Ethereal Elements, Explained
First published May 2016.
Elements of the Ethereal style identity haven't been clearly and fully articulated before.
Here, I'll identify several of them, and -- more importantly -- explain the logic behind them.
My hope is that you’ll be able to extrapolate from this this logic to predict other Ethereal elements .
Braid detail is, of course, also Ethereal then. This includes braided metal in jewelry.
Spaced beads -- like those you see on a rosary -- are Ethereal, again because of the S curves created.
A reader in a previous post asked about handkerchief hemlines. They are Ethereal (when they are gradual, not excited) because of the diagonal lines.
Diagonal lines, as long as they're not sharp or geometric appearing, are Ethereal.
This is because, as lines, they're elongated, but they're also in motion, and movement is Ethereal.
(Diagonality suggests movement; the diagonality is a way of a line traveling from one point to another.)
Handkerchief hems are also Ethereal because they flutter, and fluttery movement is Ethereal in part because it suggests birds and flight.
For that same reason, flutter sleeves are Ethereal, winged shapes are Ethereal, feathers are Ethereal, and birds and winged motifs in prints are Ethereal -- as long as they're abstracted or stylized, not realistic. If they're realistic, they can be Ethereal plus a more literal style ID, such as Gamine, Ingenue or Classic.
Shimmer, shine and sparkle are Ethereal, in part because light itself is Ethereal, and in part because a shiny or sparkly finish reads as feminine.
Abstract prints and motifs that suggest the heavens or the cosmos, or that you'd describe as celestial, are Ethereal. Prints that suggest the sea are also Ethereal. (Think of the sea and the heavens as other worlds, and this will make sense.)
If the prints are realistic, they're Ethereal plus another, more literal style ID, such as Gamine.
Godet skirts are Ethereal because they create sinuous lines and because they evoke mermaids, which are Ethereal. For the same reason, flares are Ethereal. (If they're flared jeans, that's Ethereal Natural.)
Speaking of which, waterfall effects, cascading effects and tiers are Ethereal, partly because they create the impression of gently diagonal downward movement, and partly because they evoke waterfalls, which we associate with infinity, beauty, and the ephemeral and intangible.
Art Nouveau designs, if rather abstract, are often Ethereal, because they consist of narrow, elongated lines, they're very detailed, and the edges are generally rounded.
(I know David Kibbe assigns Art Nouveau jewelry to Soft Natural.
But realize that Kibbe groups all feminine identities -- Romantic, Ethereal, and Ingenue -- into one descriptor: Soft.
As a result, his recs for Soft types are sometimes more accurately assigned to Ethereal types and Ingenue types.
For example, Art Nouveau jewelry is really better for Ethereal Natural than it is for Romantic Natural. Romantic Natural needs more sexiness in her accessories; Art Nouveau design is generally rather chaste.)
This isn't an exhaustive list of Ethereal elements, but I hope it helps you think more clearly about the Ethereal style identity.
If you think you might be Ethereal, please check out my tools for identifying your own style identity!
And if you know you're Ethereal, please check out my Visual Style Guides and What Not To Wear guides.
5/4/2016 07:08:33 pm
Thank you for this!
5/4/2016 08:09:59 pm
You're welcome! :-)
5/4/2016 08:11:24 pm
Thank you for giving us more details about this. There's tons of info on the other 6 style elements but almost nothing on Ethereal, since it's only recognized by Kitchener's style system.
5/4/2016 09:20:56 pm
Brilliant as always, Rachel. I understand better now why certain styles just won't work and can leave them to those who look beautiful in them.
5/5/2016 05:28:51 pm
Thanks for this post! I have thought I might have a slight ethereal quality, but now I'm not so sure...I know I'm dominant R, but I think I might be more I than E as an undercurrent. Something I've noticed about strong E's as opposed to I's is that they have no dark ring around their eyes. I'm having a hard time deciding if I have a secondary quality, and if so what that is. Do you have any advice for distinguishing between these types. I know it seems obvious, but I really can't decide. I know I'm not a three type blend of these because those clothes would not work for me :) Thanks for all that you do! My mom, sister and I follow your blog religiously!
5/7/2016 03:18:08 pm
Wow, thank you for the awesome, incredibly thorough post! Would love to see a similar one on other style identities (romantic, dramatic, etc)!
5/14/2016 04:29:19 am
This is great - as always!
5/16/2016 09:03:40 am
Just found your site the other day and have read absolutely everything! Love it all and can't get enough :)
5/18/2016 10:04:38 pm
Thank you, Rachel! This was so fun to read and really helped me to see the different elements of this style type.
5/20/2016 04:40:50 pm
I'm just LOVING this website.
5/22/2016 12:32:47 pm
In her style, she's very Ethereal. I think her best look might be Ethereal Gamine, perhaps with Natural or Ingenue...
7/15/2019 05:14:26 pm
Oh, I'm so glad to see you say this, I've always thought this and wondered if I was correct. While I'm taller than Stevie (5'7") I'm built very much like her and Ethereal Gamine (often with Dramatic accents because I lean toward Flamboyant Gamine) is the only lines I've found to work on me.
5/30/2016 05:41:07 pm
This is awesome. I really, really love the way you explain something that is so visual and hard to put into words.
6/4/2016 02:57:22 am
Just to play devil's advocate, if I may:
6/4/2016 03:53:19 pm
Rune, one of the biggest frustrations I've had with Kibbe style typing is that everything that I can wear that is ethereal is automatically put into the natural category. I don't have a drop of natural in me and yet I found that certain, very specific things I could wear well. There is a difference between Soft Natural (Romantic-Natural) and Romantic-Ethereal. The devil is in the details. A good example are gladiator sandals. When they're made of heavy brown leather-like material and the straps are thicker and chuckier, they read as Natural. When the straps are thinner and lighter, especially if they are gold or white in color, they read as Ethereal. I can wear the latter, but not the former. Same thing with those so called Bohemian style flowing sundresses, which always get put under the Natural or Natural blend category in Kibbe. If it's light-weight and fitted through the torso and without chunky detailing, it reads as generally more ethereal and I can wear it. If it's a heavier weight and/or there's no waist definition at all, it has chunky detailing, or has excess blousing at the waist, it reads as more natural and I can't pull it off.
DC + Soft Summer
6/5/2016 06:18:17 pm
Oh my, what a lovely idea to help your daughter with defining and embracing her style!
6/8/2016 03:35:16 pm
Wow -- great explanation. And thank you so much for the compliment. :-)
5/11/2022 08:31:39 pm
It helps me to remember that Kibbe's "Soft" is Ingenue, Romantic, and Ethereal influence all wrapped into one. I'm most likely a Soft Dramatic in his system, but both the soft (yin) and "dramatic" (longer line) come from Ethereal.
6/8/2016 03:36:02 pm
You're right that, in Kibbe's system, they would be -- but I don't think it would be the most accurate fit. :-)
6/5/2016 07:49:30 pm
Thanks, DC + Soft Summer
10/5/2016 06:05:31 am
What style is jewellery which is narrow, elongated lines, and the edges are NOT rounded? :)
6/24/2019 01:50:09 pm
Narrow, elongated jewelry without rounded edges would most likely be Natural—if it’s also blunt-edged, simple, and has a casual vibe—or Dramatic—if also sharp-edged and has a futuristic or avant-garde vibe.
1/23/2017 11:31:54 am
Rachel, I have thoroughly enjoyed your blog! After literally years of struggling with trying to find my perfect fit Kibbe type, finding your posts about Ethereal are a revelation. I have researched the Kitchener system after reading your site, and I agree that everyone is a blend of "essences". Ethereal is, I believe, the missing link essence for a lot of us who never found a fit. I think I am a blend of several, but the Ethereal piece explains why I am both drawn to certain things, and why those things actually work for me, when technically they "shouldn't" ( ie., super-delicate detail even though I have some Dramatic tendencies, elongated S-curves even though I'm short). After studying your posts I feel I have a blend of Ethereal (elongation, needing the type of delicacy that comes from S curves, not from circles, lace or highly energetic little bits), Ingenue (I do have a "youthfulness" quality, though I need to take care not to take this too far or I look like a clown), and Dramatic (some "A" answers in Kibbe, higher-contrast coloring, some boldness, love statements ie. favoring gothic aesthetics, love back, but again I have to take care not to take it too far or it looks like I'm dressed for Halloween), though I'm not sure which is dominant. On the Kibbe test I come out as Soft Classic (too much structure, too plain, perhaps due to my Youthful element it comes across as trying too hard to dress too old, even though I'm over 35) or Theatrical Romantic (way too overtly sexy and overdone, again like trying too hard to look sexy which looks and feels all wrong), with some influence of Soft Natural. while I related best with SN, there was always something not delicate enough about it, like too heavy or substantial (I need the "soft and flowy" but with lighter fabrics, more soft sheen, less squareness and a different kind of "unstructured" - most SN cuts and fabrics would swallow me whole simply because they're too boxy and wide, and I'm overwhelmed and hidden, like wearing a blanket). Perhaps this misfit with SN was about it being too realistic, too much in the here-and-now instead of the feel of these styles which are firmly in fantasy and on the edges of reality. I need drape and flow, but not substantially (agsin, the S-curve is the answer). So with Kibbe all I ever established was "soft" (lots of D answers), but never found a perfect fit. Coloring-wise, I'm a Cool Winter that has sometimes been mistaken for a Cool Summer because of fair, translucent skin and lighter eyebrows than most Winters have, and favoring blended, monochromatic, and ombre color schemes rather than sharp hard contrasts (and I see that Ethereal answers this question too, once and for all).
6/2/2017 02:15:07 am
Great article. But what about men? If you think info on Ethereal for women is sparse, try finding information for men! Hubby is an Ethereal-Natural. I think a Bohemian look would work for him. He's very drawn to a casual natural look and I'd like to help him incorporate some Ethereal into his style. But I'm not really sure how. Do your style guides cover men?
6/7/2017 10:18:03 am
Honestly, though, the guy version of any style isn't that different at all from the girl version of the same style. Check out the EN Visual Style Guide or Shopping Guide: many recs are androgynous (floaty scarves, sandals, the fabrics, the details), and the rest can be easily adapted for men: loose, flowy dresses become loose, flowy pants and tops, etc.
11/18/2018 10:08:50 am
I *just* stumbled upon this page! Love it! When I first came across your website, I was immediately drawn to this style. The most frustrating aspect of ethereal, I think, is finding winter outerwear. Most coat and jacket styles steer towards classic or a masculine style which is so not me! This page - along with examples of Ethereal celebrities in winter wear (e.g. Tilda Swindon in “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe) - are helping to steer me in the right direction. Thank you!
3/22/2019 03:36:48 pm
I am quite sure I have some ethereal in me (you can take a look here: https://gitesstyle.tumblr.com/)
1/22/2020 10:56:06 am
Wow wow ... it sounds like our Kibbe answers are identical down to the nose!! I could have written this. I've gotten so frustrated trying to find my lines. Body comparison wise I look smack between Dramatic and soft dramatic. And as you say, dramatic is just too glam ... just too MUCH. It's too forward moving, I'm receding/withdrawing. It's seeming like strictly the line recommendations of SD work, and then the rest I need to take from Ethereal. Tricky thing for me is I am a very low contrast Bright Winter. I need to mostly stick to icy tints, but they are challenging to find. Grayed out colors make me look very tired. Light but clear and cool colors are perfect. I feel like my wardrobe will become all white, lol. It's great to meet another ethereal Kibbe enigma!
6/17/2019 09:02:57 pm
I really enjoyed reading this because I have some ethereal in me (REI). My hair naturally has S-shaped waves and I wear it long. I'm also glad that flares are considered ethereal because I love flare and bootcut style jeans. I also love bell sleeves which are popping up everywhere these days.
6/18/2019 12:01:11 am
Hi all! Can anyone help point me in the right direction for REG? I’ve recently realized I have Ethereal and it’s taking a while for me to adjust but I’m glad I learned the “truth” about my appearance/facial features. TBH I’ve been looking so much better since I blended E into my RG style... and there’s been a shocking increase in compliments too (from family and perfect strangers)!
6/18/2019 03:42:53 am
Oh, and Kristian Aadnevik is also a REG-friendly brand for me (especially the brighter/colorful pieces)! Just wish I could find more accessible, inexpensive brands like the ones I’ve listed... Not to mention figuring out REG casual outfits is even more challenging! 🤷🏽♀️
6/19/2019 10:02:03 am
My husband has quite a bit of ethereal in him. I first discovered this when we both dressed up in period costume and he looked fantastic and felt really at home. Like he'd found his style. Then I realised his hair is very ethereal (float away curls), he has that timeless look... It all fits. I'm thinking Ethereal-Classic are his main elements. So - any tips for incorporating ethereal into men's clothing? As it's an essentially feminine style I guess it's not going to be easy...
6/19/2019 11:55:25 am
I always wondered if Benedict Cumberbatch was Ethereal Dramatic with some Classic. Though he very well could just be ED. I know he is a verified Ethereal by many blogs, including this one. And some of his very best acting roles are when he’s heady and morally distraught, yet very cerebral (ie, BBC’s Sherlock, The Imitation Game, Dr. Strange, etc). Maybe your hubby (his hair sounds amazing!) can find inspiration from Cumberbatch’s haircuts, suit brands, etc? Idris Elba is verified Classic, but I don’t think Ethereal. I was wondering if Matthew Goode was EC the other day... maybe you could compare those men as well? My best bet is Benedict Cumberbatch!
6/19/2019 03:21:54 pm
Meleri, you might find this resource helpful as well: www.truth-is-beauty.com/blog/which-men-look-good-with-beards
6/24/2019 02:58:16 pm
Anyone got any helpful Ingenue posts? I’d been thinking I have Gamine bc I received so many compliments with short hair, but I also get that I look like Adut Akech and Lupita Nyong’o, and everyone I introduce to this system says I’ve got Ingenue over Gamine. Maybe very short hair flatters babyish Ingenue features? Since babies have short hair?? Idk?? I don’t think I have both G and I. My mom turned up her nose at the GI Board next to my face and said it was too busy and childish, and Classic is too stiff. I think I have natural and I guess some Ingenue. Wish I could post a pic, I’m a grad student and too poor for the consultation I so lust after. 😂
7/13/2019 02:57:45 pm
Is tie-dye natural or ethereal?
10/19/2020 11:43:46 am
I have been on a long and somewhat frustrating journey to find my kibbe id. I thought I must be a gamine, because I'm 5'2. But something about gamine felt restrictive and wrong. Someone told me they think I'm a flamboyant natural, but that type of clothing completely drowns my frame. It was extra confusing because I look pretty good in romantic clothing, as long as it's not over-the-top sexy. I finally figured out I'm a soft natural in the kibbe system. Moderate to short vertical line. Strong shoulders. Prominent curves, but not voluptuous.
12/14/2020 12:33:57 am
Thanks for this lovely description of Ethereal style elements. I'm exploring several systems for guidance on perfecting my wardrobe, and Ethereal sounds a lot like what is recommended for expressing astrological Cancerian energy in one's dress. It also sounds almost exactly like Type 2 energy in Carol Tuttle's Dressing Your Truth system, which I highly recommend. No system is perfect, which is why I am exploring and integrating multiple systems, but I have found Dressing Your Truth to be indispensable for understanding and expressing my authentic self. I'm surprised not to have seen it mentioned in any of the blogs about Kibbe's and Kitchener's systems since it has so much to offer to those who are looking at wardrobe/style systems.
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