Petite Body Types

Kibbe body types for petites

When it comes to fashion or style, it seems like we women have forever been trying to fit ourselves into little boxes. Are we apples or pears? Are we summers or winters? Are we adventurous or conservative? Kibbe is seemingly the latest (not really; it’s from the 80s) craze along these lines.

I’ve had a number of requests from readers for a post on Kibbe types for petites. So, despite my misgivings, here goes.

What is Kibbe?

Kibbe body types were developed by image consultant David Kibbe in the late 1980s, published in his book Metamorphosis, and then co-opted by self-described typologists and stylists for years to come. It seeks to define people as falling into one of 5 beauty categories, based on responses to a questionnaire about your facial features, bone structure, body type, and presentation.

The method uses the concepts of “yin” and “yang” to describe features that it determines are either more traditionally feminine or masculine. For instance, it defines sharp angles, boldness, a strong jaw and prominent features as masculine “yang” features. In contrast, roundness, softness and curves as feminine, or “yin” features.

Using that, it seeks to define you into one of 5 types, which each further break down into subtypes leading to 13 overall Kibbe types:

  • Dramatic is all yang — hard angles (think Tilda Swinton)
  • Natural is more yang with some yin (think Sandra Bullock)
  • Classic is balanced, with most features neither yin nor yang (think Grace Kelly)
  • Gamine is a study in contrasts — some yin and some yang features (think Audrey Tautou)
  • Romantic is all yin – – soft curves (think Marilyn Monroe)

And within that, each type can “lean” more towards yin or yang, or be a pure type in the middle, other than the two extremes of Dramatic and Romantic. That gives us 13 types in total.

Pros and cons of Kibbe

Let me say this right off the bat: I don’t think that the Kibbe system is particularly scientific. The original book, written in the 80s, was full of outdated fashion advice (big shoulder pads, anyone?) and pretty cringeworthy gender stereotypes. The online tests that are meant to help you determine your body type are full of arbitrary language and scoring systems that don’t make a whole lot of sense. David Kibbe himself has actually gone back on much of what he wrote in his book, claiming it’s no longer possible to type someone any other way than by meeting him in person, making this whole business sound like an overhyped marketing campaign for his stylist services than anything else.

I also don’t find it to be all that useful, in general. Kibbe typology uses flowery and over-the-top language to type people into these ethereal, hard-to-define categories. And then it gives a lot of “rules” that are meant to be broken for each type. Overall, I’d say Kibbe is about as useful as a horoscope, that is to say, not terribly.

But, it’s had a resurgence of attention lately for some reason, perhaps driven by social media. Blogs, forums and video series have all cropped up attempting to explain the methodology and classify people, often in exchange for a fee. It’s like the 2019 version of getting your colours done. (Remember the “Colour Me Beautiful” craze from the 80s? where everyone wanted to know if they were a summer or a fall? Yeah, it’s kinda like that.)

For a pretty decently clear introduction to Kibbe types from someone who is as much of a skeptic as I am, check out Justine Leconte’s video here:

One thing I will say that Kibbe typology has going for it versus a more traditional body type approach (apple, pear, hourglass, etc.) is that it takes into account not only proportions, but also essence — that is, your bone structure, your facial features, and how you come across to the world. Kibbe types are theoretically less rigid than body shapes, and they supposedly apply to you no matter how much weight you gain or lose. In theory, an overweight rectangle could become an apple, but a soft gamine will always be a soft gamine. The advantage is that it recognizes that we are more than merely our body proportions, that there’s more to style than the measurement of your hips.

This advantage, however, makes Kibbe types incredibly hard to define. Measuring your waist or your hips results in a number. That number is an objective fact. In contrast, your “essence” is an entirely subjective concept, one that can completely change depending on your mood or how people relate to you. So even figuring out which of the thirteen types you fall into can be incredibly challenging.

However, once you do, I think there is indeed something to be said for the way the Kibbe system focuses on playing up your strengths, rather than other style advice based on body shape that tends to focus on balancing out (aka minimizing) your so-called flaws. While the wording and the rigidity of the system leaves something to be desired, I think Kibbe ultimately has some benefits when you view it as a more body-positive way of looking at style.

Kibbe types for petite bodies

As hard as it is for most women to determine their Kibbe type, I’d say this might be even harder for petites.

See, there are supposedly 5 main Kibbe types. But the Kibbe system, as it was first defined, decided that shortness is a “yin” (feminine) feature, not a “yang” (masculine”) feature. So short women are told, according to the system, that we can only be two of those: Romantic or Gamine.

Romantics are the Marilyn Monroe types — short, curvy, hourglass, all softness and roundness and sex appeal. The Kibbe definition of a romantic body type is described as moderate to petite, usually under 5’5″, with a soft, curvy, voluptuous figure, delicate bone structure, full and soft facial features.

Gamines are the Leslie Caron types — a study in contrast between yin and yang. Kibbe says gamines are also petite, or 5’5″ and under, but with sharper, more angular body types and bone structure. They’re described as lithe and lean, with narrow breasts and hips, leggy and coltish, and possibly short-waisted, with slight bone structure, large eyes, and wispy, childlike facial features.

In contrast, the other three families of types are supposed to be reserved for taller women. Classics are said to be of average height — not short, not tall. Naturals are said to be average to above average, especially flamboyant naturals, who are meant to be tall. Dramatics are said to be exclusively tall. Why? Because tallness, as defined by David Kibbe, is a masculine or “yang” trait.

So in theory, for petites, determining your Kibbe style should be as simple as answering a single question: Are you curvy, or is your body more of a straight up-and-down style? If you’re curvy, you’re a Romantic. If you’re straighter, you’re a Gamine. The end.

So are all petites romantics or gamines, then?

No!

It should be easy enough to disprove this fallacy just by looking at various celebrities who are under 5’3″. Petite celebrities like Kristen Bell (soft natural), or Lucy Liu (dramatic) should make it obvious that height and type are not necessarily correlated. There are tall gamines, short dramatics and everything in between:

While it’s true that the definitions of Dramatics and Naturals tend to emphasize height and stature, the yang elements of these types can come across in different ways. Lucy Liu, despite being 5’3″, is all sharp angles, bold facial features, and contours all point to Dramatic. She’s a sharp contrast to similarly petite Salma Hayek, who, at 5’2″, has an hourglass figure, rounder hips, a more voluptuous bustline, and softer yin features.

So if you’re petite, and you read the descriptions for both Romantic and Gamine and neither one seems to quite fit, then you should go on to read the other types to find your type.

Kibbe tips for petites

Let’s say you’re petite and you determine your Kibbe type, and you want to make the style advice work for you. Here’s some general advice for each type:

Some general principles

  • Scale the advice to fit. With a shorter stature and less vertical real estate to work with, we petites need to scale down the general advice to our proportions. Whether it’s wearing a loose and flowy top with a belt, shortening a jacket, adding smaller-scale ruffles and flares, or keeping accessories and bags moderately sized, we just need to adjust every detail smaller.
  • Less is more. Pick one detail that you want to emphasize and make that the star of the show. Very tall women can often get away with the “more is more” principle, pairing drama on the top, bottom, neckline and accessories all at once. We petites are generally better off picking one detail to emphasize.
  • Find a good tailor. This is not specific to Kibbe, but is good advice for petites in general: Look for a good tailor that can make those pieces you love fit perfectly. Or learn to sew and do your own alterations. None of the styles above will look quite right on you if what you’re wearing doesn’t fit.
  • Remember that fashion is cyclical. Styles come and go. Right now, most of the Hollywood celebrities and fashion models tend to favour the Natural type, with loose, unstructured clothes, athleisure, and oversized lines. This may be tough to pull off for some petites. But it wasn’t always like that; the 1920s were all about Dramatics, the 1940s favoured Classics, the 50s were all about Romantics, and the 1960s favoured Gamines. The 1970s ushered in a Naturals era, but it didn’t last; the 1980s were all about Dramatics again, with their boxy big shoulder pads and yang styles. Classic came back for a brief period in the mid-1990s, before reverting to Naturals again, which is where we are today. So if today’s fashion trends aren’t quite working for your body or your sense of style, shop the vintage or thrift stores, go online for pieces inspired by your decade, or just wait it out — we’re due for another style shift soon.
  • Don’t take it too seriously. These types are massive generalizations. Women come in far more than 5 — or 13 — style types. And our styles can change with age, time, season, or on a whim. There’s nothing that stops you from dressing however you want, no matter what some silly book from the 80s says.

Advice for each Kibbe type

Note that, while I haven’t written posts for each of the 13 subtypes, you should still be able to apply the general principles of your “pure” type, softening or emboldening them as necessary.

So what’s my Kibbe type, then?

I’ve taken this quiz a few times and honestly, I’m still not sure.

Physically, I don’t really fit into any of the Kibbe categories. The typology as written by Kibbe doesn’t offer a lot of options for pear-shaped bodies, even though it’s by far the most common female body type. Most of the Kibbe types — Natural and Dramatic in particular, but also Gamine — are meant to have broad shoulders and narrow hips. Classics are meant to have moderate curves that are perfectly balanced on top and bottom. Even the most classically feminine type, the Romantic, is described as having an hourglass (relatively rare) rather than pear-shaped (far more common) figure.

I wonder if this was just a Kibbe personal stereotype coming through in his work, a sign of the times when he wrote the book in the late 80s. But either way, Kibbe typology, if taken too literally, would exclude the vast majority of women just on physicality alone, myself included.

So I’m left with trying to use other cues to work out what my type might be. Reviewing the quiz categories, I get mostly Romantic answers for body type and bone structure. However, reviewing the style tips, that doesn’t really fit. I don’t look good in ruffles and bows, and I get overwhelmed in overly frilly feminine details, which tend to look silly and over-the-top on me.

One decent way to figure it out is to take a look at myself wearing different styles, and comparing them to signature looks for each Kibbe type, in order to determine what works best for me. What kind of pieces do I gravitate towards? What looks tend to work for me?

I can definitely rule out Dramatic and Natural right off the bat. My short torso and longer legs mean I need definition at the waist, period. The long, big, bold fashions popular with Dramatics — floor-length gowns, maxi skirts, angular lines — are so terrible on me that I struggled to find a single item in my wardrobe to even photograph for the example piece. (The one I chose was a bit of a cop-out, since it’s not even really a Dramatic style, and it’s something I returned after trying on, anyway. But I really couldn’t find anything else for this photo.)

As for Natural, that’s a non-starter. I need a defined waistline, period. The loose, BoHo pieces I always admire on the rack always end up being a mistake. This dress looked cute on the model but was tent-like and awful on me, and went straight back to the store. In contrast, Kristen Bell, who is the same height and of a similar size to me, has a proportionally longer torso and can rock those looks as a Natural or Soft Natural. It’s a great reminder why proportion matters so much when it comes to  style — maybe even more than height or overall size. But I digress.

Likewise, despite being petite, I can maybe rule out Gamine, though this is tougher since nobody seems to quite agree on what the definition of Gamine is. For me, a telltale sign is that I look ridiculous with a short pixie haircut, and high necklines do me no favours. Gamines also tend to have more angular builds, and to look good in childlike, playful prints and colour blocks. None of those ideas really work for me. While some of the descriptors of Soft Gamine do apply, I think ultimately I’m too curvy to truly pull off a Gamine look.

Physically I probably fit the Romantic body type the most. And the thing is, I can pull off those looks sometimes — mostly if I’m getting dressed up for a special event or occasion. But in my daily life, it’s just too much work. And I definitely need to keep the details scaled back. Too many fussy details just look ridiculous on me. Usually if I dress in more Romantic styles, I will end up looking “pretty” more than “sexy” in them — a telltale sign that I might not truly be a Kibbe Romantic:

Style-wise, I probably lean most often towards Classic — neutrals, clean lines, timeless pieces with more structure to them, and balanced silhouettes. Though with my body shape, I tend to wear looks that are Soft Classic, such as a-line or fit-and-flare silhouettes rather than sheath dresses or pencil skirts. Clean lines work for me. I also tend to keep my casual looks very simple, with basic jeans and tees in clean cuts and a simple array of colours. So yeah. Soft Classic is looking like a fair possibility.

Ultimately I think I feel most like myself in Classic styles, so I’m gonna go with that for the time being.

Maybe you disagree? Tell me your opinion in the comments below.

(General disclaimer: I’m definitely not an expert in Kibbe and don’t claim to speak for anyone but myself in this post. I’m aware that David Kibbe has gone back on a lot of what he said in his book since it was published, anyway. This post is intended to just offer some general guidance for petites, inspired by Kibbe’s approach. All tips and advice are my own.)

26 thoughts on “Kibbe body types for petites

  1. As an objective and completely un-invested reader of your article :), I think you look best in romantic. This was based on the five outfits you tried on, side by side. You just seemed ‘happiest’ in the romantic style. You may prefer classic style because you identify with it more, classic looks ‘classic’. It’s a bit like how a lot of people think they look good in black. They ‘think’ they look good in black. But when you put someone who looks good in black beside someone who doesn’t you can clearly see the difference. In romantic you look, beautiful, free. In classic you look, staid, as if the clothes don’t fit you, even though they may be the right size. In the photo on the red seat, my eyes see the dress before they see you. I have to, actively focus, to look at your face. In the photo in front of the tree, my eyes go straight to your face. I think it’s because you look more you. The style is, you.

    1. I felt this. I’m 5’0″ and kept being typed as an FG, but I am so very wide. The lines recommended for an FG do not fit me. I look terrible in straight pants, boxy items, fitted clothes, waist bands, most dresses. My legs are short and and my waist is short and non-defined. Any enhancement to my waist makes me look even boxier.

      I look amazing in flared bottom pants, they enhance my legs. My family and I love the way I look in loose tops with a light and long cardigan/jacket over it. Something that defines my chest, shoulders, and legs, while taking away from my waist is perfect on me. It’s why I look like crap in t-shirts, crop tops, and baggy shorts. They focus too much in the middle. I’m glad I took the tests on my own before asking for advice. Taking the tests I got mostly Natural and Dramatic for my bones, and Classic and Natural for flesh, and Natural and Romantic for face. Using the line drawing I see overwhelming width(not like I needed lines to tell me that, I have to wear men’s Medium jackets or XXXL women’s to fit in anything and I’m thin), but slight shoulder angularity, sharpness at my hip, and a short line. So a Sharp Petite Natural. I can’t be Gamine because I have Width, a strong Yang aspect, yet because I’m short… nope, gotta be Gamine. Even though Kaftan and Maxi dresses look bomb on me. I do enjoy a good pencil skirt though, with an oversized jacket, leggings, and big boots.

      My colors are black, dark brown, charcoal, navy blue, dark red wine, dark forest green. Very deep and dark colors to go with my light peach skin and dark hair and eyes. Bright colors drown out my skin. Muted colors make me look like death warmed over. Now aside from clothes, just lighting can make or break me. Overhead pale lighting looks bad no matter what I wear as my skin turns crepey and grey. But forward facing pale lighting or overhead warm lighting looks great. Making me either milk white or tan.

  2. I agree with you, according to the pictures you look best in soft classic outfits, great job in typing yourself! It can be really challenging to be this objective with yourself, but the dress up method with pictures help every time when in doubt 🙂

  3. You appear romantic to me. The fit and flare dresses really suit you. I’m a pear as well, and I fought my feminine curves, to look ” sporty” or “business”, or “casual/natural”. Finally I just accepted it, bought dresses, and made friends with my curves and feminity. I learned being ” feminine” isn’t popular, sexy, tough, dramatic, and super casual, is popular. I decided to just be me, if it’s feminine, so be it.

  4. I think you are theatrical romantic: soft and round, but edge in the face. Plus you are petite. These all features match to theatrical romantic. You analyzed only 5 main types, but not the undertypes. You might won’t like it, but Kim Kardashian is put into theatrical romantic type: she is a strong pear, she has elongated face with some stronger features. Have you realized that the dresses that suit you have masculine detail at the top and flowing romantic details at the bottom? Theatrical romantic is similar to soft dramatic, just for petites 🙂

  5. Romantic without a doubt. In classic you look just average and unremarkable. Romantic lines look so harmonious on you and light you up. Beautiful.

  6. You should definitely try lighter colors. I think dark tones don’t really favor your features. The clothing styles might look a lot more different if you try them in light colors.

  7. So, based on the description that YOU provided, you look best as a Classic. But there is an article I would recommend that I think would add nuance that would elevate your Look to the heavens: https://cozyrebekah.com/2019/04/26/looks-for-the-kibbe-body-types/
    Based on the article I linked, I think you should pursue clothing with the Sihlouette and Fabrics recommended for Soft Dramatics, but the Colors/Patterns and Details recommended for Soft Classics. I think it would be an award-winning combo for you.

  8. You and I have a similar body type and facial features. Just looking at these pictures of you, there were some common themes I’ve noticed that I would change.

    One was neckline and the other was needing a bit more waist emphasis and detail. Like some ruching or gathers, and a lighter fabric in a few. For me that screams a romantic body type. A more open neckline, a slightly thicker belt for example. I think an empire waist would look great on you.

    Too loose even with slight waist emphasis, appears to swallow your figure and too much structure doesn’t suit you either. I liked the black and white pokadot dress on you best out of these, it’s light and softly flares out, with fittedness, open v neck and pattern. Your hair also looks better styled and with some roundness to it, especially around the face. The super straight or carefree style ways you down.

    I think you’re a theatrical romantic. Your very soft, but with a bit of yang influence. Classic looks a little lack luster on you. The other styles don’t suit you either. Delicate styles, with a slight yang influence would suit you best in my humble opinion.

    1. Wow, this post is certainly getting a lot of feedback! I’ve considered theatrical romantic as my style ID, but actually, ruching and gathers look terrible on me, and empire waistbands just make me look pregnant (I’m not). I think my biggest style insight while trying to self-type was that, on me, “less is more” really works. The romantic outfits I’ve posted above are really fairly simple and understated in terms of silhouette, and theatrical romantic is all about drama and a bit of overstatement. So I struggle with that one.

  9. You looked nice in the dramatic dress too. The romantic dress photographed in the garden was lovely – but yes, your classic looks seemed to suit you very well!

  10. I think you are right in saying classic. I am a similar height with similar face shape ( more yang natural/ dramatic), and more yin pear figure. I feel classic is right but it can look boring if I don’t add some extra yin and yang elements. Although I have lighter colouring I can’t do light outfits, I can’t remember who said that was because my features are more yang. Medium colours or a mix of dark and light (spots for instance) work well. I wondered about gamine as I am short but the mix is wrong and most gamine outfits look over the top on me, as do ruffles, frills, draping and stiff structured styles. Possibly when you have identified what doesn’t suit you, what is left is your style.

  11. Your body is romantic or theatrical romantic but your face leans toward natural. I think that’s why you suit the romantic shapes (that emphasise the waist) but with “natural” details (not too fussy or frilly)

  12. Kibbe also describes essence in his book. The type of vibe these different women project as well as how their bodies and faces are structured. Perhaps exploring the essence piece might help you narrow things down? As I look at your blog, I see a playful, spitfire side in you that some of the more classic pieces might not allow to be expressed. You are adorably cute with subtle curves:)

  13. Soft Natural also need waist definition and are often hard to tell apart from Romantic and/or Soft Classic. Your Romantic dress would also fit the Soft Natural lines, so it’s not conclusive yet.

    Looking Romantic celebrities, they all have much rounder face than you. Theatrical Romantic and Soft Classic would fit better. Some Soft Natural also have longer face too.

    I would try Soft Natural lines, which would seem to fit you better than true Natural.

    1. I think you may be confusing the types, to be honest. Soft Naturals, like most of the Naturals family, are defined by a broad strong shoulderline, wider bone structure, and tend to have longer torsos. That’s basically the polar opposite to my body type; I have narrow shoulders, a more delicate frame, and a pear shape with softer curves and wider hips. More flowing, unstructured pieces work for Naturals, but don’t suit me at all. I’m 100% not any kind of Natural, that much I know for sure. I agree I’m probably somewhere between a Soft Classic or a Theatrical Romantic. (As for faces, Kibbe really doesn’t use that in his tying anymore.) Thanks for reading, though!

  14. I reread your entry titled: “Petite fashion challenge: Short torso”

    This is a huge clue. Romantics have short libs (a.k.a. long torso), Classics are balanced, Naturals, Dramatics and some Gamines have long libs (a.k.a. short torso). Sure it can vary from one personne to the next, but in 90% of the case, it should be this way (except for Gamines who vary a lot more within their group). Then you don’t have the sharpness to be Dramatic, but you have some bluntness to your skeleton, your jaw being the most obvious hint.

    So I would put your in the Soft Natural category. If not, then you are probably Soft Gamine.

    1. Again, I think you may be confused about the types; Naturals and some Gamines tend to be more likely to have longer torsos. Dramatics are long all. Classics tend more towards balance, though Soft Classics can have a slightly shorter torso, and Dramatic Classics can have blunter shoulders and a longer torso. If any type tends towards a short waist and torso, it’s the Romantics family, though Kibbe, writing in the 80s, described them more as hourglass than pear shaped. In any case, please see the comment below as to why I’m definitely not a Soft Natural or any kind of Gamine. If you’d like to read more, take a peek at my dedicated posts on each type. Kristen Bell, for instance, is a Soft Natural, and has the opposite body type to mine despite both of us being the same height. Thanks for reading and participating in the discussion, though!

  15. Fist of all – you are beautiful! And I love your content. I think I’m a petite soft natural – your content really helped me to put this together.

    Regarding your ‘type’ – at a glance, I would say that classic look is okay but a bit boring on you – it make you seem older and more invisible somehow. The romantic seems to catch my eyes more, you look more fresh/happy/feminine. Maybe going with romantic lines, with a more classic ‘style’ could be a good look for you?

  16. While reading your article, I felt like you were talking about me! I feel all the same things about my body as you do yours, and I was also gearing more toward Classic or Soft Classic. Now after seeing your pictures, I would say you are a Romantic. You look so beautiful in that style of dress. I think the classic is a bit more “safe” but you stand out as a Romantic. So now I feel I have the answer for myself! ❤️

  17. How lucky I am to have stumbled across your blog – sorta. I was looking for kibbe+petite+types. According to Kibbe I should automatically label myself as a SG (I love styles for SG) but before I became interested in typing and began to skim the surface of Kibbe types, I’ve always gravitated towards styles that supposedly suit romantics and I’m usually complimented when I wear styles that suit a Romantic type.

    Honestly, I haven’t read beyond the Gamine types or Romantic. There’s nothing angular about me, except for my bone straight Asian hair, but I once had a shoulder skimming permed bob and everyone loved that on me (not worth the damage or upkeep), but people also like it when I wear my hair in sleek updos.

    I’m rambling. I haven’t even described myself. I’m 4’10″ft (147cm – definitely…maybe 146cm) at any weight I’ve always been all curves , I’m currently a petite plus size. When people look at me, it’s obvious that I’m VERY short, but when I tell them how short I am, it’s not just their words, but their tone and expressions, that give away, that they can’t believe that I’m *that* short. “No really?! You’re really *that* short? “. My legs look proportionately long – but not long compared to average or tall women’s legs, my arms are short just like my torso.

    A female acquaintance in my town, is at least 5ft tall, but her inseam is 2” shorter than mine. I’ve noticed that most women who are just a bit taller than me, appear to have longer torsos, more angularity and shorter appearing legs than mine.

    I can’t wear shoulder pads, maybe my shoulders are a bit wide or it’s just the angular line it creates that looks off. My mother in-law is also very petite too, but her bone structure is much more delicate than mine, so even at my slimmest, I never looked good in her Gamine styles.

    No one, not even hairdressers can agree on whether my face is round or oval, but I don’t have any facial angles, my eyes are medium sized though my glasses that correct for nearsightedness, make my eyes appear very small. My face has always looked very young, but at least since I was 12 y.o. I’ve always suited more mature styles. Even at 14 with a young roundish looking face, I didn’t look too young to wear makeup.

    My oldest son has autism and recently commented that I’d look great in late Victorian styles.

    This is where I just realized that I could’ve saved you from my scattered comment, and just read your tips for petite Kibbe types.

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