I thought I’d do something different on this blog for a change, since I’ve been studying David Kibbe’s body types. Like most women, I want to look good. I do not always have a natural sense of what looks good on me. I know what I like, but not what suits me. So, Kibbe’s 13 body types intrigued me. I’m going to use classic actresses as examples while I talk about the types, because they had less “work done” to alter their appearance, unlike modern actresses. I am using examples off Kibbe’s official list. Since he came up with the system, I have to trust his judgment in how he categorizes them.
The idea of dressing for your body type is following your “natural lines” so your clothes do not look disproportionate to you. Kibbe’s system is based on how much two primary essences – “Yin” (soft) and “Yang” (angularity) are mixed into your overall body type (bone structure, flesh, facial features).
The two “pure” essences are Dramatic (yang) and Romantic (yin). Women (or men) who fit into these two essences have way more of their primary essence than anything else, so they come out as either very yin or very yang. Let’s look at some examples.
Dramatic (Strong Yang)
The Dramatic female body type is built up of “sharp” defined angles (yang). They have a long vertical line, which means they look taller than they are (and are often very tall). This optical illusion is due to having a smaller head in proportion to their shoulders, and long arms and legs. They tend to be long and lean, both in bones and flesh, with a boyish torsos (not curvy — they have straight waistlines and smaller busts). Their facial features are “strong” and full of sharp, dramatic angles (wide or thin lips, long nose, small eyes). Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, and Lauren Bacall are Dramatics.
Romantic (Strong Yin)
On the opposite side of the spectrum are Romantics. In contrast to the “sharpness” of Dramatics, they are all softness (yin). Soft shoulders, soft faces, soft hourglass figures, soft and often short arms and legs. They have a short vertical line and appear quite small and petite, in part because most of them are short and because their heads are larger on their small, rounded shoulders. They tend have very soft features – large eyes, rounded noses, full lips. Elizabeth Taylor, Jean Simmons, and Marilyn Monroe are Romantics.
When you mix Dramatic and Romantic, you wind up with two sub-types – Soft Dramatic and Theatrical Romantic.
Means a Dramatic bone structure (long vertical line / tallness, long arms and legs, boyish hips, angular features) but Romantic flesh (voluptuousness, curves, and yin things like larger eyes or fuller lips). These women are curvier than pure Dramatics. Examples are Ava Gardner, Kim Novak, Mae West, Marlene Dietrich, and Sophia Loren.
Are primarily Romantics in their short stature, yin bodies (roundness, curves, figure, small vertical line) but they have some sharpness or angularity to their bone structure or facial features. They may have a more prominent nose, or sharper cheekbones, or longer arms and legs. Kibbe’s primary example for a Theatrical Romantic is Vivien Leigh, who has a fierce sensuality in her small, lean, curvy figure. Another example is Jean Harlow.
Next, we have Classics.
They are “balance” between yin and yang, meaning their bones are “symmetrical” and “average.” They lack the length and sharpness of Dramatic, or the soft shortness of Romantic. They are a blend of both essences, in all the features, in the height, the vertical line (they appear about the height they are), the length and width of the bones (medium), and their curves. They are not too straight, too curvy, too tall, too short, too feminine, or too masculine. It’s all “moderate.” Because finding a pure balance of these element is difficult, Kibbe only has one pure Classic example – Ginger Rogers. He also includes Grace Kelly, but he is undecided between Pure and Soft Classic for her.
As you might have guessed, Dramatic Classics are “average” in yin/yang bone structure, but have some Dramatic angularity to their features. They may have slightly sharper contours to their face, their shoulders, or longer arms and legs. They have a “fiercer” look to them, like Jane Wyman (or, later, Diana Rigg). They are taller than pure Classics.
Have an “average” (mixed yin and yang) body build and structure (their shoulders are neither narrow nor wide, their waist is neither broad nor slender, their arms and legs neither appear long or short) but more Romantic in them – they have softer arms and legs, more of an hourglass shape, bigger eyes or lips, etc. Examples are Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, Joan Fontaine, and Olivia de Havilland. Notice how balanced their features and build is (they all have similarly shaped eyes, noses, lips, cheeks, and brows, and none of them are unevenly spaced), but also how “soft” they look.
Now, we move into the “mixed” body types. Where Dramatic and Romantic are on opposite ends of the spectrum, and Classic meets in the middle, Natural and Gamine types are a mix, but it’s not “moderate” (balanced, or “averaged”) like the Classic.
Are like Dramatics in they have a tall vertical line, but they are wider in their bones, their facial features, and their flesh. They have broader shoulders than Dramatics and more muscular upper bodies, but have slender hips or boyish figures. Naturals are usually semi-tall. Pure Naturals are hard to find, but Kibbe has listed Carol Burnett and Judy Holliday.
Are Naturals with more Dramatic in them. So, they have a mixed / wider bone structure and shoulders (Natural) but also sharpness to their bones or facial features, and are taller than pure Naturals. They have Dramatic influences in their facial features (longer, straighter noses, or smaller eyes). Examples are Eve Arden and Rosalind Russell.
Have Romantic “yin” to balance their “yang” bones. So, they have a longer vertical line, broad shoulders, and wide or sharpness to their bones, but also some softness in flesh (more curves, big eyes, soft lips, round nose, curved thighs, etc). Examples include Ingrid Bergman (Kibbe is undecided between SN, FN, and pure Natural for her; to me, her face looks SN), Carole Lombard, Julie Andrews, and Betty Grable.
Lastly, we have Gamines.
They have a short vertical line (they are petite or look small, both due to their height and their head appearing large against narrow shoulders), a straight and short torso, and look “boyish” due to being youthful in their features. Gamines look like “tomboys.” They have a boyish figure and few natural curves. Classic Hollywood did not have many notable Gamines, other than Paulette Goddard, but a Kibbe includes Jean Seberg and Mia Farrow as more recent examples.
Are primarily Gamines (boyish figure, tomboy femininity, a short vertical line) with Dramatic influences – longer, narrower bones, sharper and/or more dramatic facial features. Audrey Hepburn is Kibbe’s primary example of a Flamboyant Gamine.
Lastly, there’s Soft Gamines.
They have the smallness and mixed angularity (long, short, wide, thin) in their bones of a Gamine, but influences from a Romantic “yin” in their flesh – so they can have rounded faces, slight hourglass figures, enormous eyes, and overall softness. They can have soft or long noses and thin or plump lips. Bette Davis, Debbie Reynolds, and Judy Garland are good examples.
So, how do you tell them apart?
That is an excellent question. It’s hard, but you look for what they have the most of, and their natural line. I managed to find examples of all the body types in swimsuits, so you can compare the overall yin, yang, and blend of their bodies.
The Taller Kibbe Types
Dramatics Joan Crawford and Kim Novak have a long vertical line, narrow bones, and a boyish torso (their waist emphasis is slight, and their hips are not wide). Their faces and their facial features (lips, eyes, nose) are all long lines. Novak has more curves (Soft).
Naturals Judy Holiday, Lucille Ball, and Carole Lombard have wider bones and broader shoulders. They have more mixed facial shapes and features — smaller or larger eyes, longer or shorter noses, bigger or smaller mouths. Holiday has the straightest hips as a pure Natural; Ball has more drama in her features and looks taller (Flamboyant); Carole looks the softest, and has wider hips than her bust-line (Soft).
To type a Classic, you need to remember that balance is crucial. These women will not be disproportionate in any way or strike you as particularly small, elongated, or uneven. Their waistline is in proportion to their shoulders and hips, but not as wide or fleshy as a Romantic. They will have more balanced features than the Dramatic or the Natural (Dramatics have long facial features and bones, Naturals have broader bones and variation in their facial features). As you can see, all these Classics (Jane Wyman, Grace Kelly, and Olivia de Havilland) are perfectly balanced. Wyman is more angular (Dramatic), and Olivia is softer with wider legs (Soft).
The Petite Kibbe Types
Romantics Vivien Leigh and Marilyn Monroe look very soft, sensual and feminine, but Vivien has longer, leaner bones and less of an hourglass figure owing to her Dramatic (here, called Theatrical) influence. Romantics are very voluptuous.
Gamines all have short legs and straighter torsos. Flamboyants like Audrey Hepburn can have a waspish waist, but you will notice her boxy hips. Her Dramatic influence gives her a longer, leaner appearance with sharper but delicate facial bones. The pure Gamine (Paulette Goddard) is mixed in everything — long, thinner arms but shorter and more muscular legs, a short torso, a small bust line, mixed facial features. Debbie Reynolds is obviously petite with shorter limbs, but has more curves and softer features (larger eyes) since she is a Soft Gamine.
Dressing For Your Body Type
(Notice in this picture of Bette Davis (SG) with Olivia de Havilland (SC), how much more balanced Olivia looks. Her head does not seem as large, her eyes are not as big in her face as Bette’s, her mouth is wider, and her nose less pronounced and more feminine. This is because Bette, a Gamine, has mixed facial features on a petite body — if she were tall, with longer limbs and a long vertical line, she’d be an SN, because Soft Naturals also have mixed facial features, but are taller and broader.)
Kibbe advises choosing clothing to flow with your natural lines and angularity or softness. There’s a lot of information out there about how to dress for your type, including examples from his book (Google Kibbe + whatever one you want to read about). Merriam Style and Aly Art both have great videos full of information.
Here’s a few tips:
Dramatics need long lines. Deep, angular necklines are good on them (long V necks). Oversized things make them look smaller and more petite. Avoid anything too Romantic (frilly), as it will make you look more angular. Soft Dramatics can include some softness in waist definition and loose, unstructured tailoring. Dramatics look best with angular hairstyles and/or hairstyles with long lines.
This Dramatic suit would drown anyone but a Dramatic, yet Katharine Hepburn looks totally at home in it. She is tall and slender enough, with sharp enough facial features and presence, to pull it off and look casual.
Naturals need long, free-flowing lines and draped fabrics. Avoid too narrow of straps, since it does not interrupt your wide shoulder line, and stay away from anything that hugs your body too much, since that will make you seem larger. Pure Naturals do not need waist definition, and can wear oversized things (it makes them look petite). Avoid anything too Romantic (frilly or busy with small details), as it will make you look too muscular. Soft Naturals need loose waist definition and can add some softness in loose ruffles. Avoid too much tailoring. Naturals look best with medium-to-long hair, tousled, not too “done up.”
Draped, long dresses look best on Naturals. Soft Natural Carole Lombard here is killing it in this Natural dress, which makes her look even taller and more slender than she already is.
Classics look the best when they are “completely put together.” They need waist definition, tailored cuffs, and some loose structure to their clothing. Fitted clothing is best. Higher and more modest necklines go with their classic beauty. Avoid too much detail, go for more simplicity – a Classic’s blended beauty can be easily overwhelmed by clunky accessories. Dramatic Classics can go with longer lines in their clothing, more angularity, less waist definition. Softer Classics can add in more yin through softer fabrics, more flowing lines, and more detailing. Their hair is best when styled symmetrically, usually about shoulder-length. It needs soft waves.
Grace Kelly has very little detail in her clothing, but it is all tailored and loosely fitted. It looks crisp and neat, and as a result, she looks put together and elegant even when being casual.
Romantics are all softness, so they need to reflect that softness in their clothing. They look best when going with their natural curves, showing waist definition, avoiding angular lines, patterns, or geometric designs. Form-fitting is good. Ruffles, intricate designs near the face, etc., are all good. Romantics can carry off more decorative elements—larger, fancier pieces of jewelry, and more detail around their necklines. Theatrical Romantics have more angularity in their body, so can go more dramatic in their clothes, with sharper lines and angles, deep V-necks, etc. Their hairstyle should be soft and ultra-feminine, often with waves or curls.
Only a Theatrical Romantic like Vivien Leigh could pull off this TR dress. It has Drama in the silhouette but Romantic in its softness.
Gamines have a short vertical line and angularity, so they can do color blocking, and the mixing of different patterns and fabrics without it seeming too overwhelming on them. They need structured but short, broken up lines (pencil skirts rather than A-line skirts, for example). Tailored things look good on all Gamines (high collars, fitted cuffs, pants that end above the ankle and have a wide cuff). Gamines are the type most able to pull off shorter, boyish haircuts, because it makes them look more feminine and delicate. Flamboyant Gamines can do sharper lines, more dramatic blends of color blocking, more angular non-symmetrical pieces, bolder patterns, and V-necks. (They can also often get away with unnatural hair colors.) Soft Gamines need slight Romantic influences – softer patterns and details in their blouses and shirts, and look best in loose, styled bobs.
Soft Gamine Bette Davis looks at home in this loosely tailored outfit — the softness of the blouse mirrors her need for yin in her clothing, but the tailored cuffs are Gamine; she has a pattern on her belt, and a different colored set of trousers. And it all looks natural on her, not strange or overpowering.
So, which Classic Actress shares your Body Type?
Let me know if you liked this post, or would like one on the Male Kibbe body types.