Here's an interesting paper documenting some scientists' efforts to develop a computer program that can identify the relative masculinity/femininity of human faces as accurately as humans can. It's a great article to read or skim for a quick exposure to the world of "subjective gender scoring" in scientific research.
Overall, human raters tend to agree about how masculine or feminine any given face is.
Human raters are also pretty good at determining whether someone is a man or a woman based just on the face, although a large minority of faces are ambiguous enough for raters to disagree about their sex.
(There is actually some evidence that people perceive these androgynous faces as more beautiful, but that's another post.)
All of which is to say, "masculine-looking" and "feminine-looking" are things. They are qualities humans perceive, and they're fairly objective, inasmuch as people (even across cultures) mostly agree with each other about them.
Although human biological sex is binary, masculine and feminine appearance is a dimension, not a binary.
In other words, it's not the case that the most feminine-looking male face is still perceived as more masculine than the most masculine-looking female face.
Instead, both men and women vary in how masculine or feminine their faces appear to others, and there is a lot of overlap.
You have probably noticed that I use the words "masculine" and "feminine" quite a bit in my system, to describe what faces look like.
This sets me apart from some other theorists who use euphemisms like "yang and yin," or "sharp and soft," to describe exactly the same differences. (There are plenty of other euphemisms in use as well.)
I could use words like "sharp" and "soft" where I mean "masculine" and "feminine," and it wouldn't necessarily be inaccurate. I know that some women just don't like having the word "masculine" applied to them in any way.
But I prefer to use the words "masculine" and "feminine," even so, for four main reasons.
1. The first reason I use the terms "masculine" and "feminine" as descriptors is accuracy.
In my system, the terms "masculine" and "feminine" are literally accurate. I use them to describe traits that characterize members of one sex more than the other, and that therefore signal biological sex to human raters.
It's just a fact, for example, that a short nose bridge is more common in women than in men, and that human raters perceive a short nose bridge as feminine.
I care about facts, and about reality, and I assume you do too. I don't care to pretend things aren't true when they are. I prefer to accept the truth, and proceed from that acceptance.
2. The second reason I use "masculine" and "feminine" as visual descriptors is that the seven style archetypes largely depend on gender for their meanings. They derive in large part from our culture's pre-existing ideas about certain archetypal men and certain archetypal women.
For example, features that read as both youthful and feminine tend to communicate sweetness and innocence, and that's because, as a culture, we have a pre-existing idea that "girlhood" is synonymous with innocence and sweetness. The Ingenue archetype is the physical embodiment of this assumption.
(Of course, little girls are neither more innocent nor more sweet than little boys, and to proceed as if they are is to proceed on a stereotype. But we can acknowledge the existence of these obviously sexist archetypes, and use those archetypes to communicate meaning in fashion, without mentally swallowing the stereotypes. I am aware that girls aren't more innocent than boys, but I also know that other people interpret girlish visual cues as signaling innocence, so I am going to use that knowledge.)
3. The third reason that I think it's important to say "masculine" and "feminine" is that understanding your balance of masculine and feminine elements is key to looking your most beautiful.
Almost all of us women have a mix of masculine and feminine elements in our visual appearance. Yet we are choosing clothes and accessories made for women, so they tend to be feminine choices. This can result in us looking less beautiful, because when our clothes or accessories are more feminine-looking than we are, we go from looking "chiseled" or "striking" to looking actually mannish -- which is quite different, and unlovely, because it's jarring.
Consider Jamie Lee Curtis, one of my favorite examples of a woman with a lot of masculinity in her features. Is she her most gorgeous with longer, feminine, hair, or with shorter, more masculine hair?
In the picture on the left, her hair is more feminine than she is, and the result is that her face looks mannish, rather than striking or majestic, by comparison. She's more obviously a woman in the picture on the right; the relative masculinity of her hair is directly proportional to the relative masculinity of her features, and she's a striking, powerful-looking woman -- her best look.
I talked about this phenomenon -- that an appropriately masculine context actually makes a woman with masculine elements look more lovely -- with regard to Winona Ryder, in my blog post about Gamines. Google pictures of this objectively pretty woman: the more feminine her clothing and hair are, the less lovely she becomes. The same is true for Cher, for Hilary Swank, for Jennifer Aniston, for Sandra Oh, for Whoopi, for Frances McDormand, for Elisabeth Shue, and for tons of other women celebs with a lot of Natural or Dramatic or Gamine: when their context becomes too lacy and ruffly -- too feminine -- they are less lovely, not more lovely. The same is true with me! I have a huge helping of Natural, and too-feminine looks are unpretty for me. Messy hair, some gloss, and an unconstructed top, on the other hand -- gorgeous. If I do say so myself. :-)
IMO, we have to talk about "masculine" and "feminine" in order to achieve the proper masculine-feminine balance in our clothing context, to allow us to look our most beautiful.
4. The final reason I prefer using "masculine" and "feminine" to using euphemisms is this:
To change my language would be to say that I think it's right or appropriate for the word "masculine" to be insulting as a descriptor of women's features.
To change my language would be to say that I agree that masculine features are somehow inherently unlovely in women.
I won't agree that it's an insult to describe women's features as masculine, because I simply don't believe that's true. Women with more masculine features are beautiful. Women with more feminine features are also beautiful.
To say otherwise is like saying a circle is somehow inherently more attractive than a square. It's all about context. A woman with more masculine features is gorgeous when her context is more masculine; a woman with more feminine features is gorgeous when her context is feminine. (I mean, just compare the makeup in the two pics above: matte finish, neutral colors, high contrast, and straight lines suit the woman on the left; shimmer, gloss, curving lines, and pinks and reds suit the woman on the right. Each would be less lovely in the other's makeup. In their proper context, each is gorgeous.)
Some people won't be comfortable having the words "masculine" and "feminine" applied freely to both men's and women's physical appearance. For those people, another style system may be a better fit.
I intend Truth is Beauty to be a value-free zone, where we can objectively discuss physical features without applying any positive or negative judgment to the fact that they appear masculine or feminine.
My long-term vision is of a world where neither of those words has a positive or negative connotation associated with it.
Knowing your Style Identity can save you time and money. If you're not sure of your Style Identity, try the Style Identity Calculator, or consider booking a virtual analysis.
4/16/2018 11:18:47 am
perhaps this is why as a woman ages & becomes more masculine looking it's best to shorten the hair ?
4/16/2018 11:32:47 am
That's *such* an interesting point! Perhaps the reason many of us have this instinct, as we age, is that we sense that more "masculine" hair flatters us better. (I do think more of us cut our hair than are really flattered by it, but shorter hair is best for some older women! Neat observation.)
4/17/2018 05:22:50 am
Rachel, I'm a little cunfused about this hair thing. I agree with you that Jamie Lee Curtis is flattered by short hair, but I think some women with a masculine style-ID look better with long hair. Sandra Oh for instance, wouldn't look good at all in short hair in my opinion. What is her style-ID anyway? What decides if a woman should have long or short hair? Is it her facial features? Her facial shape? Is it her essences? Should she have long hair if two of her three essences demand long hair?
4/17/2018 11:41:37 am
HI, Lena! Thank you for pointing this out; I should have clarified. Dramatics often look best with extremely short hair, or slicked-back hair, but Naturals actually look better with shaggy hair. It's a big difference -- no wonder it was confusing! Sandra Oh has a lot of Natural, as does Jennifer Aniston.
4/18/2018 09:57:39 am
What type is Jennifer Aniston? I'm really intrigued by her as she wore so many different styles on Friends but has settled into a definite natural (and classic?) style that is highly coveted. Could she also have some gamine or ingenue perhaps?
4/18/2018 11:15:32 am
Elsa, Jennifer Aniston has been named as someone who's fully Natural with no other elements somewhere (maybe it was here), but IMO she could also be Natural-Classic.
4/18/2018 11:12:24 am
Actually, I'm baffled by this comment that "as a woman ages & becomes more masculine looking" - why would any woman become more masculine looking with aging? To me, women stay as feminine or as masculine as they've always been, so that is a VERY strange notion to me. And I've always HATEd the idea that women should cut their hair when aging - I'm sure it totally depends on the person in question! For example, anyone with a significant portion of Ethereal will surely look better with long(er) hair. (I'm a R-E-I with some N, and can't ever imagine having short hair, that's just not me!!) I'd much rather society didn't force such ideas on women...
4/18/2018 12:59:01 pm
I think Jennifer Aniston has Natural, Gamine and Ethereal. Maybe some Classic.
4/19/2018 02:50:46 am
Rosetta, as women grow older they become more masculine looking and as men grow older they become more feminine looking. But I would not recommend all women to cut their hair when they have reached a certain age. It really depends on the person in question and of course on the quality of her hair. Some older women are flattered by long hair and some are not.
4/20/2018 12:02:54 pm
Katja, I'm not an older woman yet ;), but I just generally disagree with this notion that hair should be cut when getting past a certain age (views differ as to what age exactly). And like I said, I still very much disagree with this idea that " as women grow older they become more masculine looking and as men grow older they become more feminine looking" - that was actually my point - I've never seen any evidence of this anywhere! What is this claim actually based on? Like I said earlier, in my experience people tend to stay as feminine or as masculine as they've always been... Some women are even *more* feminine as grannies, IMO ;)
4/21/2018 07:45:13 am
I totally agree with you Rosetta! How can men with already masculine features, become more feminine as their ears and noses get bigger with age? Also some women’s features get softer with age- I remember my grandma, who was a soft looking woman anyway, got softer and softer as she got older- her skin kept its plumpness, she got a cloud of white curly hair, and her eyes got twinklier and twinklier.
4/23/2018 02:51:59 am
Beth, glad to hear I'm not the only one who thinks that! :) (Actually I would think that the majority would agree with us, intuitively :))
4/16/2018 11:33:47 am
Well written and I totally agree. Helped me learn also about how our balance in this regard should be mirrored by our fashion choices. Helps me to work on looking at myself more objectively also. Thank you for writing this and creating your system and standing by it.
4/16/2018 12:35:00 pm
This is such an interesting post Rachel! I love this sort of content - the focus on the theoretical side of your style system and the commitment to challenging the cultural focus on a narrow sort of feminized beauty. I would love to see more on makeup and masculinity/femininity as it pertains to the style IDs. So many makeup recommendations are geared towards women with Romantic and Ingenue - as a strong Ethereal with a definite element of facial androgyny (from Classic and Natural), I struggled for years to feel good about my facial features and to find makeup that did not make me look less lovely. (I also struggled, despite my young age, not to look or feel "old," or like a transplant from another era, in a lot of Romantic or Ingenue makeup - any other Ethereals struggle with this? Thinking about some of your previous posts on Ethereals visually evoking old age I guess it makes sense that some Ethereals might struggle with looking overly mature in too-youthful/sexy makeup and styling.) It would be particularly great to see a focus on makeup for women with masculinity in their features who do not have Dramatic - short of no makeup or the no-makeup look, what might be some flattering beauty looks for women with some masculinity who cannot carry the intensity of those gorgeous Dramaric heavy eye looks?
4/16/2018 12:44:12 pm
Hi! I am embarrassed to say that my makeup guides are *still* a work in progress. (There's just so much material!) I can give you a few pointers for very D features, though:
4/16/2018 01:38:58 pm
Yes, more about makeup, please!
4/16/2018 02:21:56 pm
Such an interesting observation about the struggle with E makeup! I have practically given up on makeup. Combine E + being super pale (LSu) and the slightest bit of anything overwhelms. I totally disappear into makeup. All you see is the dramatic, none of the delicacy. I have a friend who keeps trying to get me to dye my brows dark, wear mascara & eyeliner - but I'm one of these white-blonde brows people where it just looks weird. Or if not weird, it sure doesn't look like me anymore. My face is completely transformed by makeup to where I don't look at all the same.
4/16/2018 03:24:53 pm
I totally feel the "painting a new face" feeling with makeup! And with being overwhelmed easily by the combinations of strong Ethereal and delicate coloring (I'm Soft Autumn, and I have finally learned to resist all my Winter friends who insist that "everyone" looks great with heavy black eyeliner. Not so!).
4/16/2018 03:31:17 pm
Red lips and nothing else is a beauty look I think would suit ethereals. If the lid is starkly bare and the brows and lashes are light it can come off pre-raphaelite, perfectly ethereal imo. Dante Gabriel Rossetti painting vibes.
4/16/2018 11:54:42 pm
I know this Ethereal feeling! Though I'm a little more high contrast than you, W., I'm an SSu reddish sandy blondish brunette-ish whatever. And AM, I have a strong enough dose of Ingenue that I look too young for makeup, even at 33. It looks dirty and wrong on me. I keep trying!
4/16/2018 12:39:48 pm
I do love that you don't beat around the bush about this aspect. It's one of the reasons your system makes sense to me.
4/16/2018 12:50:59 pm
I often think my system could be super useful to trans women concerned about passing. Martine Rothblatt is an example of a trans woman who, IMO, successfully increases the impression of visual femininity she creates by keeping her lines relatively masculine:
4/16/2018 01:21:04 pm
Oh wow, she looks amazing!
4/16/2018 02:28:41 pm
This is brilliant. Science + gender theory & fashion and personal identity vs. cultural perception and wow. Just really fascinating and brilliant.
4/16/2018 10:22:50 pm
Brilliant, as always. Thank you for such in-depth explanations. (And I love your new profile pic—beautiful!)
4/16/2018 11:56:02 pm
I know men are less covered by style analysis to begin with, but I think sexual orientation muddies these things a little too...from the studies I've seen gay men have more typically masculine facial features, but the socially perceived stereotype of gay men is not typically masculine. People and computer programs are surprisingly pretty good at picking out gay faces based on facial features alone, such as the eyes and lips, so there is something going on, maybe a certain twinkle in the eye. I'd say most of the gay men I know, even the most yang, have a boyish quality to them. At 30 I still get mistaken for 18, but I don't think you would consider all of us gamine,I find it it difficult to describe myself or any of my friends without using multiple categories, and the categories for men seem less defined. Maybe there is something inherent about being outside the population norm that automatically makes us a little bit gamine/dramatic etc. to begin with?
4/17/2018 04:31:26 am
Gay men are not automatically Gamines. And not all gay men are youthful or boyish. And youthful doesn't necessarily mean Gamine. There is another youtful essence: Ingenue.
4/17/2018 11:51:09 am
Hey, Ryan! I too have seen a study showing gayness was easily identifiable for most raters just from the face.It's fascinating! And it does suggest that there's *something* there to be perceived -- what is it, though? I think you're right to suspect that whatever it is, it would influence a person's style type. I'm honestly not sure if it's more masculinity, or more femininity, or neither. I need to look at more pics and think about it more. It's fascinating.
4/17/2018 06:07:53 pm
We're really veering pretty close to "gay-dar" territory here.
4/17/2018 06:15:56 pm
I think LGBT people flag for prospective friends and partners, which leads to us using our appearance to define ourselves. I'm femme, and wear sundresses and skirts, but that is also likely informed by the amount of Ingenue I have. I have never been clocked outside of LBGT spaces. I see no evolutionary reason for why a gay person would inherently look any different from a person of any other orientation. Maybe you're reacting more to personality or mannerisms?
4/18/2018 02:47:42 am
^ I'm bi and one of the reasons I mostly date men is because I have difficulty flagging due to my appearance (ENI). I'm still working on a solution to that.
4/18/2018 02:27:14 pm
This is interesting... I'm not sure I buy that sexual orientation is related to inherent facial features, any more than personality is related to seasonal coloring. Still, I think all these biases about masculinity/femininity and such really influence what people are willing to wear. I know for myself, I have stayed *away* from flattering clothes out of past fear of flagging myself - and it's pretty ridiculous now that I look back at it. I'm a very tall -- I'm going with ED, because that seems to work really damn well. ENC isn't so bad either, but it's less flattering. Somewhere in the decidedly tall, decidedly pale, fairly androgynous 'scary elf' category. I'd been looking to Cate Blanchett for style ideas, now also Tilda Swinton. Growing up, I came from a conservative background -- and then starting about highschool, rumors began that I was gay. I didn't know what to do with that -- but I also realized I wasn't straight. But as bi 'wasn't a thing' in my community, I had no idea what to say - or how to dress! Like... I look really good in menswear - but then I'd have people continue rumors or rude comments. I wasn't prepared to deal with them at the time. I went out of my way to dress feminine - keeping my hair long, wearing stuff that *Didn't* flatter me. I dunno what I was trying to do. Just not get outed, I guess? Funny how absurd that seems now. Now, years later, I'm happily married - to a man, so everyone assumes I'm straight. :/ (Guhhhh, don't get me started - heteronormativity is a b*tch). Point is, now that I'm supported by someone, I finally felt the freedom to dress more flattering - which is more androgynous and gender-bent than I felt comfortable doing before. I cut my hair (it's basically that jamie lee curtis cut. that is almost exactly how bad short hair looks on me - i can take a bit of side-swept curling bangs). For a while, I lived in a conservative community again, and felt WAY pressured to go back to hiding behind long hair and 'girly' dresses. But all this mucking about with style ID has got me back to realizing that what looks best for me is some definitely male-inspired stuff, and I'm not shying away from it out of fear of what people will say.
4/18/2018 03:42:46 pm
W. I'm glad you're in a place in life where you can be more yourself! Being forced to hide is hard on the soul.
4/18/2018 03:52:48 pm
Thanks Miranda! I appreciate that! I also appreciate your journey with style and how you're helping friends with their self-discovery. This entire style ID project has been part of self-discovery and self-care for me, and it's been great. So thankful for this blog and all the useful advice here, Rachel! I'm continually impressed with the way this style system has such helpful objectivity to it, yet doesn't use that objectivity to force people into a particular way of expressing themselves. For me, I used to be tempted to play up femininity - but I didn't understand how to make the most of my ethereal element, so I always went for gamine (thinking that was feminine as it is in kibbe) and it was just bad. Now, I'm willing to embrace 'sorceress' (or, ya know, bi elf) and be quite okay with it.
4/17/2018 12:42:42 am
I had very long hair for the first 40 years of my life. Then I cut it short (a longish pixie), and I have received more compliments on my hair in these last 2+ years than I ever did before! And the comments are about how well my hair "suits me", instead of just "your hair is so pretty". Rachel typed me as Gamine Classic Natural.
4/17/2018 01:04:30 am
Rachel, this is a fascinating concept. I'm a gamine lady who looks more masculine (boyish). When you came out with your post on this phenomenon -- that an appropriately masculine context actually makes a woman with masculine elements look more lovely -- with regard to Winona Ryder, that was an epiphany for me. It's been a game-changer for my style and wardrobe. Thanks so much for that! I have never liked wearing dresses, skirts, ruffles, etc., and now I realize why.
4/17/2018 10:50:18 am
This is fascinating! I'm curious about what Lena asked above, about long versus short hair and style. I'm mostly Natural (with a little bit of Ethereal - just a bit) - and short hair looks terrible on me. Is it Dramatics and Gamines who tend to best in short hair?
4/17/2018 11:46:37 am
HI! I think I cleared this up above, and I'm sorry for the confusion. Naturals need big, rough-edged shapes, and that includes for their hair. :-)
4/17/2018 12:44:05 pm
4/18/2018 04:54:20 am
Hi AM, I’m not Rachel, but thought I’d respond to your question about bangs (or fringes in the Uk). I think it massively depends on what style of bangs your looking at. Heavy full fringes can either read as Ingenue or Romantic depending on the face underneath them. You got to say, Taylor Swift looks at her most ingenue with her straight across lash skimming fringe- however on a romantic, the same fringe could be very seductive. Short blunt cut bangs are very gamine. Long parted bangs/ heavy side fringes are probably natural, especially when teamed with long wavy hair.
4/18/2018 09:25:25 am
Thank you, Rachel!
4/18/2018 11:06:58 am
4/18/2018 05:37:22 pm
Hi AM again,
4/19/2018 02:40:39 am
AM, I think I remember reading here that bangs only really work for Gamines? Or maybe some Ingenues as well. And that seems intuitively true for me.
4/18/2018 04:19:30 am
Hi Alex, a woman who knows what clothes and colours flatter her feels good about herself. And if she feels good she also looks good. A woman with self-confidence is an attractive and sexy woman, no matter age or style-ID.
4/18/2018 06:03:27 am
Hi AM, I agree with Beth. Bangs might not be great on Ethereals. I think bangs in general read as Gamine or Ingenue.
4/18/2018 09:27:18 am
Thank you, Katja!
4/18/2018 09:31:56 am
All three feminine essences are age-related, and interestingly correlate with the ancient idea of maiden-mother-crone. But while Gamine is youthful masculine, neither Natural nor Dramatic seem age-related. Dramatic and Ethereal are otherworldly - as Rachel explained so beautifully in the previous post - but Ethereal also has an aged quality, while Dramatic doesn't - is that correct? Dramatic is definitely mature, but not aged the way Ethereal is. Is that because of our cultural assumptions about gender and age? But it also seems to me that both men and women tend to get a bit more Ethereal as they age...
4/18/2018 10:49:39 am
Another question (sorry!): it seems like essences are a combination of the recognition that people look best in lines that echo the lines in their faces, AND concepts/ideas/associations that particular lines generate. It seems like the style IDs have both - so Ethereal has both s-curves (echoing the curves found in the face) and shimmer (something we associate with otherworldliness). But...our associations are cultural, and very subjective while shapes and lines are much more objective. Is it possible to separate the two?
4/18/2018 11:48:48 am
Great points! Likewise, while I generally agree that dressing for one's actual lines and colors is not only SO much easier once you've identified them, but promotes greater appearance of health, more self-esteem, and increase in your perceived truthworthiness in the eyes of others, as you're not dressing as "something you're not," dressing for one's personality/preferences when it conflicts with the styles that suits one's lines can create a very interesting dichotomy that can be intriguing, perhaps in a slightly unsettling way. I think that is probably most relevant to films and TV where perfect lighting/makeup ensure that the impact of inharmonious colors or lines doesn't look unhealthy or just plain bad, and when the disharmonious clothing speaks to something about a character's internal conflict/wanting to be something other than what they are.
4/19/2018 05:28:45 am
I think the idea of using words to create personal focus in style may be what helps with this, as well as "creating/avoiding the impression of." So since S-curves are associated with an otherworldly impression, if there is a detail that doesn't translate cross-culturally, then figuring out what *does* create that impression would look harmonious.
4/18/2018 11:25:16 am
I'd like to comment on this part of the article: "Almost all of us women have a mix of masculine and feminine elements in our visual appearance. Yet we are choosing clothes and accessories made for women, so they tend to be feminine choices."
4/18/2018 12:33:27 pm
Very interesting post! When I was very young I noticed as much as I adored ruffly, gathered peasant blouses, they looked stupid on me. I was a tall, skinny kid with broad, sharply defined shoulders. I looked really bad in peasant styles. You have just explained it! Thank you, I love your web site.
4/19/2018 11:42:14 am
Hi! I was reading some of these interesting comments on this article. I would like to share a few personal observations. Also, I want to know that I am not the same "Beth" who previously posted; but who is full of illuminating ideas and comments.
4/19/2018 12:08:30 pm
I finally bought the Style ID Calculator, and it is amazing! I should have done it a long time ago. It turns out I've more Ethereal than I thought. I think I just assumed I couldn't have that much Ethereal because, well...I'm no Cate Blanchett, if you know what I mean! But it's interesting: people here have pointed out that Naturals look best in big friendly smiles and Ethereals look best gazing into the distance; if I take all the best photos of me taken since childhood, about half are big smiles and about half are gazing into the distance...interesting! (It's also interesting that "cute" never looked right on me even when I was a young child.) Anyway, I'm embracing Ethereal Natural as my style ID. Thank you, Rachel! Thank you all!
4/19/2018 12:44:22 pm
Congratulations, Alex! This will give you more options concerning clothes for dating. As an Ethereal Natural you can wear more feminine dresses for instance. You can also wear more jewellery and more shine.
4/21/2018 06:27:09 am
Thank you, Katja!!
4/21/2018 06:29:07 am
Rachel, I noticed some Doctor Who photos on the calculator boards. Any chance you might do a post on the style IDs of Doctor Who characters?
4/21/2018 01:18:32 pm
I keep wondering about the hair/fringe discussion on this post --
5/16/2022 12:31:22 pm
SO wrong that they significantly lightened the skin tone and added blush +gloss as the face got more feminine on the first chart. Messes up the whole point of the chart. And possibly colorist intentions but I don’t even want to get into that 😬
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