Friday, 1 June 2018

Considering Kibbe: Part One

 Before I Got to Kibbe:  Lost in the Land of the Rectangle

Increasingly I have come to believe that body shape, whether described as a vegetable or geometric shape or a wide variety of unflattering things a la Trinny and Susannah  (Brick?  I mean, really?) doesn't matter as much as we have been told it does.  The idea of dressing for your body shape is about creating balance and getting as close as you can to tricking people into thinking you have the idealised hour glass.  I think it is time to let go of this ideal and simply appreciate all shapes, but I can't claim any credit for that idea.  If it is your personal preference to attempt to balance your body then do it.  But I don't think it is a necessity.  My opinion, which matters not a jot, is that women with little waist definition who put a belt around it to somehow trick the eye into thinking there is definition there are fooling nobody except maybe themselves.  Why not just flaunt your natural shape?  Seriously.  The hourglass shape is idealised because it symbolises fertility.  There is more to you than whether or not you are highly fertile and we all know that plenty of women who are not hourglass shaped are quite fertile enough, thank you very  much.

I tend to pick on the thick-waisted body because it is my own.  When I was young I had a ten inch difference between waist and hips but that measurement was deceptive.  I was very thin but the thinness of my waist was seen in a side view.  From a front view, although there was still a noticeable waist-hip ratio, it wasn't Jessica Rabbit by any  means.  Hormones thickened my waist early in life.  By the time I was two months pregnant I had thickened around the middle and this narrow waist never returned even when I returned to pre-pregnancy weight.  In my teens and twenties I considered myself a slight pear shape but by my thirties I was more cylindrical and where I once first put weight onto my hips and thighs I then put extra weight on all over but slightly more on my torso.  I gain weight like the Michelin Tire man, a body shape Trinny and Susannah forgot to include.  When slim I seem to be a vase shape, according to T and S, but I don't generally find their dressing guidelines helpful.  

The dressing guidelines they offer which work better for me are those offered up to the brick.  Kinder style gurus call it column or rectangle although T and S are attempting to distinguish between a thinner and thicker version of the no-waist shape.  They do have guidelines for a column as well.  I cannot clearly identify whether I am a brick, column or vase but I think a youthful vase is turning into a middle-aged column-brick thing. The  brick style guidelines work better for me than the column ones do as I have a sort of compactness rather than long and gangliness to my appearance, although my silhouette looks more like the column model than the brick model.  So confusing!  Go with what works and forget what it's called.

Many of the guidelines for a rectangle shape that isn't long and lithe like a runway model do work for me but not all of them.  In wondering why that is the best answer I could arrive at was that there was something else that needed to be taken into account and also that perhaps the aim didn't need to be tricking the eye into seeing an hourglass shape via gathers and knots and peplum tops.  Ruffles all over my middle section are a BAD idea but I have seen it suggested for column shapes.  I look best with simple lines skimming over my mid-section and no details that chop me up, yet many guidelines suggest that the point is to suggest curves so I don't look manly and suggested curves seem to come from just throwing ruffles on yourself.

I am neither convinced that I am in danger of looking manly nor am I convinced that I need to suggest curves to look good.  I think long and sleek might work just as effectively.  I don't wear the full skirted dress well though I pulled it off better when I was younger.  There has to be something more going on than just being rectangular.  There has to be something else to aim for other than artificial curves.  Some rectangular shaped women can wear clothing I can't and vice versa and I think this is because there are other things that are equally or perhaps more important than knowing I am a rectangular shape and chasing that hourglass.

I do think that balance generally has visual appeal and most people are aiming to not make themselves look heavier than they are.  Those two ideas do seem to be pervasive.  But I wonder if there is more to visual balance than just creating an hour glass.  Maybe it's more about harmony with the body's own lines;  not balance as in only one type of shape is balanced.

I wish I could claim to have thought that up myself but I didn't.  It's difficult to say who did but this idea is involved in the concepts of style archetypes as conceived by style experts decades ago.  Possibly the originator was Belle Northrup who seems to be the first to describe styles and bodies in terms of yin/yang features, which to some degree is a way of saying masculine or feminine, soft or strong.  Words tend to be loaded and people get uncomfortable describing females as having any masculine features or males as having any feminine features.  We could also talk about yin features as being small, rounded, delicate and yang features as being large, sharp, sturdy or blunt.   People generally have a mixture of these types of features but the specific mixture you have is what determines your style type. 

Belle Northrup developed her ideas in the nineteen thirties.  They were taken up by Harriet Tilden McJimsey in the 1960s and she developed style archetypes called Dramatic, Natural, Classic, Romantic, Gamine and Ingenue and the idea that people have some of these in varying proportions which determine what styles suit different people.  In more recent times John Kitchener uses similar categories and a system which identifies combinations of archetypes in people, while Carol Tuttle of Dressing Your Truth and David Kibbe believe that people have a dominant archetype or category which they belong to and that yin or yang features are important to identify.  Tuttle allows for a secondary category to have some influence and Kibbe allows for it in that each category has a yin version and yang version, which means a romantic or soft version and a dramatic, sometimes called flamboyant version.

There are more detailed explanations of this interesting style archetype history on blogs such as Style Syntax, Truth is Beauty and Expressing Your Truth though the latter blog has been restyled and I don't find it easy to navigate anymore.  These blogs dive into personal style and colour more deeply than I do and you will find more names than I am providing here for my very brief history of style types.

These style type systems don't seem to worry much about whether you have an hourglass shape or might be deemed a brick, though they do discuss body shapes a little bit when describing the tendencies of people who fit into various archetypes.  The most accessible archetype style information available free today is that of David Kibbe. He wrote his book in the eighties and the photos are alarmingly out of date but if one can look past that and some of the outdated recommendations, there is timeless and possibly useful information.  It takes work though and by accessible I mean easy enough to find, though not easy to understand.  Some serious money and a trip to New York where David Kibbe still does consultations and makeovers which he refers to as metamorphoses will get you an authentic Kibbe diagnosis.


It is difficult to summarize Kibbe's concepts.  Excerpts from his book and summaries of it can be found on the forum Tapa Talk.  It only takes a Google search using the key words Kibbe and the image ID you wish to read about.  There are also active Facebook Groups and the Style Syntax blog discusses Kibbe in depth.  Figuring out your Kibbe type ( as it is commonly known around the internet ) is not generally easy and whether or not you decide on the type Kibbe himself would identify you as is not certain.  Understandably, as he offers this service for a fee it doesn't make sense that he would want you to be able to figure it out on your own, though he does give suggestions and advice to people in the Facebook Groups at times.  His devotees sometimes treat him like a guru though he is reputed to be a very kind, charming and generous person.

I tried some Kibbe Facebook groups as well as some Dressing Your Truth Groups and I wasn't any more comfortable in them.  I really am not a group person, but part of it was what seemed to me like a dogmatic sort of attitude that got to me after awhile.  Groups inevitably contain personalities who clash, but I must emphasise that I have very low tolerance for group participation.  Inevitably I will question something or challenge something and get someone's back up, rightly or wrongly but none of that has anything to do with whether or not the Kibbe system works.  For anyone wanting to explore Kibbe types the Facebook groups might be very helpful.

It would be very interesting if David Kibbe reissued his book Metamorphosis and updated the eighties images and guidelines (there are a couple of style IDs who are told shoulder pads must always be worn or that lipstick should be frosted).  It might be easy to suggest that if his guidelines are all eighties inspired how can they possibly work now but it's not really true that they are all eighties inspired.  They are given in an eighties context, which is a different thing, so some of them might be ignored and there is room for new suggestions to be included.  At any given time the current trends will favour some types more than others and we will all try to make what is available to us work.  The key is to learn how to translate the essential elements of your type into the clothing that is available and appropriate now.  Finding the words that describe those essential elements takes a bit of sifting through flowery prose and detailed description in Kibbe's book. 

The lack of an updated or new book suggests that David Kibbe has a successful private consultation business and no real need to either make any money from a new book nor to drum up business from one.  His original concepts are very  much alive on the internet and a group of devoted followers are happy to receive the tidbits of advice he offers them.  I have mixed feelings about this and my natural cynicism tends to show up.  By periodically offering crumbs he feeds a devoted following who praise him and keep his name and ideas out there. He also posts client transformations on his official Facebook page, Strictly Kibbe.  Much of the communication is written by his wife, quoting David's words.

 His business and livelihood is based on his personal vision, the way he sees people and is able to translate what he sees into style advice that is very successful.  He has no obligation to give away anything free.  I can't quite put my finger on the reasons why I get a slightly uncomfortable guru vibe from it all.  It may be due to his followers and not the man himself.

I have learned quite a lot from reading David Kibbe's work and developed a method for applying it to myself which I believe works and I am satisfied with for the most part.  Recently I began to explore another system which allows for more of a mixture of types, similar to how John Kitchener does but more accessible and certainly less expensive.  As I explore that I will write more in future posts. 

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