This is the first in a series of posts dedicated to Kibbe’s Metamorphosis, a style system created in the 1980’s by David Kibbe. I decided to write about his system because many of you who read this blog know it well and are interested in making it work for you. Please note that I am in no way associated with Mr. Kibbe, and anything I write about his system is my own personal interpretation; my opinion does not represent his own. I admire his original thinking, his ideas of honoring the unique yin/yang balance present in everyone, and his sincere affection and admiration for the female beauty in all its forms. His book is out of print, but you can still find copies of the original edition on sites like Amazon.
In a densely populated world of style systems, David Kibbe’s work stands out for its originality and depth of detail. His writing style, perhaps reflecting the man himself, is highly theatrical, upbeat but also somewhat philosophical. As women, we are (unfortunately) all too used to being judged and held up to impossible ideals that are completely alien to who we truly are. So it’s quite refreshing that David Kibbe offers a much more respectful and uplifting attitude towards female beauty, along with some great practical advice. At the same time, his work is still a system, and as such, it is inherently limited. Having been written in the 1980’s, it could also use a more modern interpretation. Nonetheless, his book is great reading and can offer insights to a wide range of women, from those who are just starting a search for their style to those who have already developed it to a higher degree. All in all, his book is definitely an investment, one that requires time, effort, and a degree of open-mindedness and objectivity.
Personally, I firmly believe that our style should grow organically from who we are on the inside, and work in harmony with our physical characteristics. Kibbe mostly works with the external, and thus provides some helpful guidelines to understanding one’s body and facial structure miles beyond the simplistic “hourglass / apple / pear” rules that are still used today. At the same time, being the theatrical, whimsical writer that he is, he can’t resist putting a label on each of his types – “Graceful Lady”, “Diva Chic”, etc. Depending on the person, these labels can be helpful or confusing. Words have great power – they elicit very emotional reactions that, while understandable, can sometimes hinder objectivity. Even the names he gives to his main style categories – “Dramatic”, “Classic”, “Romantic”, “Natural” and “Gamine” – have so many different connotations in everyday life that it’s not a surprise that some women applying Kibbe’s system find themselves resisting certain types, even if the guidelines fit their physical characteristics; or they become so taken with the idea of a certain type that they spend a lot of time trying to fit an ideal that has little to do with reality. Unfortunately, this simply perpetuates the vicious cycle of trying to fit something or forcing something to fit, as opposed to allowing oneself to gravitate naturally to the type that matches best. This often results in feelings of powerlessness and frustration. This phenomenon is something that often occurs within all style systems, not just Kibbe’s. The key to avoiding frustration is accepting the inherent limitations of a system, and learning to make it work for you.
Since words and concepts are highly personal, my advice with Kibbe (and with working on your style in general) is always start with the physical. The knowledge you gain from understanding your body grounds you; it serves as a foundation for the evolving construct that is your personal style. Kibbe himself, despite using many evocative images, maintained that what he was mostly concerned with was the balance of traits in the body and face, not personality or essence. In a separate post that is coming soon I will explore the subject of embracing our physicality (a concept I call “compassionate objectivity”). But for now, I will say, don’t get too hung up on the concepts. Focus on what works on the body first and foremost. Remember that each image concept lends itself to personal interpretation. When it comes to the spirit of your style, don’t let anyone dictate it to you. Listen, really listen to yourself, and you will hear your true voice.
To illustrate what I mean, here is a visual example. I’m using Soft Dramatic, a type from Kibbe’s system that is most in line with my own style. I thought I’d put together a few different looks that are all essentially Soft Dramatic but have different “vibes” – traditional and conservative (office attire), romantic, and casual. Depending on personality, lifestyle or occasion, it’s possible to make your Kibbe type uniquely yours while still honoring his suggestions for shapes that best flatter your body.
Below is a conservative, office look for a Soft Dramatic. It has the classic, traditional elements – a suit and heels, but compared to a really traditional business outfit it’s more modern, sharp and even alluring, which is the essence of Soft Dramatic.
Next is the soft side of Soft Dramatic. This set also shows how women of lighter coloring can wear their colors and maintain a largely dramatic style image. All elements are in line with the Soft Dramatic requirements, and the necessary structure is there, but the overall mood is definitely romantic.
Finally, we have a casual, natural look. As before, all elements are in line with Kibbe’s guidelines. This is a good example of how the guidelines of a type that is perceived as “high maintenance” can still work for someone with a more down to earth personality or lifestyle.
When working with Kibbe’s Metamorphosis, just like any other system, remember: not everything may work 100%. Guidelines are just that: guidelines, be they Kibbe’s or anyone else’s. Your body or taste may not fit into all of his guidelines, and you shouldn’t force them to; instead of adapting to the guidelines, adapt them to yourself. Take things that work and add them to your master list. Use them to create signature looks that express your essence and suit your lifestyle. Don’t let systems and guidelines restrict you; rather, use them as a foundation to nurture the growth of your personal style.