Romantic beauty is feminine beauty in its mature, womanly form.
It may be the easiest type of visual feminine to spot, because it's the kind of feminine beauty hetero men are most interested in -- so it's a beauty we often see portrayed in popular culture.
Other systems call this type Sensuous, Soft, or Alluring. They're beating around the bush.
The straight truth is this: Romantic beauty is sexy beauty.
I've thought for months about a better way to word this, because I have been afraid of coming across as objectifying Romantic women.
It goes without saying that Romantic women are no more or less sexual than any other women. But visually, they read as pure womanly sexuality.
Think about what happens to the female body at puberty. Push those changes to the extremes, and you're picturing a Romantic.
Romantic women tend to have small waists, ample hips, full breasts, soft arms and legs, delicate hands and feet, sensuous mouths, smoldering eyes, narrow jaws, large foreheads, and full hair. They are padded, curved, and delicate all over, with small bones, not much muscle, and plenty of adipose tissue.
Let's put aside that this is the embodiment of the hetero male fantasy. What's important is that it's the Romantic woman's reality. For that reason, and no other, we celebrate it.
[NSFW pics below...]
The fact that straight men idealize this beauty is neither here nor there.
It's beautiful because, for Romantic women, it is real.
Dark hair reads as Romantic because human hair naturally darkens with sexual maturity. (Just as light hair reads as youthful because prepubescent children tend to have lighter hair than adults.)
A flush in human skin is an indicator of sexual arousal. So palette-appropriate reds, which echo that flush, look perfect on Romantics.
Romantics look like themselves with half-closed eyes, a cocked eyebrow, and a knowing smile -- or no smile at all. This "come-hither" face is silly on pretty much everyone else, but on Romantics it's perfect. It looks wise and confident.
Red roses symbolize romance and sexuality, and a Romantic woman is like a red rose: beautiful, delicate, detailed, and composed entirely of curving lines.
So you're a Romantic, but you don't want to be defined by your sexy appearance. As a woman, I completely get that.
Realize, though, that if you dress in a way that doesn't reflect your softness and curves and delicacy, the result will be that you look less dignified.
Squeeze yourself into stiff, structured clothes that fit your skeleton, and all anyone will see is the most feminine parts of you:
This actually looks like your intention is for people to stare at your curves.
If you instead choose shapeless clothes with room for your bust and bottom, you'll look dumpy and unprepared.
Honor your Romantic beauty by choosing clothes as feminine and shapely as you are. That reads as dignified and self-aware.
If you know what looks good on you, but you don't know your style identity, try the Style Identity Calculator.
Ingenue beauty is often what you're seeing if someone is clearly "pretty," but you'd feel uncomfortable styling her in overtly sexy clothes because she just looks too darn sweet.
The curving line is the defining line of all the feminine types, but Ingenue's circles are small and restrained, rather than large and lush.
Ingenues look appropriate, not ridiculous, in girlish details such as small bows, tiny flowers, headbands, simple lockets, and puffed sleeves.
The Ingenue frame is petite. The Ingenue figure is identifiably feminine, but more trim than lush. Ingenue hands and feet are small and delicate. The Ingenue face is quite round, with a tiny, tapered chin, a small, pert nose, round, wide-set eyes, a large forehead, round cheeks, and plump lips. Ingenues often have naturally curly hair; if they don't they are still flattered by curls. Overall, an Ingenue reads as girlish.
By contrast, they look silly -- like a kid playing dress-up -- in anything "sexy" or womanly, such as elaborate jewelry or a plunging neckline..
And of course, Ingenues are no less sexual than any other people. It's just that visually, they read as girlish rather than womanly.
Eyes that appear very light relative to the overall coloring read as youthful, and therefore Ingenue (or Gamine).
Note that this signifier should be interpreted relative to the overall coloring. On a pink-skinned, yellow-haired person, deep blue eyes probably won't read as Ingenue. On a brown-skinned person with black hair, caramel or light brown eyes will read as youthful.
Ingenues appear authentic and relaxed with sincere, joyful smiles.
Ingenues often hear "pretty," "cute," "sweet," and "adorable." They're not perceived by strangers as intimidating, mysterious, tough, or intense.
This can be frustrating to an Ingenue with a more assertive, competitive, or no-nonsense personality.
If that's you, my advice is to take advantage of the element of surprise that your innocent appearance grants you. They won't see you coming. :-)
Before discussing Romantic, Ingenue, and Ethereal types in detail, I want to generally discuss what feminine means in the Style Identity system.
Let me start by being clear that feminine beauty is not the only type of beauty. Dramatics, Naturals, and Gamines all embody beauty that isn't traditionally feminine, but is powerful nonetheless. And Classics are beautiful with a femininity that is subtle and restrained.
Before continuing, I should also let you know that right after this paragraph is a picture of a sculpture of a naked woman. Art, as far as I'm concerned, but probably NSFW for some people.
Pause, pause, pause...
OK, let's dive in. :-)
Feminine Visual Beauty
When we look at another human, we perceive their physical characteristics and make a judgment about their gender almost instantaneously.
This is usually an unconscious process. When it's not unconscious and not immediate, it surprises us -- hence our fascination with androgynous people.
Humans are not as sexually dimorphic as many primates. Average visual differences between women and men are objectively small. A visitor from another planet might not notice the differences.
But we humans are exquisitely sensitive to them.
Which makes sense from an evolutionary perspective: if an animal can't easily tell who's a potential mate, that animal might not pass on her genes.
Here are many of the ways in which men and women, on average, visually differ.
Descriptors of the masculine and feminine style identities derive from these differences.
For example, because narrow-seeming eyes are more characteristic of men than of women, they characterize the masculine (or "yang") style identities.
Because narrow chins are more characteristic of women than of men, they characterize the feminine (or "yin") style identities.
And so on.
The curving line.
Perhaps the defining element of visual femininity -- what immediately and strongly reads as feminine -- is the curving line.
Curved lines read as feminine because, from head to toe, the average human female has more obvious curving lines than the average human male -- in the curved hip, in the breast, in the apparently rounder eye, in the apparently rounder face, in the fuller lip, and so on.
All of the feminine style identities are defined by curving lines.
But the type of curving line depends on the style identity. More on that soon.
Categorizing the visual feminine: Romantic is not the only type of feminine beauty.
The Romantic type, which is present in all style systems that I know of, is defined by lush, round curves and mature, womanly femininity.
In many systems, Romantic --also called Alluring, Sensuous, Soft, or Sexy -- is the only type of feminine beauty.
Systems who conceptualize Romantic as the only type of feminine beauty are flawed, though, because people can read as beautiful and distinctly feminine without reading as va-va-voom.
Romantic does seem to be the variety of feminine beauty that men mainly notice -- which might explain why it's the only kind of visual feminine in some systems created by men.
But I agree with John Kitchener and others who believe that visual femininity can be fairly divided into three subcategories.
Romantic, Ingenue, and Ethereal.
All people who are discernibly female have some amount of Romantic, Ethereal, or Ingenue. These are the the three feminine style identities.
A woman without any amount of any of these would appear as a man, or completely androgynous.
If someone visually reads as distinctly feminine, you're seeing a rather large portion of Ingenue, Romantic, or Ethereal.
But which is it?
My next posts will be more detailed individual explorations of Romantics, Ingenues, and Ethereals, in that order.
I know many of you are like
The good news is, they're already partially drafted. :-))
A fun way to gauge your relative amounts of masculine beauty (Dramatic, Natural, and Gamine) and feminine beauty (Romantic, Ingenue, Ethereal) is to determine whether you'd be convincing in drag.
If you're a woman, could you pass as a man? If you're a man, could you pass as a woman?
Here, Glenn Close is pulling it off pretty well. There's no question she has a lot of Natural or Dramatic.
Hillary Swank -- Another beautiful woman with a lot of Natural or Dramatic.
Not even a Photoshopped beard can make Salma Hayek look masculine, though. She has too much Romantic.
Here's a man, Cillian Murphy, who makes a gorgeous woman. He's got a ton of Romantic or Ethereal.
Lee Pace has a lot of Ingenue, I'm thinking? Very believable.
Liev Schreiber, not so much. I'm thinking he's mostly Natural with some Classic and Gamine.
I want to introduce the seven pure style identities by starting with Dramatics.
People whose style identity is purely Dramatic create an overall visual impression of dignity, intensity, and theatricality.
They may remind us of big cats, or birds of prey.
The physical features in a woman that tend to create this impression include:
But don't get wrapped up in trying to figure out the style essence of each discrete body part.
In other words, it's not about whether or not your nose is Dramatic.
It's about whether your overall impression - the gestalt of your parts and manner - is unusual, intense, and even intimidating.
Dramatic energy is generally called "yang" energy. Belle Northrup originated this use in the 1930s, I suspect because she sensed women wouldn't want to identify with an energy described as "masculine."
But can we get real here and cut the euphemisms for a moment?
Dramatic women look masculine.
And they are stunning.
Dramatics look good in sharp-edged, man-tailored clothes because those clothes repeat the stunning masculine beauty of the physical appearance.
Now, Dramatic woman, this doesn't mean that your personality is masculine or theatrical or intense. The idea that appearance = personality is bull***.
Inside, you might be a wallflower, or a fairy princess, or a clown.
When there's a contrast between the truth of your exterior and the truth of your interior, the contradiction just makes getting to know you even more delightful.
* * * *
If you're a Dramatic, you probably look great with your hair pulled back severely from your incredible face.
If you're a Dramatic, you probably look great when you're not smiling.
If you're a Dramatic, we can probably see your cheekbones even when you're not smiling.
Pure Dramatics don't look innocent.
Pure Dramatics don't look traditionally sexy, though they are gorgeous. Their eyes don't say "Come hither;" they say "Watch out."
Pure Dramatics don't come across as approachable. (Though they might be the sweetest people you'll ever meet.)
Pure Dramatics are, by all accounts, rare. Please let me know if you can think of some.
Classics are so interesting to me.
If you're like me, you are accustomed to thinking about beautification as a process of adding things.
Add accessories, add makeup, add costume, add scenery, add hairstyle.
But Classics become more beautiful the more you remove.
Diane Kruger. The less detail she has near her face, the more beauty we see.
Classic beauty exists in the seemingly perfect balance and symmetry of the form and features. In a Classic face, no one feature jumps out. The nose, eyes, mouth, chin, and forehead aren't remarkably large, or remarkably small, or noticeably close together, or noticeably far apart.
Imagine you're a schoolyard bully: what nickname could you make up for that face? If you can't think of anything, you're likely looking at a Classic.
That impression of perfection can only be created when the form and features are all we see.
Add details to the image, and the perfection becomes harder to discern. The Classic fades into the background. She becomes merely pretty, or even boring-looking.
Classics can become visually forgettable if the chiseled perfection of their features is not highlighted by simple, carefully sculpted hair and the removal of all extraneous details.
Classic clothes are boring on everyone but a Classic. And attire that would be interesting on someone else overwhelms a Classic.
When people ask "Am I pulling this off?", they may be asking, "Are my features as complicated as this item I'm wearing?"
The answer to a Classic is usually "No."
If you're a Classic, you may have grown up hearing you were "pretty" - as opposed to cute, adorable, stunning, gorgeous or handsome.
In your self-critical moments, you may have seen yourself as plain or boring.
But would you call this ring boring?
A solitaire diamond engagement ring is a good metaphor for a Classic. The jewel's perfection is front and center when the setting is simple.
As a Classic, your seeming perfection will blow people away, if you allow it to be seen by keeping all of your lines simple and controlled.
All of the strategy of dressing faithfully to your Style Identity boils down to one idea: creating context for yourself.
The clothes and hair that you put on are your portable context.
When you choose clothing and hair that are congruent with your physical self, your physical self makes visual sense.
That's our goal here: to present ourselves in a way that says "I am real. My existence makes sense."
When we surround our physical selves with incompatible context, our physical selves don't make sense.
And we're signaling to anyone who looks, "I deny the reality of me."
If you compress soft, bountiful flesh into hard, unyielding fabric forms, you deny the reality of that soft flesh. (So, Romantics, no tailored suits in stiff fabrics.)
If you bind wide, muscular frames with constricting styles, you deny the reality of those big muscles and bones. (So, Naturals, no pencil skirts.)
If you surround a face and form that's perfect in its balance and simplicity with extravagant and outsize detail, you deny the reality of the simple perfection. (So, Classics, don't gild the lily.)
An adult who seems always to have a youthful or childlike quality, regardless of age, likely has a strong dose of Ingenue or Gamine.
Big eyes, a large forehead, a round face, and a short, straight body all help to create an impression of youthfulness.
One way to think about the seven style identities is to think about the words we use to describe the type of attractiveness each identity embodies.
Which isn't to say Gamines aren't incredibly attractive. They are incredibly attractive. Women who have a "yang" or masculine quality to their beauty are no less attractive than their more "yin" counterparts. They only appear unlovely when they're placed in a clothing context that's more traditionally feminine than they are.
You can see the boyish quality of a Gamine in the following ways:
Which isn't to say that Gamines need little detail. They look great with a lot of detail in the clothing -- pockets, buttons, cuffs, etc. But the jewelry is best when it's minimal. A lot of jewelry = girlish, and girlish context around a Gamine will make her look masculine.
The effect of clothing context on our apparent masculinity or femininity is analogous to the effect of color on our skin.
The apparent color of your skin changes, for better or worse, depending on what color is next to it. That's because of simultaneous contrast.
And the apparent qualities of your face and figure, including the apparent masculinity or femininity, change depending on the context that surrounds it.
If almost everything in the frame reads as boyish, then the viewer mainly notices what's not boyish - and so the Gamine's feminine qualities actually stand out more.
The more boyish the context, the more beautiful Gamines look.
Surround them with traditionally female decoration like long locks, ruffles, and lavish jewelry, and they become less lovely.
Both Classics and Gamines need well-tailored clothes. Classics look their best with very little detail, and Gamines look their best without a lot of feminine frill. How do we tell them apart?
For one, Classics literally need every hair in place, while Gamine hair looks better with some tousle.
(Tousle suggests motion in the hair. Details that makes us think of movement -- such as zigzag lines, nautical themes, running shoes -- are generally good on Gamines. That comes from the boyish quality. When think of boys, we think of bodies in motion.)
Classic or Gamine?
Both Classics and Gamines look good in fitted, tailored pieces. But the overall Classic vibe is elegant and ladylike, while the overall Gamine vibe is spunky and playful. A Classic isn't her best in sneakers, rolled-up jeans and a striped sweater. A Gamine isn't great in a sweater set, pearls and high heels.
And Classics are particularly lovely in their palette's neutrals and understated colors, while Gamines are particularly lovely in highly contrasting color combinations from their palette. (Again, it's about an impression of movement. Neutrals feel still; contrasting colors feel energetic.)
Gamines (and Ingenues) are tiny, right?
I haven't talked a lot about height as a prerequisite for Gamine identity. Gamines and Ingenues are characterized mainly by their small stature -- right?
What I've come to believe is that the Gamine and Ingenue quality of petiteness is more about impression than reality.
Isn't it surprising to learn that Audrey Hepburn, practically the definition of Gamine, was 5' 7"? She looks little.
Big eyes, high foreheads, round heads, slender necks, and heads that look large relative to the size of the body are characteristics of children. So these features read as youthful.
Dress a person with these features in similarly youthful clothes, and it will look right.
Leonardo DiCaprio is 5'11". (Some sources say 6'.) But that baby face looks better in a bowtie, the Gamine man's iconic dress accessory, than in a standard necktie.
So if you're petite, certainly consider Gamine and Ingenue first. For some reason that I don't understand, petite people seem often to have the features I described above.
But don't assume Gamine (or Ingenue) based solely on small stature, and don't rule it out just because you're not petite.
Of the seven pure style identities, I believe Natural is the most common type - but perhaps the hardest to define.
The other types are exceptional by definition:
Dramatic are exceptionally imposing.
Romantics are exceptionally sexy.
Ethereals are exceptionally otherworldly.
Gamines and Ingenues stand out because of their seemingly eternal youthfulness and their small stature.
And Classics are unusually symmetrical and balanced.
Naturals, by contrast, are mostly defined by what they are not.
They are not visually extreme in any regard. Not extremely imposing, not extremely small, not extremely sexy, not extremely alien.
Naturals are just that - humans in their typical, average, natural state.
If Naturals get a superlative, it has to be "most friendly-looking." Even Natural supermodels look nice!
Naturals create an overall visual impression of being friendly, sturdy, and ordinary.
The attributes in a woman that tend to create this impression include:
Wait - go back a minute. Did she just call Naturals ordinary-looking?
Well, I did.
The ordinariness, the average-ness, is what makes them so appealing.
They feel familiar. We relate to them. We expect them to welcome us as fellow ordinary people.
Of course, since appearance =/= personality, a friendly-looking Natural may secretly be a right royal b****.
But that's part of the fun, isn't it?
If you're a Natural whose guileless exterior belies a devilish interior, you're twice as fascinating.
Regardless of whether or not you're the girl-next-door that you appear to be, your Natural form will be most flattered by Natural clothes: simple lines, comfortable fits, textured fabrics, functional accessories, and an overall informal vibe.
Natural or Dramatic?
Naturals can be confused with Dramatics. Both types can appear somewhat masculine. ("Yang," other writers say, but I'm trying to eschew those euphemisms.)
To distinguish between a Dramatic and a Natural, you might ask, "Does this face look friendly or threatening?"
Natural or Classic?
A Natural's ordinariness may cause her to be confused with a Classic.
An important difference between a Natural and a Classic is that Classics present an idealized version of the human average: moderate and balanced in every single dimension, without any asymmetry.
Naturals present the actual human average, which comes with asymmetries and lumps and bumps.
A test: Look at a person and imagine a cartoonist's caricature. If that's hard to do, you might be looking at a Classic. It's hard to caricature a Classic because nothing sticks out. But Naturals have plenty that sticks out.
This is why Naturals feel accessible and Classics feel aloof: Classics are so balanced that it feels almost inhuman. Naturals' "imbalances" are entirely human.
I've given copies of the tool to about a hundred people. I'm not giving away any more at this point; I need to take a day or two to read all of the excellent feedback I've received and use it to improve the tool.
I know a lot of people still want it! The good news is, I currently intend to offer it at a price point that most of you will find very reasonable.
I have been attempting to flesh out definable archetypes for three-way style identities.
Initially, I thought it would be impossible. But I'm actually finding it very doable.
For example, I'm thinking of Romantic-Ethereal-Classic as "Elegant Aphrodite."
Other examples of three-way combo archetypes in progress:
Romantic-Natural-Classic = "Alluring L.L. Bean."
Dramatic-Gamine-Ingenue = "Girlish Punk Rocker."
Classic-Gamine-Ingenue = "Darling Prep Schooler, a.k.a. Cher from 'Clueless.' "
My Pinterest boards for each three-way combo are still secret, but I aim to make them public soon. When I do, I'll add info about the trifold combos to this site.
In total, we'll have 63 style identity options:
7 pure essences + 21 doubles + 35 triples.
Do you have ideas about particular three-essence archetypes? Share them in the comments!
Edited to add:
I've made all of the above-mentioned Pinterest boards public. You can see them here:
This is an excellent tool if you already know what looks good on you, but you don't know how that translates into a coherent Style ID.
It's also great for analyzing friends, family, and celebs.
To use it, you'll need internet access and a PC with Microsoft Excel.
The Style ID Calculator was fantastic! Turns out I'm a Natural-Ingénue-Classic. - R.G.