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 Natural 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:
Solange is unverified, but the general consensus is that she is a Flamboyant Natural body type. I fully agree with this classification. I also think that she has Natural essence, along with a Gamine essence. For this post, I will be focusing on her Natural essence.
In these looks, Solange looks boring. She looks rigid and constricted. The fabrics are too stiff, the construction is stiff and the monochromatic color schemes are underwhelming on her. The last two looks (middle, right) are the least flattering because of this rigidity that works against the flowy nature of her Natural essence.
The first look (left), is the most flattering because the fabric is softer while still being structured, so it gently follows and supports her body. The sleeves also allow for movement. However, the dress is still more stiff than flowy and the single color is boring.
She just doesn’t look like the stylish fashionista that we know her as.
These outfits honor Solange’s Flamboyant Natural lines and Natural essence. The last image (right) is fully Flamboyant Natural, it’s light and flowy, dynamic in pattern, and floor-length. While I think she looks beautiful, I don’t think this is her best look because it is completely devoid of any Gamine elements that would compliment all her essences.
I think Solange looks her best in the first two images (left, middle) because they capture both of her essences. They are primarily Natural, but the Gamine essence is also present.
The Natural essence comes through in the mix of textures, loosely fitted silhouettes, and longer vertical lines. The Gamine essence comes through in the mix of textures, fun and playful accessories, and bold pops of color.
She looks lively, dynamic, and fun. She takes up more space and I feel her presence.
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 Natural Essence?
The Natural essence can be described as earthy femininity. It is grounded, sensual, and effortless. It is calm, fresh, and open.
Kibbe refers to Naturals as ‘soft yang’, where yang is the masculine principle. I associate that with strength and physicality. So, Naturals represent a visible soft strength.
The Natural body type is a combination of both length and width. The bone structure is large and wide and the edges are blunt. The lines are all loose, sweeping, and unconstructed to emphasize this sense of ‘effortlessness’. The fabrics are textured and the colors are neutral.
It follows that the essence associated with this type builds on that idea of grounded effortlessness. The grounded part speaks to the packaging of this essence that requires natural textures and fibers, neutral colors, and unique and artsy details. The effortless part captures the unconstructed nature of this essence that creates an easy, laid-back, and approachable vibe.
Using the criteria set above, the Natural essence can be distilled as follows:
Natural hair is effortless and inviting. It’s soft, touchable, and easy. Easy in the sense that it’s not finicky or ornate. It’s free, textured, and full of movement. Texture and body are key for this essence. The hair is not flat or lifeless, it gives the sense of wind flowing through it.
The colors are natural or natural-looking on the woman wearing them; think gentle gradations and natural highlights that evoke sun-kissed afternoons. The overall Natural look is subtle and so harmonious that it almost feels like nothing to write home about, but this is the brilliance of this essence. It’s about highlighting what comes naturally.
Natural makeup is subtle, balanced, and blended. The colors are neutral and they mimic the palettes that show up naturally on the face. The point of makeup for the Natural essence woman is to be a beautiful backdrop so their natural beauty can shine through.
Anything too intense on these women will stand out harshly against them. So be careful with lipstick choices and eye shadow palettes. Subtle is key, but shimmer can be so beautiful for highlighting these features.
Natural accessories are large, textured, gently structured, and artsy. They are creatively functional and they can typically be described as ‘effortless chic’.
In this way, we can understand why the Natural essence style is often linked to the ‘boho’ aesthetic as there is some overlap, particularly in accessories. This essence calls for natural materials and natural colors that evoke earthy tones and landscapes.
Natural movement is powerfully physical and subtly sensual. It’s grounded and embodied. It functions as an extension of the essence, connecting the woman to everything she does. So, it appears and feels intentional.
These women have strong physicality. They do everything with strength and capability. They are not dainty or delicate, but there is something distinctly soft about them, even in their strength. They ooze sensuality, but not in the way of the Romantic essence woman.
Their sensuality is subtle, weighted, and grounded. Perhaps even primal. They are attractive in a way that we might struggle to articulate or decode in our minds, but we get at a gut level, at our core.
Everything about the Natural essence woman is designed to make us feel safe, and that is universally attractive. I think this is why these women have such a great pull.
Natural speech is authentic. It’s simple, unrevised, and true. These are the women who can talk deeply and connect with anyone, from any walk of life because of their authenticity. They don’t speak to impress or convince, just to connect and share.
They know their truth and they own it, and they allow others the space to do the same. They are wonderful listeners whose presence in conversation makes whoever they speak to feel truly seen and heard.
The Natural demeanor is carefree, easy-going, and down-to-earth. It’s open, friendly, and approachable. These women are often described as the ‘girl next door’ because of this open disposition.
Another term associated with this essence is ‘salt of the earth’ because of how uncomplicated and grounded the people who embody this essence tend to be. They make everyone around them feel comfortable and safe to be themselves, they call for no graces or pretenses.
They are real and authentic and have a way of pulling that out of others.
What Sort of Woman Does This Create?
A strong and bold woman with a calm spirit and an openness to life. She embodies her truth and her beliefs and she lives by the values she believes in. These women value the collective but value freedom above all else.
This is evident in their style, career choices, and belief systems. They are unique, but in a grounded way, that doesn’t necessarily call attention to itself. Theirs is a quiet, grounded power.
There’s a boldness to this essence, a bravery, a stubbornness- but wrapped in kindness and an overall sense of calm. These people tend to be approachable, albeit a bit aloof and in their own world.
Natural Essence Icons
Traditionally, this essence described someone who cared more about comfort and functionality than style. Now, while that has shifted (most naturals like to look good too), there is something that holds from that original sentiment.
It’s a spirit of fiercely holding to your values and what you believe in, even if it’s unpopular; a sense of knowing yourself and knowing where you fit in the world.
Two modern examples of women who embody this essence are American musicians, Erykah Badu and Solange Knowles.
For me, Erykah Badu stands as one of the greatest Natural essence and style icons of our time. Her style is eclectic, artsy, and unique- but it is also firmly grounded and earthy. She always looks cool and artistic- probably because she is an incredibly cool artist- but she also always looks comfortable.
This blend of artistic comfort with a strong undercurrent of earthiness is the Natural essence.
Erykah Badu’s style communicates a calm confidence- she is strange and she is proud. She is one of a kind, and she leans boldly into her uniqueness. It says, ‘I know who I am, I like who I am and I will show up as who I am, and I don’t care how you feel about it’. This is true confidence.
However, for all its fierceness, it is also so calm. She doesn’t bash you over the head with her uniqueness, she just quietly embodies it. She’s just over there being who she is and your attention or lack thereof has no effect on her whatsoever.
This calm confidence elevates her cool factor. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t think Erykah Badu is cool. Whether they like her music or not, her coolness is universal.
Earthy + Grounded
Erykah Badu is an Earth Goddess. Like Lisa Bonet who also has this grounded Natural essence (along with an Ethereal essence), I can picture her playing Mother Nature. There is something inherently sensual, wild, and free about her. She doesn’t belong to anyone, she cannot be contained. She runs with the wolves and dances with the spirits.
There is something otherworldly about her and about the women who embody this aspect of the Natural essence. There is something that transcends everyday embodiment such that we often attach a spiritual quality to them. But, this spiritual quality is not all pure and good, it also has depth and darkness.
Not to say that these women are dark, but rather that they give the impression of having faced darkness and overcome it. They know how to handle it, they know how to transmute it. They know how to do magic. They are magical.
I like these GIFs because they capture a certain ‘don’t care’ attitude that I associate with this essence.
In the first (left) and middle GIFs, we see that grounded and earthy aspect at play. Erykah Badu as a woman living out in the woods by herself, washing her clothes, and hanging them out to dry is so very Natural to me. It captures the desire for simplicity, for living in harmony with the earth and all her creatures, for balance. This setting wouldn’t suit any other essence as well as it does the Natural essence woman.
In the middle GIF, the door slam gives us a glimpse of the power of this essence as well. There is a power to the Natural essence woman that won’t let anything or anyone interfere with her peace, and she will use force to preserve it if necessary. She is peaceful and open, but also strong, capable, and fierce. She will put you in your place if she needs to.
The third GIF (right) captures Erykah’s soulful, grounded elements. The headwrap, the tattoos, the beaded jewelry, and her general embodiment speak to someone who is here, now and fully immersed in the joy of the moment.
Her feet are planted firmly in the ground and she feels everything. Having no desire to hide or ‘clean up’ any part of herself, she is an open book and you can see her embody everything that she feels.
In this way, the Natural essence woman is truly alive. She is free and real and unkempt- she knows that she is enough as she is and that is her power. She doesn’t need to try to adapt herself to anybody else’s standard, in fact, she loses herself when she does this.
To shine, she just needs to express what feels authentic to her in the moment.
Solange embodies more of the softer, playful, and more delicate aspects of the Natural essence. I think this is because she also has a Gamine essence, which is fun, vibrant, youthful, and playful. I can see this lightness and playfulness in the middle GIF.
So, her overall essence has less of the density and grounded earthiness of a ‘truer’ Natural essence woman like Erykah Badu.
Solange also has a more delicate sensual embodiment of the Natural essence. However, Natural (yang dominant) essence sensuality is different than Romantic (yin dominant) essence sensuality, and I’d like to explore that quickly with a focus on the first (left) and third (right) GIFs.
In these GIFs, I see the physicality of this essence. The Natural body type is characterized in part by the obvious strength (to varying degrees) of the body type that is created by the large and blunt skeletal frame and muscular flesh.
So, this body type and the women who embody its essence were made to move. Watching them move their bodies is a joy. While it can invoke sensuality, as it does here, that isn’t what I see first. Their movement tends to first be impressive for its own power and ability- the appeal is more about the strength of the body and the sensuality stems from this.
This is unlike a Romantic essence woman, for example, whose sensuality cloaks the body and is perceived first.
So, Natural sensuality is both soft and powerful and its movement embodies a sense of both delicacy and power.
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 visibly embodied by incredible women who fall into every category of body type and essence as I hope to showcase.
What Does the Natural Essence Look Like? Celebrity Examples
While each of these women has a different Kibbe body type, what they have in common is a Natural essence. Essence doesn’t have a body type, so even though Lisa Bonet is a yin type (potential Gamine/ Romantic type), Gigi Hadid and Tracee Ellis Ross are Flamboyant Naturals- they all have a Natural essence.
They have in common that they look their best when their hair is in its natural texture, naturally colored, long, and loose; when their makeup is subtle; and when their accessories are large, textured, and artistic. In short, they look their best when they look creative, relaxed and effortless because this honors their Natural 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 Dramatic body type, then you must have a Dramatic essence.
Case and point: Gigi Hadid. Gigi Hadid is a Flamboyant Natural and she has a Natural essence (she also has an Ingénue essence, most present on her face). She looks her best and most harmonious when she honors this Natural essence.
Note: I realized after I did the analysis that I picked a Natural type with a Natural essence, which sort of defeats the purpose of this segment. Still, I’m leaving it in because it’s a good case study.
In the first and second images (left, middle), Gigi’s hair and makeup lean Dramatic in essence. The sleek hair and intense makeup colors look harsh and severe on her. In the first image (left), her face looks bigger and puffier because of how the Dramatic hair and makeup contrast against her Natural lines and contours.
In the last image (right), Gigi looks amazing and like the bombshell beauty that she is. The naturally colored hair, loose curls, and gentle, neutral makeup all create a Natural essence look that is perfectly harmonious with her.
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 somewhat dull.
Essence can be difficult to define because it is so intangible. I hope this post has helped decipher what the Natural essence is and how it manifests in people who have it.
Do you have a Natural essence? Do you agree with my assessment? I’d love to hear from you.
Wishing you well on your style journey.