Monday, November 26, 2018

Sewing Kibbe: On Style Changes, Style Rules, and the Great Cardigan Extermination

Good evening, kittens!

Tonight, I don't want to share my latest project (which is good, because it's a white sweater that I promptly spilled spaghetti sauce on), but instead take a deep dive into personal style and the philosophy of dress.  This is going to be long post, so you may want to get a cup of tea. It's also going to be: self-indulgent, extremely nerdy, and possibly include a bit of navel gazing. Since this is my blog and my personal style crisis, however, I'm going with it. Consider yourselves warned. It would be understandable, if you chose to watch a Hallmark Christmas movie, instead.

Are you braced? Do you have tea? Good.

Let's talk Kibbe, friends.

Or, rather, David Kibbe's Metamorphosis System. The Kibbe "System" is a rather obscure set of personal style rules from the 1980's, which is having a small renaissance on YouTube and wardrobe planning forums across the internet. It was brought to my attention by the lovely Gillian, of Crafting a Rainbow, who recently went down this rabbit hole herself. Style systems normally drive me crazy. People love telling women what we can't wear, or what would be more flattering on us. As soon as someone tells me what I should wear, my mind starts wandering to explosive devices and creative ways to burn civilization to the ground.

Kibbe's method, however, struck a chord with me. Instead of lumping all women into silly fruit-shaped categories--apple shapes, pear shapes, kumquat shapes--or treating plus size women as if they're all built exactly the same, he instead based his guidelines on how humans are actually built. His system mixes bone structure (what he calls Yin) and overall softness/musculature (called Yang, unsurprisingly) to make its recommendations. While the chosen nomenclature makes me shudder, I appreciate the nuance and thoughtfulness in the method. Even more, it's based on a positive framework. Kibbe doesn't tell you to hide body parts, or try to be thinner, but instead stresses the beauty of each woman's unique shape. He has 13 style identities, or archetypes, based on subtle differences in how women are fundamentally built.

Now, let's take an interlude here. Some notes:

  1. I'm not going to go into all 13 archetypes or their differences. There are already some great resources on that. In the sewing community specifically, Doctor T Designs is going archetype by archetype and giving descriptions of each, plus sewing patterns that fit each type. Her introductory post has all you need to know, including wonderful links to resources and ways to find your own type. Her archetype posts are thorough, well-researched, and fascinating. You should definitely follow her series, if you're at all interested in such things! 
  2. That being said, there are YouTube Videos on this. To learn more about the types, Aly Art has a video series and test to find your type
  3. You may not neatly fit into a Kibbe Type. One of my best friends does, while we couldn't clearly pin another down at all. It's an imperfect taxonomy. 
  4. This system is problematic. Obviously. All style systems are problematic. Just because Kibbe is of interest to me right now, doesn't mean I don't take issue with society telling women how to dress or even that we have to dress up at all. It's all made up nonsense that has its roots in morality, modesty, and gender role shenanigans. That being said, I like clothes. I like thinking about how I present to the world. I was in a bit of a style conundrum (more on that in a moment) and this is giving me a new framework to process fashion through. That doesn't mean that it's gospel or that it doesn't have a lot of issues. 
  5. When you Google Kibbe, you may stumble into weird parts of the internet. There are a few vocal anti-feminists on Reddit who have taken Kibbe up as their personal bible on how to be women, which makes for upsetting reading. Such things have nothing to do with David Kibbe himself, from what I've found, and just prove that the internet can ruin anything. 
  6. Wear whatever you like. Period. All style "rules" should be taken with a grain of salt, or outright broken. Wear what makes you feel the best, whether that's yoga pants or ball gowns. 
Right. Now that the fine print is out of the way, let's dive in!

Based on the Kibbe types, I am a Soft Dramatic, which is shorthand for saying I have a voluptuous figure on a large, angular skeletal system. I am tall and big boned, with large facial features, dramatic curves, and no hint of small, dainty delicacy. This really shouldn't have surprised me. My whole life, I have longed to be dainty, but am anything but. Sure, I wanted to be Kristen Bell, but Christina Hendricks is clearly my true style spirit guide. 

If you've read this blog for awhile, you'll know the above photo is not my historical look. For every wiggle dress I've sewn, there are a dozen more poofy, floofy confections. My twenties were swathed in Liberty prints, bedecked in fit-and-flare silhouettes. Ladylike, twee, and delicate were descriptors I gleefully deployed into my wardrobe.

Over the last few years, however, such garments stopped working for me. Many of the clothes I've made in the past--pieces I've loved and worn to death--no longer feel like me. Nowadays, I put on a fit-and-flare dress with a cardigan, then immediately take it off in a huff. Matronly, my mind whispers. Dowdy, it insists. Objectively, they're still beautiful clothes, but I don't want to wear them. They no longer suit my body or my psyche. It has nothing to do with age, really. There are women in the sewing community who wear such pieces well into later decades and look sensational doing it. They look like Dita Von Teese in the same garments that increasingly make me look like a schoolmarm. 

All of these dresses were well loved, worn like crazy, and will soon be made into toddler clothes!

Reading up on Kibbe's system felt like a revelation. Of course, I don't feel comfortable in such things anymore. They're not designed with someone of my proportions in mind. Soft Dramatics need long, draped lines, bold feminine accents, and rich use of color. In other words, drama. My inner style maven has been telling me this for awhile, but I've refused to listen, clinging to the pretty and dainty and sweet. Heck, even my most recent post on Idle Fancy was about yet another ladylike floral dress. I loved it in theory, wore like crazy for a few months, but it never felt quite right

That's the crux of it, really. It would be one thing if I felt good in such clothes. Who cares what some random style guru says, if you like the way you look? I typically don't give a fig for supposed rules. But, it's time for a change. A few years past time, honestly. 

So, I'm starting over. 

With Kibbe's loose recommendations and my own evolving tastes as a guide, I'm going to start taking a more analytical approach to sewing. Instead of making what I've historically gravitated toward, I'm going to try a few pieces outside of that comfort area. Bolder colors, more dramatic silhouettes. This might be a bit tricky, since I also need to balance living in a fairly casual city and chasing after a toddler. Casual has never really been my preferred aesthetic anyway, though, so maybe it's time to let that go as well. 

This week, I'm doing a thorough closet clean out. I've already locally donated or consigned most of my unwanted ready-to-wear clothes, including a mind boggling 20+ cardigans, but the thought of getting rid of handmade items has been agonizing. Since most of the fabrics are still in good condition, I'm going to box them up and remake them into clothes for Louisa instead. That plan assuages my guilt, but gets them out out out of my closet. I can't handle staring at them any longer! 

In my next post, I'll share some of the patterns I'm going to sew next and go in depth on silhouette and proportion. I know that wardrobe overhauls and style systems bore some people--including me--to tears, but I'm really enjoying looking at clothing in this way. Applying actual analysis and thought to sewing fills me with a creative motivation that's long been absent in my daily routine of getting dressed. Have you gone through a major style revamp? What sparked the way you currently look at clothing and your own style? As sewists, we all love clothing and getting dressed. I'd love to know what goes through your head, when choosing what to make and wear next. 

Note: Any Amazon links on this post and other posts are affiliate links. If you click through and buy something, I get a small percentage of the sale. 

No comments

Post a Comment