Response to David Kibbe’s Recent Letter + Update on Workbooks, Etc.

Last week, we got the first new writings from David Kibbe since Metamorphosis was published 30 years ago. You can read it here. He discusses the changes that have gone in the fashion world since the book was published, and also tries to correct some misconceptions/misuses of his system. I did find the letter to be interesting food for thought, so I thought I’d respond to some of the things in the letter.

“I found that many of you are looking at yourselves from an OLD IDEA — based on that time and the mind-set of the times ― not my vantage point at all. I found that some of you are trying to squeeze or fit yourself into the Image Identities™I put forth in the book.

That was never my intent.”

It is hard to know what to make of this part. Yes, as he mentioned before this, the way clothing is made has changed, and now a lot of things come with spandex and bodycon is very common. But what is his system beyond the Image Identities? What are we trying to “squeeze ourselves into”? Is he referring to the fact that the recommendations are based on what was available when the book was being written, or are the Image Identities themselves a reflection of the times? He still types people using the same Image Identities as before, obviously, so perhaps what it means is that we have to expand our understanding of what types can wear. But then again, without guidance from the recommendations, how can we understand that what we’re wearing is really true to the type?

I have to say, sticking to the Flamboyant Gamine recommendations nearly 100% has been very successful for me. There are places I’ve discovered where I can bend the rules, and perhaps that’s what we have to do. Start with the recommendations, get a feel for your type, and branch out from there.

“I also discovered that on the sites, for some, it is a very left-brained intellectual process. I discovered that sometimes the groups type each other and some individuals elect themselves as experts in my system. Although it may be well-meaning, it doesn’t help because it shifts the focus from organic to intellectual.

My system is an art – not a science. But like all art, it must have an iron-clad technique at its core which is what I have created and my book was meant to outline.”

I feel I have definitely been guilty of this. This is simply how I understand the world. I work with an impression I receive from my intuition, or look at a system like Kibbe that seems a bit mysterious in how it works, and then I try to break it down and understand it in a systematic way.

But I do try to go with my first impressions, to see if a certain type makes sense for a person overall. And have I elected myself an expert? Yes, I have a blog–but when I do give people my impression of their type, whether here or on Facebook, I hope that they understand that I am not coming at this from the point of view of a self-appointed expert, just someone who enjoys studying these systems.

I do wonder if perhaps he was instead referring to people who do take on clients and charge money for their typing services, ones where the emphasis is on physical features or lines instead of the overall impression a person gives. But by then, I suppose, you have already gone in an entirely different direction that Kibbe.

“The multiple choice test was never meant to be the only thing to determine your Image Identity™. Used by itself, it will always come up wrong. Only use the test combined with the lists and descriptions. Add to that your deepest instinct about who you are. Think of yourself at the age of 7- or before the world did its thing to you. Remember how you felt about yourself and what already made your heart sing! Remember above all, this as an organic process – not an intellectual one. Listen and hear yourself.”

This I have always found to be true. I do not really come up as FG on the test. I am somewhat more evenly divided between yin and yang according to the test–but answers aren’t weighted differently according to importance. My impression is still more yang than yin.

The idea of your “deepest instinct about who you are” though, I think is a major one. I can say that I have always somehow known that I am FG, although of course FG is simply an idea created by one guy. I have always been drawn to other gamines, and couldn’t relate to actresses of other types nearly as well. Even as a small child, I somehow knew that I wouldn’t grow up to statuesque or voluptuous. I was never going to be a Jessica Rabbit type. Audrey Hepburn always resonated with me far more than Marilyn Monroe.

“Hollywood Stars. Many of you that I’ve worked with personally, keep asking me to “slot” them in my Image Identity™ system according to the movie stars of today. I always gently decline. The reason? The celebrities of today are not necessarily STARS. The Hollywood Stars of yesteryear had a whole studio to evaluate and execute a one-of-a-kind expression of that individual. Therefore Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Greta Garbo were born. Now with the homogenization of Hollywood, the fashion world, and the preponderance of plastic surgery, the individual person underneath is often not recognizable.”

Yes. I do this for fun on Pinterest, but the days of studios creating a true image for a star are long gone. Now it seems that you can barely tell one apart from another. Relying on celebrities to type yourself is also a fool’s errand. Just because you vaguely have a resemblance to someone does not mean you will be the same type as them. I think it’s when you don’t actually look like someone, but someone still senses something you have in common with that person, is when a celebrity comparison is significant. I have been compared to Jean Seberg, even when I had long hair, but I actually look nothing like her.

I had planned to really do a thorough study of facial features and body features for each type. But as I’ve spent more time working on Kibbe-related things, I’ve realized that this isn’t really the direction I want to go. I have seen people get lost in the most minor of details, like what feet look like in a certain type, thus sending them off on a wild goose chase to types that have nothing to do with who they are and how they present themselves to world.

So I will work on looking at the essences of types–yes, I realize I have only done Dramatic so far–and maybe stop there. I am working on a typing workbook for style and season (in addition to finishing up edits on my style customization workbook) and while I first wanted to put together a bunch of clothing suggestions to try and see if you need a long line or whatever, I now feel like that is now how I want to spend my time. If you’d like a book like there, you can pick up The Triumph of Individual Style. What I want to do with the workbook is lead you on an exploration of who you are. Belle Northrup believed in dressing the whole person, inside and out, and that is what I want to focus on, not which sleeve length is best.

What was your reaction to Kibbe’s letter? What has been your experience trying to understand his system in a more “right-brained” way?

9 Comments on Response to David Kibbe’s Recent Letter + Update on Workbooks, Etc.

  1. nouveau22
    August 27, 2015 at 4:10 am

    This quote from Kibbe’s recent letter:

    “…Add to that your deepest instinct about who you are. Think of yourself at the age of 7- or before the world did its thing to you. Remember how you felt about yourself and what already made your heart sing! Remember above all, this as an organic process – not an intellectual one. Listen and hear yourself.”

    This is very much in tune with how I approach my personal style journey now.

    It’s also in line with these two quotes I love from others in the personal style community:

    John Kitchener: “We intuitively know what we are, but we get derailed by other influence.”

    Tina Csomo (of “It saddens me to see women drive themselves into a circle concerning color and style when all along their first instincts are continually proven correct.”

    I agree that I *did* know from the beginning what my color season and my Kibbe type were.

    Unfortunately, however, I didn’t trust my instincts and spent about two years trying on several other Kibbe types and two other color seasons.

    In the end I wound up back with the season and type I “guessed” to begin with.

    But I am thankful for that journey, because without it I wouldn’t have learned so much about myself – and about why certain things look good or not-so-good on me.

    I have felt so much peace since I’ve stopped seeking outside validation of what my colors and style are, and have started relying on my “inner knowing” instead.

    • ruby
      August 31, 2015 at 10:49 am

      I had to laugh at his comment to think of myself at 7. One of my earliest clothes memories is from about that age, or perhaps a little younger, when I used to wear as many different colours as I could in one outfit because I knew it would annoy my mum. I suspect what that tells me is that I should follow my own style rules and no-one else’s!

  2. Laurel
    August 27, 2015 at 3:15 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. I think the Kibbe test is useless. I liked that book you recommended Fabulous You. On the Kibbe test I score clearly theatrical romantic. Trying to be a theatrical romantic has been a fools errand for me. Femme Fatale chic is definitely not my essence. I feel much more like the Trendy that Fabulous You revealed me to be. I have been incorporating more of the Flamboyant Gamine thing into the way I dress and I feel much better. I really don’t care if anyone else likes it. If I don’t feel right then I don’t look good to me.

  3. Keturah
    August 27, 2015 at 4:53 pm

    First off, I am so grateful you shared this letter with us. I’m glad Kibbe finally spoke out!

    I think change is necessary to keep moving forward. A stylist friend of mine is letting go of beautiful shoes because they are dated, not just out of trend but dated. Visiting Kibbe’s Facebook page, I see that he has updated his style, compared with the cover of his book. It’s essential to do. His comments about Hollywood are correct. I find it true for a lot, maybe most (?), style blogs too. Everything is homogenized, boxed in, and mass copied. It makes me sad.

    Kibbe’s quote about being a 7 year old and listening to yourself is what I’ve been doing lately. It works. I had been trying to be defined a certain Kibbe type or style, and it was paralyzing me to shop, make choices, get dressed. Carla Mathis says on her blog that human beings from all places of the world are “…ATTRACTED to People, Places and Things that look like them, that share the same design signatures as their body.” So, recently I decided to let go of it, listen to myself, and make choices. Experiment. Be free. I looked for inspiration in old Hollywood, Pinterest, and blogs and let it all inspire me. And then I began listening to myself and letting who I am define me and my style. It’s been freeing. It’s a process, not anything instant. I think that’s how it ultimately should be – an process of evolution. I also think it makes us more interesting, fascinating, individualist, and allows who we are to shine. I feel at peace with myself and my closet, instead of trying to keep up with the trends or figure out what Kibbe category (or other category) I belong in.

    Sorry for the long ramble.

    I’m very excited about you developing a workbook that is about discovering the whole person! I think it’s a marvelous direction to go!

  4. Hanna
    September 1, 2015 at 11:01 am

    The way I read the lycra/bodycon comment was that it’s not just that fashion has changed but what is considered normal, acceptable, even expected has changed since he wrote the book.

    This suggests that some of the recommendations – those related to “clingyness” perhaps and possibly some others as well, no longer apply. The main recommendations probably wouldn’t change since they’re about what you look like. Angular vs curved, fitted vs relaxed, small scale vs large scale, high contrast vs low contrast etc.

    Mostly I take it to mean that no, classics don’t have to dress like housewives from the 50s or live in suits. 😛

  5. MKsoujourn
    October 13, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    I was very relieved to find and read the comments from David Kibbe about the use of his system on the internet. I first heard about his book on a fashion forum I belonged to almost ten years ago. The test pegged me a Theatrical Romantic, and while I did find that I had “kinship” with many of the TR celebrities (though I don’t look just like any of them, I was once told by someone when I was 20 that I reminded them of Vivien Leigh), I knew deep down that something was off. Though it made perfect sense, intuitively it felt all wrong. I despised corsets, lace, high heels and push-up bras – not, as some suggested, because of an emotional reaction to my type (yet admittedly, I did “want to be” more “yang” than “yin”!), but because this type of clothing – and all its ilk – just felt so terribly restricting on my body. Point blank, Theatrical Romantic, for all it’s supposed rightness for me on many levels, just plain felt like a Halloween costume.
    A fellow forumite suggested Soft Natural as a possible category for me. At first I balked (waitaminit, wasn’t I supposed to be more delicate, more yin?) because all those “D” answers on the test really do reflect my body and the way others – not just myself – see me (I ran the test by my sister and mother, to take on my behalf, and still came out as a delicate yin/TR). But when I really started digging into Soft Natural, it was like something clicked within me. The drape, the flow, the artistic jewelry pieces, the absence of a contrived “wasp waist”, etc – Finally, a Kibbe type felt like the real “me”. But I still had my doubts: I am still only 5’2″ (though Natalie Wodd, Kibbe’s own prime example of a SN, was only 5’1″), and still soft, fleshy, curvy and “yinny” even at my lowest weight. My legs don’t run up to the sky like most Naturals, and I’m also, even at my very fittest, not very “muscular”. But I guess this is why the Soft part of the equation, right? Another forumite suggested Soft Classic as a possibility, but the Classics just felt all wrong on so many levels and entirely constricting and alien to me. I could not, cannot, turn myself into a Classic of any kind! I’d feel literally like I was in fashion prison. (And believe me, I did try it). So, I decided I was a more-delicate, yinner version of a Soft Natural, and left it at that.
    Recently, I’ve decided to revisit his system on a whim, more for fun than anything and to confirm what I’ve discovered about myself over time since reading his book. The test is still useless – it still makes me a Theatrical Romantic (landslide of “D”‘s), or at best a dominant D with a B (Natural) rather than A (Dramatic) undercurrent, depending on how I answer (ie. whether I say my cheekbones are A “high” or B “wide” – they are both A and B). I still may look like a TR (slightly yang-y face) and have soft yin flesh (body), but I don’t feel that is truly my “essence”, to snag a Kibbe term. It’s all at once too frilly, and too harsh. More than ever at 40ish, I don’t want to wear a wasp waist(!), though I feel that it would be no problem if that were my true type. Neither would the idea of corsets and lace still feel foreign – and constricting. And I’m still that girl that haaaates high heels and hairspray.
    I recently got married, and wasn’t thinking a whit about Kibbe at the time I was planning the wedding. I picked a flowing, plain chiffon gown with a soft cowl neckline and trailing, medieval-style split sleeves. My decor theme was more rustic, evoking an enchanted forest. And my choice of meal was a relaxed summertime barbecue. My one piece of jewelry (aside from my rings) was artist-made – a twisted sterling circlet with a moonstone in the center, made to look otherworldly and “elvish”. And, it was enough.
    Dare I say it, looking back at my wedding, I think Mr. Kibbe would be proud of me.

    • stylesyntax
      October 18, 2015 at 7:55 pm

      It definitely has to feel right. Even if TR *is* what Kibbe would give you, it’s possible that someone else like Zyla would give you something closer to SN lines that are more in harmony with your personality and inner self.

      Also, Natalie Wood was moved to SG (!). Kibbe said her being in SN was an editor’s mistake.

      • MKsojourn
        October 19, 2015 at 12:02 pm

        That’s interesting, about Natalie Wood. Has the book been updated? It would be nice to see a modern edition!

        I never heard of Zyla before reading this blog, and while it sounds interesting, it also seems very complicated. As if Kibbe isn’t complicated enough!

        I wonder who the SN primary example actually is!

        • stylesyntax
          October 19, 2015 at 3:32 pm

          No, it’s something he has mentioned to people who have gone to see him.


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