence is Julia Roberts, who Kibbe has verified to be a Flamboyant Natural.

While Julia Roberts certainly does have some natural essence to her and fits the FN description very well, we can’t negate her romantic essence and how well she looks with romantic influences to her look.

Embed from Getty Images

I also relate to this pairing because while I am also a Flamboyant Natural, I have about a 35% romantic essence. This allows me to pull off slightly more intricate details, textures, and even some romantic style lines.

gabrielle arruda, Flamboyant natural with 35% romantic essence wearing long slip dress from mirror palais

The Romantic Essence is all about indulgent fashion, and expensive-looking accessories. They look fantastic in luxurious silk textures and fabrics that hug the body.

Physically they can have curvaceous figures and alluring eyes.

girl in body hugging black dress that's off the shoulder with romantic hair and large hat to show romantic style essence vibes
woman in long red dress to show romantic style essence

Youthful/Ingenue Style Essence

different ethnic faces showing ingenue essence

The Ingenue Essence is a small-scale yin essence.

Prime celebrity examples include Emma Stone and Marilyn Monroe.  

Embed from Getty Images

The ingenue essence has a youthful appearance. They are often described as delicate with rounded features and bone structure, wide-apart eyes. 

Their style includes decorative florals, frills, ruffles, and vintage-inspired pieces. They can also wear small-scale florals, puffed sleeves, lace bows, and small or youthful elements to their overall look.

woman with platinum wispy hair wearing frilly high neck blouse- ingenue essence
woman wearing floral fitted dress with pulled back hair, ingenue style essence
woman holding up her hair wearing a light and airy white dress to show ingenue style essence

Angelic Style Essence

different ethnic faces that show off the angelic essence (ethereal essence)

The Angelic Essence is the most yin and ethereal essence.

According to Kitchener, the Angelic (also known as the ethereal) essence is the most yin essence. They can have a softer appearance (though not always) and can look like they belong from another age. They can also have a tall, waif-life appearance, and sometimes an oval-shaped face.

They appear almost magical in their essence, like a fairy, mermaid, or goddess.

In Kibbe, Tilda Swinton is pure dramatic because she is yang dominant. However, she has an ethereal essence because she exudes an other-worldly vibe. You can see her fuse both the Kibbe dramatic style lines and her ethereal essence style at different red carpet events.

Embed from Getty Images

People with ethereal essences wear a lot of fine textures and draped pieces that almost look like they are floating or have movement. Web-shaped designs, sumptuous textures, and ornate details are common.

woman in victorian ornate room wearing cascading gown sitting on top of a mantle to show angelic essence

woman wearing long gold gown that drapes down body with cut outs at neckline to show angelic ethereal essence

This is one of the harder essences to pin down and is especially hard to integrate into your everyday style. If you feel you have an ethereal essence start by adding small ethereal details like luxurious fabric choices and draping to your outfits.

How to Determine Your Style Essence

If you want to have your essences professionally typed and get your “exact” percentages, John Kitchener offers online analysis here. 

With Kitchener’s system, your body structure and other features are analyzed and given a percentage form to help you balance out your full look. These percentages can then be applied to your style by using them as guidelines for your head-to-toe look. 

For instance, while my Kibbe ID is a Flamboyant Natural- My essence would be romantic, dramatic, and natural. While I have not had my essences personally defined by John, I would guestimate the percentages to be as follows: 30% natural, 35% romantic, 35% dramatic. I am a Flamboyant Natural in the Kibbe system and often look best with relaxed, effortless hair and pieces that honor my vertical line. I also look good with pieces that have a natural textural quality to them and are not overly confining (overall). However, I play with trends and dramatic silhouettes often, and sometimes embrace intricate details and romantic silhouettes.

gabrielle arruda in romantic essence outfit
romantic essence
gabrielle arruda in natural essence outfit
natural essence
gabrielle arruda in dramatic essence outfit
dramatic essence

Because I have almost equal parts natural, romantic, and dramatic I can usually pull off full looks from each category. However, the more you study your style the more you will learn your essence “boundaries”.

For instance, my hair doesn’t look great unless it’s more natural, free-flowing. Even when it’s pulled back it needs some softness/volume to it. For my romantic essence, I do well with lace and some seaming but can’t pull off the overly voluptuous silhouettes. And my dramatic essence lends me to try more extreme silhouettes and trends.

Using Your Style Essence Combination

According to Kitchener, this is the “general” breakdown of how to use your essence distribution.

10-15% of an essence can be used for accessories 

20-40% of an essence can be used for one garment 

50%+ of an essence can be used for an entire outfit

For more on essences, finding your own balance, and examples, check out this video:

Thoughts on Kitchener’s Essences 

I personally like Kibbe’s description of “natural” more than Kitchener’s because I find Kitchener makes the natural essence sound too perfunctory and a bit too functional. 

If you look at the root of the Natural Style, you’ll see it did evolve in the ’70s with beat and hippie culture, and it surrounds an effortless look.  But because fashion eventually commercialized this “function” it morphed into an effortless, easy-going style that we associate it with today. And I think in today’s fashion and style, we are more aligned with that “natural” definition.  

Because if we look at Kitchener’s definition of “natural”, I would not fit it at all.  If I went solely off Kitchener I would be in the dramatic and romantic essences only.  And honestly, I don’t know how helpful that would be in finding my best overall outfits and style. 

If we are being frank I think the two systems need to work hand in hand.  Kibbe has a more analytical way of looking at your yin/yang balance and which dominant traits you need to take into consideration. 

And Kitchener adds in that extra missing puzzle piece of what clothing pieces and clothing styles harmonize with your exact yin/yang balance and overall vibe.

I have done some Kibbe fashion youtube videos, and often ask people to comment on which outfits they like the best.  Sometimes it’s the flamboyant natural style lines, but I also get an overwhelming amount of people liking the Soft Dramatic or the Theatrical Romantic lines on me as well. Why? Because of my romantic essence.  

While I have verticality and “kibbe-width”, I also harmonize with the romantic and dramatic lines and style essences,  which makes those popular choices in my videos. 

So ultimately, my recommendation is to find your kibbe ID and then explore your essence blend. Ask friends to help you pinpoint your essence specifically, as they know you best and can help give an objective opinion.

From there you will not only have a blueprint for what style lines you can harmonize with but also what details and looks from other essence families you can start incorporating into your style.

Your style is your own, and this is the beginning of your personal style recipe.

Now, go find strength through style!

Pin the below image so you can refer back to this article along your style essence evolution!

the 7 style essences explained