I think of great style as a marriage between body lines, as can be determined by the Kibbe Body Types Test as well as 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 Ingénue 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:
Laura Harrier is unverified, but with her yang-dominant bone structure and height (5’9), she’s likely a Flamboyant Natural. I think she has width and bluntness to her structure, so I don’t think she’s a Dramatic. Regardless of her body type, she has a clear and dominant Ingénue essence.
The looks in these images fall into different body type recommendations, but what they all have in common is that they don’t bring Laura to life as they don’t cater to her Ingénue essence at all.
The first and last looks have Flamboyant Natural elements because of the long vertical lines (left, right) and loose-fitting, flowy silhouette (right). The first look (left) leans more Romantic because of the draping, the chest cutout, and the sexy detailing. The middle look leans Classic because of the clean lines, simple silhouette, and polished styling.
The essences she seems to channel in each look are Romantic, Classic, and Natural, respectively. The issue is that none of these is her essence and as a result, each of these looks falls flat even though she looks good. She just doesn’t come alive in them.
This is Laura Harrier at her best. She looks absolutely stunning here and this entire look is animated- it’s alive because she brings it to life. Her Ingénue essence shines through and she looks like a beautiful princess.
The head-to-toe pink look complete with a large skirt and billow sleeves creates a ‘Disney-princess’ vibe that could easily swallow up a different wearer, but not Laura. She simply looks beautiful. Her youth and innocence- key traits of the Ingénue essence- shine through and she looks at home and harmonious.
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 in an effort 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 individual 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 Ingénue Essence?
The Ingénue essence can be described as the most delicate embodiment of femininity. It is sweet, youthful, and innocent.
There is no consideration for the Ingénue essence in the Kibbe world. David Kibbe seemed to feel it wasn’t substantial or differentiated enough to be its own essence.
I believe the closest body type essences that could help us understand this essence in Kibbe is a combination of Gamine because of the fun and compactness of the stature and details and Romantic because of the yin-dominant styling (delicate trims, rounded shapes).
So, for this essence, we are working purely with Kitchener who describes the essence as decorative, small-scale yin. Collectively, this is made up of designs and fabrics that evoke a sense of cuteness. The elements (patterns, details) are small and delicate, the colors are soft and pastel, and the fabrics are soft and cozy.
Using the criteria set above, the Ingénue essence can be distilled as follows:
Ingénue hair is soft, natural, and ornate. It’s bouncy (if this is the natural texture) and touchable and, above all, cute. What adds to this cuteness outside of the natural texture, is the styling. Styling is very important for ingenue hair.
Cuteness can be achieved by pastel coloring, girly accessories, and hairstyles (pigtails, braids, ponytails). This kind of detailing will easily look childish on someone who lacks this essence but beautiful on someone who has it, so be careful when experimenting.
Ingénue makeup is soft, delicate, and youthful. Its cornerstone is elements that communicate youth like rosy cheeks (think of a child getting flushed after playing outside), a soft lip, and blurred lines. There are no sharp. harsh lines, everything gently blends together as though it were painted. Pastel colors are great for this essence as well as any playful details.
Ingénue essence accessories are small, cute, colorful, and playful. The colors and patterns are the easiest way to achieve this, think cute flowers like daisies (and not mature sensual flowers like roses which carry more of a Romantic essence) and baby’s breath.
Ultimately, the vibe that this essence aims to create is whimsical and playful. If a little girl would be drawn to it, then it likely embodies an Ingénue essence.
Ingénue essence movement is soft and delicate. It’s innocent and playful and whimsical. On a different essence woman, this sort of movement may appear childish, but it harmonizes with the Ingenue essence woman.
For example, I can picture Marilyn Monroe doing a cartwheel surrounded by bubbles and the image is very cute and natural in my mind, but I can’t image Naomi Campbell doing the same thing with the same effect. It’s not cute and natural when I picture Naomi doing it, it’s rather awkward and confusing. This is because Marilyn Monroe has an Ingénue essence (as well as a Romantic essence) and Naomi Campbell has a Dramatic essence (which is intense and serious).
On the negative side, purely Ingenue essence women may struggle to embody more grown movements, particularly sexy movements. For them, trying to act sexy can come off awkward because it gives the impression of a child playing grown-up and it almost feels inappropriate. Similarly, when they wear overtly sexy clothes it has the same effect. They are actually their sexiest when they honor their youthful essence.
Ingénue essence speech is sweet and playful. It’s innocent and free of any ulterior motive or hidden meaning. It’s light and airy and incredibly refreshing.
These are the women that people naturally clean up their language around out of a sense of not wanting to ‘corrupt them’ because they come across as pure. Likewise, people may avoid heavy and troubling topics around these women because they don’t want to burden them with their weight.
The Ingénue demeanor is sweet and gentle. It’s shy and delicate. These women give the impression of being playful, but in a way that almost asks for permission. There is a timidness to their general vibe. This is because this essence lacks intensity, so their embodiment lacks a sense of power. This creates in other people a desire to protect these women.
On the negative side, this desire to protect Ingénue essence women may leave them in a bubble they didn’t ask to be put in. They may feel talked down to or as if people are condescending toward them and don’t take them seriously because they won’t treat them like adults who can handle all the harsh realities of life.
What Sort of Woman Does This Create?
All of these elements combine to create a woman that is eternally youthful, soft, delicate, and playful. It creates someone who has a naturally pure and innocent vibe, that gives the impression of being delicate and precious- someone who needs to be shielded and protected from all the unpleasant things in life.
In other words, a woman who embodies this essence can be defined as the classic Princess archetype.
Elle Fanning is a great example of someone who embodies this essence, in the way she shows up on the red carpet and in some of the characters she plays.
She is sweet and delicate and she naturally projects an innocent aura.
Ingénue Essence Icons
These are the women that are sweet, youthful, and innocent at any age. Some women may not like to embody the Ingénue essence because of all the ‘girlish’ attributes associated with it, but these celebrity examples prove just how beautifully beneficial this essence can be, particularly as we age. Their Ingénue essence is the fountain of youth and it really seems as though the women who possess it don’t age.
I had to google how old Janet Jackson is and when I read ’56 years old’ I literally Googled it again because that answer made no sense. But then I realized that that answer makes my point better than I ever could. She is a walking testament to the eternal youthfulness of the Ingénue essence.
In the collage above, I have to put effort into organizing the images in order of age, and I’m not sure that I’m correct. Her sweetness and youth are so strong that they’re almost additions to her personality. It’s the sparkle in her eyes, the roundness of her cheeks, the fullness of her smile, and the overall softness of all her features.
Janet Jackson embodies the Ingénue essence so fully and so beautifully. I watched both of her speeches at the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies (2019, 2022) where I got a clearer feel for her essence. Even when she speaks, her voice is so soft and sweet that even as a woman in her sixties, she leads with joy and innocence.
In all three of these GIFs, I see a sense of fun, vibrancy, and playful innocence. I see youthful energy and joy. Janet has very big smiles in two of the GIFs (first, last), and I think these smiles are so effective in communicating the Ingenue essence that is meant to be free from all worry and heaviness at all times.
These are the women who look their best when they give you a sense of this joy and without it, something is missing. For example, when they try to do an intensely sexy dead-stare that looks great on a Romantic essence or Dramatic essence woman, they look awkward and uncomfortable. But as soon as they smile and show us their joy, then they look just as sexy and it’s completely effortless.
In the middle GIF, where Janet is playfully dancing but not smiling, I feel like she’s seconds away from bursting into laughter and I find myself waiting to see it because I know how beautiful that will be. The Ingénue essence just wants to be happy and carefree and those of us observing it just want to witness the sweetness of that embodiment.
Selena Gomez is a verified Theatrical Romantic but she has a strong Ingénue essence. Here, I’d like to explore what happens when she tries to lean into the kind of overt sexiness that requires a strong Romantic essence to pull off.
For me, these Gifs are a little bit awkward. I don’t buy what she’s selling because this simply isn’t her brand of sexy. The innocence of her Ingénue essence is like a filter I can’t help to watch her through and my gut reaction is to see her attempts at sexy as cute at best and slightly cringy at worst.
It’s not that she can’t be sexy or that she isn’t sexy, it’s that she can’t be sexy like this. If I picture Beyoncé or Jennifer Lopez or Rihanna doing these same moves and being in these same settings, I get a completely different feeling.
In these GIFs, I get pure sex appeal. I buy what they’re selling because they embody it. Each of these women embodies that grown sexual energy in a way that Selena simply does not. A lot of these moves are actually more raunchy than anything Selena did, but they inspire none of the cringy feelings that watching her did because these women have overtly sexy energy.
It’s not good or bad, it’s just about understanding essences and knowing which you can embody and which you cannot.
In these GIFs, I think Selena is at her best. She seems playful and fun and so incredibly cute. This is also her at her sexiest. In these playful settings and gestures, I get more of the grown woman behind the youthful persona and essence.
I’m sure it can be frustrating to feel trapped in a ‘cute’ overlay as a grown woman, particularly when you want to showcase your edgier, sexier side.
However, I think it’s vital for Ingénue essence women to not fall prey to trying to be what ‘sexy’ is for other women because it doesn’t work for them. When they embrace their essence, that’s when they’re at their sexiest.
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 Ingénue Essence Look Like? Celebrity Examples
While each of these women has a different Kibbe body type, what they have in common is an Ingenue essence. Essence doesn’t have a body type, so even though Zendaya is a Dramatic (Zendaya has other essences outside of Ingénue), Selena Gomez is a Theatrical Romantic and I’m unsure about Elle Fanning and Janet Jackson’s body types, they all have the Ingénue essence.
They have in common that they look their best when their hair is softly and delicately styled, when their makeup is gentle and blended, and when their accessories are delicate and fun. In short, they look their best when they look youthful and feminine because this honors their Ingénue 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.
Case and point: Laura Harrier. As stated before, she’s unverified but I believe her to be a Flamboyant Natural body type. However, she has a dominant Ingénue essence, not a Natural essence.
If she assumed that she had a Natural essence and styled herself accordingly (like her hair in Natural-looking braids for example), she would look less like herself. This is evident in the images below. The first look with the braids is her least flattering because her essence doesn’t come through.
This is less about the actual style, she looks great in all of these hairstyles, it’s more about the details of the styling. The first look is too plain and simple- it’s Natural in essence. It lacks the whimsy and youthfulness of the Ingénue essence and she looks boring in it.
The images to the right are from a cover photoshoot she did with W magazine. I think the styling team did a brilliant job of capturing her Ingénue essence through the delicate flowers surrounding her face (middle), the white billow sleeves, and the ‘snow dust’ detail on her hair (right).
All these things communicate a whimsical sweetness and a youthful innocence- which is the Ingénue essence and, more importantly, her essence. She comes to life in the images.
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 in nature. I hope this post has been helpful in deciphering what the Ingenue essence is and how it manifests in people who have it.
Do you have the Ingénue essence? Do you agree with my assessment? I’d love to hear from you.