What is an Image Archetype and What Can it Do for You?

Mar 28, 2014 | Body Line Analysis, Image Archetype

What is an Image Archetype?

Imagine for a moment that you are a Hollywood casting agent. Your next script is a juicy one, in which the hero, a lovable retired detective, is putty in the hands of a glamorous but dangerous woman who has nothing but her own interests at heart. Five actresses of similar coloring have been preselected for the co-starring role, each very different from the next. From their pictures, you find them as follows:

Untitled design (1)

  1. A small, charmingly feminine woman, who is lushly curvy with a soft, sweet face
  2. A petite, pixie-like woman with very large eyes and a mischievous smile
  3. A classically lovely, elegant woman of average height
  4. A tall, athletic-looking woman with great bone structure and a wide, winning smile
  5. An extremely tall, extremely curvaceous woman with exotic facial features

Admittedly, in modern cinema, actors often triumph in roles where they play against type. However, assuming that’s not what we are going for, I think number five seems to be best suited for the role. Without ever opening her mouth, this woman already has us pretty convinced; her innate physicality is already telling us the story. It almost goes without saying that the costumes that would suit this character would be quite flattering to her, not all that different from how you might expect her to look on any given day. Even assuming the excellent acting prowess of the other four, it’s never going to be as comfortable, as second nature, to see them in this role. It could probably be said that they’d have to work twice as hard at it. We almost want to write in some extra dialog to explain it (“Well she looks like a cuddly bunny, but she’s as hard as nails…”) but in our role of casting director, alas we cannot.

In life, we also do not get a chance to insert that extra dialog in our interactions with others. Which perhaps is fine with our friends and family, who know and love us regardless of how our clothing interacts with our physical self. But in a board meeting or on a first date, it becomes quite a liability to have to explain ourselves. When your physicality and your clothing, makeup, and hairstyle tell the same story, you are dressed to play the role of yourself. This kind of harmony creates a very comfortable and “normal” jumping-off point for others to relate to you, in which there is not the lingering subconscious tension of wondering “why did she choose to wear THAT?”.

 Who should NOT learn their Image Archetype?

If you are reading along and objecting to the idea that you tailor your appearance to make others comfortable, you certainly have a point. I suppose all I can say to you is that, for me, I always try to find a balance between sticking to my guns and looking out for number one and making life with others a little bit easier. I’m not against conflict when I feel the ends justify the means, so if dressing a specific way means the world to you and is a massive source of joy in your life, whether it seems to put others off or not, please continue to do so.

My clients and the other women I hear from seem to value being complimented and looking good to themselves and others more than they value wearing or owning one specific garment or type of look. If your internal balance on the subject tips another way, finding your image archetype may be of limited utility to you. The specific purpose of an image archetype is not to discover what you like, or what resonates with you spiritually or emotionally (although those are welcome side effects).  The purpose is to flatter and enhance your innate physical being.

 How do I know what my Image Archetype is?

So, how do we know who looks like a queen and who looks like a pixie, and so on? Many of you have struggled with just such questions for months or even years, so it seems clear that even if the theory holds for you, the application can be difficult. In design, different shape elements tell us different stories – they have a language. In any design object, what type of shapes are used (rounded or angular, or somewhere in between), their scale (large or small or somewhere in between), and their proportions (any part relative to any other parts), all matter in determining how it feels. This applies to garments and it applies to human beings.

The process of determining your image archetype is essentially the process of determining what shapes, scale, and proportion you are in order to match you with clothing that repeats that. Clothing that has the same design elements as your body will fit and flatter your body. This results in a consistent look and feel between you and your clothing, and an overall design concept for your look which is derived from you (rather than placed upon you, as traditional fashion media often persuades you to do).

10 Types Chart

Since at least the middle of the last century, and probably before, five basic design concepts that apply to both people and clothing have been identified and used: Dramatic, Natural, Classic, Gamine, and Romantic. There are many other possible names for each of these, but these seem to be the most general and the most neutral. In addition, it is possible to arrange these on a scale from largest and most angular (commonly referred to as Yang) to smallest and most rounded (commonly referred to as Yin). Within each type, there is a more Yang iteration and a more Yin iteration. There are occasionally people who are very close to the middle of each category, however it is still crucial to know whether the person’s specific design always requires a curve into the waist (Yin if yes, Yang if no), and whether they are better in angular shapes around the face in necklines, prints, and jewelry (Yang) or rounded shapes (Yin).

For those of you who follow me on Pinterest, you may already know that we (meaning Christine and I) use Yin or Yang + D, N, C, G, or R to refer to each of the 10 Image Archetypes, apart from D and R, which could technically be called Yang D and Yin R, but are not merely because they represent the extremes of Yin and Yang already so such prefixes would be redundant. I will get into more detail about the specifics of each of these types in later posts, but for now, I just want you to understand the overall concept, as many of you have been so lovely as to email me to let me know you are eager to have my help with what to wear, and I just want to explain to you what it is I do for people.


  1. Thank you, Rachel, this is most illuminating. But I have a question. What if you are physically best described as ‘an extremely tall, extremely curvaceous woman with exotic facial features’ but don’t necessarily want to project the image of a ‘glamorous but dangerous woman who has nothing but her own interests at heart’? Good heavens, I identify with the first description but definitely not the second! (I’m a rather bookish graduate student…) In other words, what happens when your personality and your archetype seem to have little in common? What if you look like Sophie Dahl but can’t imagine dressing like a deadly seductress?

    • Of all the image archetypes, I have analyzed the highest percentage of Yin Dramatics, however, in my regular life, I see them far less often. Why is that? I suppose there’s no way to know for sure, but I suspect this physicality presents unique challenges that seem to cause these women to look for help on how to dress.
      Typically, she either thinks she is a Yin Natural but can’t figure out why that isn’t working, or she kind of knows she’s a Yin Dramatic but is begging to be told anything else. The very Yin types, which include both Romantics, YinG and YinD, nearly always have some concern about showing their curvy figures (Won’t I be seen as too sexy or trying to get attention? Will people take me seriously?). The very Yang types D, YangN, and Yin D, may sometimes have concern about coming across as hard or just the sheer scale of what I’m recommending (Won’t everyone stare at me? Won’t they find these clothes ostentatious?). As you can see, YinD alone comes up on both lists. Her physicality is extreme in two ways, and she tends to feel like the Yin Dramatic look will put her under a permanent spotlight, which can be quite intimidating.

      The way I see it, there’s a choice here. There’s no getting around the fact that in Yin Natural or Yang Natural, the types to which she tends to default, she will be less than what she could be and generally pretty dowdy. I suppose she may try a Romantic look, in an effort to be softer somehow. The clothes, when scaled up to her size will put her curves on display just as much, while small jewelry and delicate accessories and effects will make her features overly large, awkward, and less feminine by comparison.

      If you seek to flatter and enhance this woman, you must follow the design of her physicality. That happens to be one that is both extremely bold and outrageously feminine, it speaks of excess, and yes, a little bit of danger. In a way, personality has nothing to do with it. Hence why I put up my article pleading with you to not just consider yourself a brain in a walking, talking jar before this one. To put it bluntly, you’re not dressing your personality, you’re dressing your body. That doesn’t mean don’t express your personality in your outfits. I know a Yin Dramatic entomology grad student. She manages to sometimes do a combination of dangerous seductress and professor which is very charming and unique. But the basic principles of the look remain the same.

      It may be I should not have portrayed the Dramatic in the role of the villain, though truth be told both male and female Dramatics of both varieties often are. There is a shadow to every archetype, doesn’t make them any less valid. There’s always going to be a person who doesn’t approve of how you dress, or uses it as the basis of some judgement upon you, no matter what you wear, doesn’t mean you don’t look amazing to most of us.

      • Thank you so much for your very rich answer. Thinking about it, I’m not surprised you get so many Yin Dramatic clients – it’s a lot to live up to, and doesn’t seem to have much in common with most clothes in shops now. (Oh, for curve-friendly dresses…) I do think I am a Yin D, but it’s not easy translating that into casual day-wear for a reasonably quiet person.
        I would love it if you posted more about this archetype.

        • Sure, Hilary, I would be happy to! If you have any questions that are a little more specific, it helps me get around to it. I could go on and on about a type without a specific target… 🙂

          • Thanks! 🙂 I think Yin Dramatic for everyday/workwear would be my personal request. A lot of the pinterest boards etc. seem to revolve around satin cocktail dresses, cleavage, and bejewelled heels. Not a practical source of inspiration for daily dressing!

        • Hillary, being a Yin D (analysed by Rachel) I can relate to your questions about work wear and everyday wear. I understand you. It was my Q for Rachel too. (And I recommend an analysis because she can really help you out). Evening gowns are easy with this body – but hey, who wears that more than once or perhaps 10 days a year?And what about the other 350ish days?
          However; trying to not steal Rachels work and give it all away, let me share this: My solution has been to rethink everyday wear. I used to wear jeans (they are difficult for curvey Yin D). I wear a lot of dresses now. I have had good success with jersey dresses with a huge and/or modern print on them. They follow the curves. They are easy to wash and wear. The jersey is “normal” cloth – satin signals party, jersey is everyday. I use more skirts now, narrow pencil in my case. In the beginning I kept trying to find my pockets – now I bring a bag. I buy blouses and T shirts of high quality and good colour. I refuse to show cleavage everyday (it is not appropriate everywhere) – but I find that a blouse cut horizontally from shoulder to shoulder (boat neck?) works because it emphasises the shoulder. I know the type Yin D makes everybody want to show evening wear – the truth is we Yin Ds have as many “everydays” as everybody else. Good luck 🙂

          • Thank you for the beautiful reply, AC! I’m so glad to hear that you are making out well with your Image Archetype. 🙂

        • I realize this is a very old discussion but I wanted to mention that, as a Yang Romantic (unconfirmed, as of yet, but try as I might I really don’t seem to fit anything else!), I have a lot of the same concerns as you have, Hilary. I am also a grad student, and work in a very staid profession where a typically ‘Classic’ look is both expected and prized. I understand completely the idea of not wanting to be on display, of trying to minimize the curves, seem a little taller (in my case) or less attention-getting or over the top (though I do look very good in typical Yang R styles, and they are what I always gravitated to instinctively long before I knew about these archetypes), I definitely would not wear them for work, or even for a work party! I’d be much more likely to hide a bit, to tone it down. I often feel like my archetype was made for a red carpet lifestyle that I do not have, so I don’t get to use it very often, at least not in it’s entirety.

  2. I always thought Sophie Dahl was a tall Romantic who has starved herself, and I am not sure what ‘exotic’ means in relation to facial features… it sounds vaguely racist. Is there a more specific way to define that? I don’t see anything exotic about her features no matter which way I stretch my thinking about what that word might mean.
    But my actual question is… do you believe that any season can be any archetype? I don’t have an opinion myself either way, as I don’t know enough about the theory, but we have often read about TW being very bold and geometric, which wouldn’t sit well with soft swirls. Are the original stereotypes about seasons irrelevant?

    • First, let me address this issue of “exotic”. Of the first three dictionary definitions, only one pertains to being of foreign origin, and it doesn’t happen to be the intended use here. In this case, exotic means “attractive or striking because colorful or out of the ordinary” or “of a kind not used for ordinary purposes or not ordinarily encountered”. Yin Dramatic faces have a specific combination of Yang bone structure and Yin features which is both striking and unordinary. In general, and particularly on the internet where things can be wildly misconstrued, it is best to be careful with phrases like “vaguely racist”.
      I suppose it’s possible, though pretty unlikely, that Sophie is a Romantic. I have never seen a 6 ft tall Romantic, personally. The tallest Romantics I have seen are around 5’8″, and even that is the exception, where the most common Romantic is average height or slightly below average. There’s this idea that objective height doesn’t matter in all this, but it definitely does. At 6’0″, the delicate effects of the Romantic will be relatively puny and weak.

      Yes, I believe any season can be any archetype. They will convey their archetype somewhat differently, which is to be expected. My personal opinion on this topic is, I would never tell a person what colors to wear based on the shape of their body, and therefore the reverse would also be true. However, there are places where we have to figure out how to marry the concepts. For example, we know the Winter types of coloring need contrast, but how that contrast is executed also effects the line of the body, so Winter people of different archetypes will best approach contrast differently. I may expand upon this in future articles, as I believe this information is not out there.

      • Thanks for the info on season/archetype. It makes sense to me that every combination should be possible, so I look forward to your writing more on that.
        Re ‘exotic’, I meant what I said and stick to that, and I know you are just repeating what has been written elsewhere, but I bet a better term could be found. ‘Out of the ordinary’ doesn’t make things better, because out of whose ordinary? Not ordinarily encountered (where?)… colourful!? I am really cringing with that one. Your description of the bone structure compared to features makes it clearer to me, and now I can see how Sophie’s face could fit – large yang bones and large yin eyes – otherwise she looks quite English and that, I am sure, is not what the writers of the dictionary were thinking of when they sought to define ‘exotic’.

  3. i have a question to make: an athletic body is supposed to mean muscular/fit,right?but when we get older or stop to work out,it’s most common to lose the definition of the muscles we used to have.so,how the athletic applies to kibbe type/image analysis?i mean,are there any other terms we could use instead of athletic for the N types?

    • The musculature may wane with age, but the most defining feature, the excellent broad bone structure, tends not to (or, not in a way that will change it’s role in dressing). I’ve though about it a lot and I don’t necessarily think that IA *can’t* change with time, just that it usually doesn’t.

  4. Rachel,
    You mentioned yin/dramatic and tall in the discussion. In your system, are very petite women limited to certain categories?


  5. Very petite meaning 5’0″ 🙂

    • Yes and no. There are certain types which it is very unlikely that a 5’0″ woman would be (specifically, the largest types, D, YinD, and YangN). That said, the question is often “am I necessarily a Gamine” when we are talking about a super petite woman, and no, you are not necessarily that.

  6. Rachael, I am interested in this but putting it off since I am 40 pounds overweight… to me, my face shows it.

  7. What do the numbers below the archetypes in the diagram mean?

  8. How do I find my archetype? I’m 5’7, curvy but don’t always need a cinched waist although it’s better. I’m BW and look best with contrast. I like a V in necklaces and a neckline that shows my shoulders.

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