I think of great style as a marriage between body lines, as can be determined by the Kibbe Body Types Test, and style essence. I’ve done a great deal of writing on the different body types because I think it’s important to get that part done first. Knowing your body type is like the sponge of the cake, it’s the structure.
Now, I’m focusing on style essences, which for me is like the icing on top. These two parts can be enjoyed separately, but the real magic happens when both are present. In style, this is the person who has perfected their unique authentic style. Their clothes fit and accommodate their body perfectly (body type lines) and they communicate who they are as a person (essence).
In this post, I will be discussing the Classic Essence- what it is, how it can be expressed, and how to tell if you have it. First, however, I think it’s important to fully understand just what a style essence is in the first place.
Note: In body types analysis, I used the Kibbe system of body typing. For essence analysis, I will be using both the Kibbe and the Kitchener systems. I am adding the Kitchener system as I think it’s both more comprehensive and intuitive, and I have had no issues with using the two systems together. In fact, I think they complement each other.
A style essence is different from a body type.
The body type is based on a person’s body geometry and identifying it helps a person to know their best clothing lines and styles so that they always look their best.
An essence is less tangible. It’s based on a person’s embodiment and personal expression and identifying it helps a person know their inner stylistic character so that they always look like themselves, or harmonious.
Essence, by virtue of how intangible it is, is difficult to describe. Like class and grace, it’s difficult to pinpoint, but you know it when you see it and it’s glaringly obvious when it’s missing.
A person dressed in a way that captures their essence looks wonderfully complete and they animate their look- they bring it to life. Conversely, even in lines that perfectly match their body type, a person who doesn’t dress for their essence will look dull and incomplete.
Let’s look at an example to illustrate this:
Reese Witherspoon is a verified Soft Gamine with some Gamine essence, but I believe that she has a more dominant Classic essence. So her best (and signature) style is preppy, which is ‘bite-size’ (i.e. Gamine) Classic. So, she looks her best when she honors that Classic essence.
In these looks, the lines and the essence of the outfits are very Gamine. The high necklines, the bright and contrasting colors, and the fun and youthful graphics/ patterns all create that bold, fun Gamine essence.
However, I find these elements to be distracting from Reese. They are inharmonious and separate from her. These looks are too cute and playful for her.
In these outfits, Reese looks amazing and complete. She looks harmonious because she’s honoring both her Gamine lines (cropped pants, high necklines, contrast, and color pops) and more importantly, her Classic essence. The looks are preppy and clean, and the styling is polished.
What Things Communicate Essence?
Essence is elusive, so it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what individual elements create it. In truth, it’s probably a combination of all of them; the style of clothing, the color palette, the hair and makeup, and the choice of accessories.
However, some of these are more fixed than others. For example, the style of clothing is likely dictated by a person’s body type and the color palette is likely dictated by their color season. So the elements that are left to play with to create or highlight the desired essence are hair, makeup, and the choice of accessories.
These tangible elements are the things that anyone can manipulate to recreate a representation of a particular essence. On the right person, it will come to life and look beautifully natural. On the wrong person, even if it looks beautiful, it will look like a costume.
Hair is communicative. Whether it’s tied or loose, sleek or voluminous, polished or unkempt, all of these variations create a different vibe for the person wearing them. Some styles will be more ‘them’ than others, meaning that some styles will capture their essence better than others.
Similarly to hair, makeup is a very communicative element of any ensemble. Whether bold or subtle, sharp or blurred, bright or subdued can create a harmonious look that highlights someone’s beauty and essence or one that clashes with it.
Accessories are fun and dynamic and they allow for the ultimate expression of a person’s essence because of all the options that are available. Not only do they complete a look by stylistically tying it all together, but the shapes, colors, textures, edges, and details of each piece can be used to communicate the essence of the wearer.
These intangible elements are the crux of an essence. These pieces come together to animate the packaging (as listed above) of a person’s embodiment- which is really what we’re judging when we talk about their essence.
One way that a person’s embodiment of their essence can manifest is in how they generally move. How they pick up and put down things, how they hold them, how they walk, etc. Certain people can be described as gentle, graceful, and poised- this is a particular embodiment. Other people can be described as fun, energetic, and even strong- this is a completely different embodiment.
How a person talks can reveal a lot about them, and particular ways of speaking lend themselves to certain essences. For example, a person can be bold and direct in how they communicate- this is a powerful and perhaps even dominant essence. Or, a person can be lighthearted and almost frivolous in how they communicate- this is a soft and perhaps even flirty essence.
A demeanor is all-encompassing but it can also be clearly worn on a person’s face and it’s how that person is perceived by most people. This is how a person generally outwardly presents. Some people are intimidating and intense, while others are warm and welcoming. Some are mischievous and some are pure and innocent.
That Indescribable Magic
I’m purposefully putting this here so that we can all remember that an essence can’t be boiled down to a formula. The truly animating part, that thing that brings a person’s essence to life is not something that I can pinpoint and describe. It’s the ever-elusive muse- it just is. Some people are just a certain way and other people aren’t. You either have a particular essence or you don’t.
If you do, then embodying that essence and allowing it to shine through will make you your most beautiful because it will make you your most natural, truest self. If you don’t have a particular essence, pretending to have it and trying to embody it will make you your least beautiful because it will be a cheap imitation of someone else.
There are no good essences or bad essences, there’s just what’s yours and what isn’t. Beauty is simply being true to yourself.
What is the Classic Essence?
The Classic essence can be described as refined femininity. It leads with timeless maturity. It’s elegant, polished, and traditional.
In the Kibbe world, this is the type made up of evenly blended yin and yang. Nothing stands out, there is no excessive sharpness or softness, just smooth finishes, edges, and symmetry.
It follows that the essence associated with this type builds on that idea of polished and balanced symmetry. The polished part speaks to the packaging of this essence that requires high-quality fabrics, elegant styling, and refined details. The balanced symmetry part is the blended aspect where everything is even and nothing stands out, not too sharp and not too soft.
Using the criteria set above, the Classic essence can be distilled as follows:
Classic hair is simple, refined, and polished. It has a kept or brushed look that shows care was taken on the style but in a very lowkey or understated way. The styles are timeless and elegant and the colors are natural.
Classic makeup is simple and elegant. It’s blended so that nothing stands out but the face as a whole is tastefully elevated. Lip colors are either natural or classic (like a classic red lip for example).
The important thing with this essence is to keep the look refined by keeping the lines clean and the colors simple. Nothing too excessive, sharp, or dramatic as these styles will overpower the Classic essence woman.
Classic accessories are classy and elegant. They are traditional in style, design, and coloring. They are structured (not too floppy), moderate in size, and the edges are gently rounded (not too sharp). The details are polished and timeless.
Accessories may be fancy, particularly if the materials are of classic value such as gold, pearls, diamond, etc. However, the size should be moderate so they’re not ‘too much’ and remain understated and elegant.
Classic movement is poised and graceful. The movements are small and calm, nothing too excitable or exaggerated. Perhaps the most important aspect of the Classic movement is ensuring it is never vulgar. It must at all times be polished and refined.
On the negative side, this may come off as calculated and robotic. It might give the impression of a lack of spontaneity or being ‘stiff’.
Classic speech is formal and refined. It is proper in its delivery and always gracious. Women with this essence often inspire others to clean up their language, not because they give the impression that they can’t handle anything vulgar (unlike women with the Ingénue essence), but rather because vulgar language feels beneath them.
Likewise, they also inspire a move away from any silly or frivolous conversation because of the maturity of their essence. On the negative side, this may come off as serious and uptight.
The Classic demeanor is classy and reserved. It’s cool, calm, and collected. It gives nothing away, so these women are typically not easy to read beneath their poised exteriors. These women also have a quiet confidence that makes them self-assured.
On the negative side, this self-assurance might come off as self-importance which can create the impression of them being ‘snobbish’. In general, if their poised exterior never reveals any emotion, they may come off as cold and unfeeling.
What Sort of Woman Does This Create?
A sophisticated woman who leads with elegance. She is effortlessly classy and stands as an example of poise and grace.
This is the realm of the First Lady and royalty. These women typically come from a long line and tradition of refinement and class which may be associated with old money. Whether they have real power or symbolic status, these women are aspirational role models.
In a more common setting, this is the embodiment of a good teacher: A calm and gracious person who acts as an example of what to be and how to carry oneself. While graceful, they take no nonsense and know how to command a room and get things done.
It may be frustrating for Classic essence women to feel like they are trapped in a ‘Stepford Wives’ impersonation where they have to be perfect and graceful at all times. The description of this essence may make it seem as though that’s their only acceptable expression, but that’s not the case.
In general, it’s so refreshing when women with this embodiment break out of character from time to time to let the unpolished aspects of their personalities shine through, just as long as they remember to stay true to themselves and not try too hard to do anything that isn’t authentic in an effort to connect as that will have the opposite effect.
Whatever the essence, the most important and sexiest quality in any person is authenticity, so never be afraid to be fully yourself.
Classic Essence Icons
Two examples of women who embody the Classic essence are former U.S. First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy and British actress, Emily Blunt.
Perhaps the closest thing to royalty in American History is the Kennedys. So, it’s fitting that Jackie Kennedy is such a great embodiment of the Classic essence.
In these GIFs, I see her poise and reserve captured beautifully.
In the first GIF (left), we can see the embodiment of Classic speech. While I can’t hear what she’s saying, I can tell that the pace of it is slowed down and controlled and I’m sure the volume is relatively low and graceful.
Notice also how her arms don’t move from her side. I’m sure she’s doing something simple with her hands like cupping them, or some other gentle movement, but overall the movements are subtle and reserved/ restricted.
In the second GIF, she looks so very animated and even fun, but she’s really not doing much. This brings to life the notion that ‘less is more’ which is especially true for Classic essence women. For them, subtlety is imperative and any embodiment that is too exaggerated is ‘too much’ and inharmonious with them.
In this case, this animation gives us a peak into Jackie Kennedy’s personality which gives her character some depth beyond the graceful persona.
In the last GIF, I get a sense of the refinement and traditional luxury/wealth that is associated with this essence. Here, Mrs. Kennedy could be coming off a private plane or standing on the edge of a private yacht. Either way, she looks so at home in these settings. She belongs in wealthy surroundings and it’s nothing to write home about.
In the videos I’ve seen of Emily Blunt, she appears to have a great personality and to be really funny. Still, she has a very naturally Classic essence that comes off in her calm nature, graceful expression, and general elegance.
In the first GIF, I see grace, elegance, and subtlety. The elegance is in her clean makeup, statement earrings, and simple hair. The subtlety is the motion and gentleness of her presence. This is a red carpet moment, yet she looks so casually comfortable in this luxurious setting.
The second GIF is almost a fun caricature of what it means to be elegant. Sipping tea with the pinky up is the classic symbol of what it means to be ‘proper’, at least in a British setting. I can tell it’s meant to be a joke, but this stiff proper embodiment looks completely natural to her.
In the third GIF, she embodies the ‘in charge’ aspect of the Classic essence. This essence naturally leads as it is closely tied to the role model archetype. Here, I get that stern schoolteacher who won’t take any bad behavior. Again, it feels natural and I believe her in this role/ embodiment.
Sensuality ≠ Femininity
Past the packaging, an important part of femininity is about openness, receptiveness, kindness, and a general approachability. If a little child was in trouble, the woman she might approach for help is one who outwardly embodied this kind of openness/ approachability. This is femininity.
This is great news for all of us. I think we have incorrectly come to associate femininity with a particular look because of how it’s often portrayed and sold to us. I think this is why so often women shy away from the more ‘masculine’ body types in Kibbe and certainly from the associated essences. There is this belief that falling into one of these categories takes away your femininity, but this is simply not true.
Femininity doesn’t have a body type or favorite essence.
Femininity is simply the way of being for any woman in her true power. This is true in body types- Dramatic women look their most feminine when they honor their lines and lean into their ‘masculine’ recommendations.
As far as essences, I want to make clear that what I discuss here is a very superficial representation of what it means to be feminine. I can talk about movements, clothing, demeanors and general ways of being that are more or less feminine as compared to others, but that is not femininity.
Femininity as I understand it transcends these classifications. It exists for all of us and it is clearly visibly embodied by incredible women who fall into every category of body type and essence as I hope to showcase.
What does the Classic Essence Look Like? Celebrity Examples
While each of these women has a different Kibbe body type, what they have in common is a Classic essence. Essence doesn’t have a body type, so even though Kirsten Dunst is a Soft Classic, Amal Clooney is a Dramatic, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a Dramatic Classic, they all have a Classic essence.
They have in common that they look their best when their hair is elegantly styled, when their makeup is clean and subtle, and when their accessories are high-quality and understated. In short, they look their best when they look refined and elegant because this honors their Classic essence.
True Essence > Body Type Essence
It’s important to identify your essence(s) because honoring them matters just as much if not more than honoring your body type lines. A huge mistake would be to assume that your body type dictates your essence, meaning that if you’re a Natural body type, then you must have a Natural essence.
If she just honored her lines and assumed that she had a Soft Gamine essence (and styled her hair in bright bold colors and a short, edgy haircut for example), she would look incomplete and not quite herself.
In the images to the left, the super short hair and sharp, choppy layering (left) lean more Gamine in essence and Reese looks cute but not fully herself or fully her best.
In the image to the right, Reese looks amazing. Here, the styling is Classic, her makeup is clean and simple, her earrings are refined and the old Hollywood curls are elegant with every hair perfectly in place.
To me, her full self is present in the last image and she looks beautiful. More importantly, she looks like the best version of herself.
So, make sure you know your essence(s) so you can style your hair, makeup, and accessories to honor them. This will bring out your best ‘you’. If you don’t honor them, even if you nail the body type lines, you’ll look incomplete and dull.
Essence can be difficult to define because it is so intangible. I hope this post has helped decipher what the Classic essence is and how it manifests in the people who have it.
Do you have a Classic essence? Do you agree with my assessment? I’d love to hear from you.