The McJimsey Style Categories (And Why I Like Them More Than Kibbe)

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that further references to style IDs would be from Harriet McJimsey’s system instead of David Kibbe’s. Today, I’ll elaborate a little, compare and contrast the theories, and provide some resources to get you started.

Who is Harriet McJimsey? And What’s the Difference Between McJimsey and Kibbe?

The author of Art in Clothing Selection (1963), Harriet McJimsey took the concept of yin and yang style theory (as outlined by Belle Northrup in 1936), and developed the six style families that became the basis of theories later developed by David Kibbe and John Kitchener. While Kitchener built on McJimsey’s theory, Kibbe remixed it.

The primary differences between McJimsey and Kibbe:

  • Kibbe has five MAIN style families (Dramatic, Natural, Classic, Gamine, Romantic), with sub-types based on frame or curve-dominance within each family.
  • McJimsey has six style families (Dramatic, Natural, Classic, Romantic, Gamine, Ingenue)
  • In Kibbe’s system, the Romantic is the extreme expression of yin. In McJimsey’s system, Romantic is a “mature” yin that places it in the middle of the scale with the Classic, while Gamine and Ingenue are more yin, based on their youthful appearances.

Let’s get into some nuance.

Kibbe’s system is highly specific because he is foremost interested in how clothes lay over the body. At its best? THIS is where Kibbe shines. His specificity isn’t about picking apart your body’s granular details, but achieving a thorough understanding of how clothes interact with your body a.k.a. your personal lines.

The problem with Kibbe (and many of its acolytes) is the overemphasis on “finding your star quality.” By tying essence/vibe/personality traits to silhouette recommendations, what could be a useful guide to style and shopping becomes an extended personality test with cult-like cliques around each type and a bunch of people pissed off when, instead of the free-flowing Natural they’d like to be, they’re a Romantic who can’t leave the house without makeup.

I feel like a better version would emphasize fit and silhouette recommendations, then show you how to execute your desired style/vibe through it instead of focusing so much flowery personality descriptions and, basically, a brand ID. Is it helpful to tell you I’m a “Flamboyant Gamine”? No. But if I say I’m short with long limbs (Gamine), an angular frame (Flamboyant), and look best in mix and match styles that emphasize my body’s sharpness?

Helpful.

McJimsey’s system is more intuitive. For one, she describes her types as adjectives, not nouns. And makes general, easy-to-follow recommendations based on one’s overall impression—including the face. I’ve said before that if I’d started with McJimsey, I would have immediately typed myself properly.

But, best of all, McJimsey didn’t believe in absolute types. In Kibbe you are ONE type, with accommodations for either frame-dominance or curve-dominance. In McJimsey’s system, you can combine style types as you wish to create a customized look.

Take Zendaya, who has a Dramatic (long, sharp, angular) body with a baby face. In Kibbe’s system, she is just Dramatic. In McJimsey’s system, she could be a Dramatic Ingenue to account for her face’s soft, round features.

Or say you have a mostly Natural body (blunt yang that looks best in relaxed, casual styles), but prefer the polished formality of the Classic. You’d type yourself a Natural Classic and pull from Classic recommendations however you see fit.

She also recommends that her “youthful” types (Gamine and Ingenue) pull from more mature types (Dramatic and Natural for the Gamine, Classic and Romantic for the Ingenue) as they age. Which could be helpful for adult women who want to honor their features and their age. As a Gamine, I frequently pull Dramatic and Classic elements into my looks.

I said combining types is the best part of McJimsey’s system, but honestly, the real best part?

There are no McJimsey stans.

As thorough as his theory is when you get to the root of it, David Kibbe has an intense, slightly cultish following that makes learning the system a nightmare of navigating clique dynamics, personal triggers, and years-long arguments about which celebrity is which type. None of which is helpful when you’re just looking for clothes.(1)

As of yet, there isn’t a “community” around McJimsey’s theory, which makes it easier to accept as just that. A theory. Not a lord and savior for whom you must forsake all other style systems. Has knowing Kibbe principles made my journey through McJimsey easier? Probably. Can you put together an effective personal style just using McJimsey? I don’t see why not.


Resources

If you’re coming from Kibbe to McJimsey, the next two videos will be your best introduction to McJimsey’s work.

The Elyssa Aesthetic Channel on YouTube does the best style analysis based in McJimsey’s principles. Here are her currently published breakdowns of the types:

She also provides these quick guides to types and essences on her website.

https://www.elyssaaesthetic.com/trending/yin-yang-styling-method-2/

https://www.elyssaaesthetic.com/trending/yin-yang-styling-method-2/

Because Kitchener’s work borrows so much from McJimsey, you can also learn about the style types via the Kitchener Essence system. Gabrielle Arruda’s funny, modern, thoughtful takes on essence are some of my favs. She also does a good job of marrying Essences with Kibbe types, if that’s your jam.

And Brittney Style Theory has a good breakdown of the Kibbe Dramatic vs. the McJimsey Dramatic.

You’ll notice there are some types missing. I don’t anticipate Elyssa will publish more any time soon (she recently had a baby). But Gabrielle’s ongoing series updates about once a month, so you can expect to see the other types eventually.

Summaries of McJimsey’s Original Text
These were written by a white woman in the 1960s, so. Exercise some patience and focus on the overall vibe of each type rather than the particulars of her descriptions.

_____

(1) I had to cancel my Reddit account to escape the train wreck that is Kibbe Reddit.

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a girl named rob

I used to be "skinny black girl." I'm now a slender woman on the other side of 35 with no new moniker who is not quite interested in writing under her given name. Still writing my life, a day (or some months) at a time. Also, still black.

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