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:

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  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.