Unless you happen to be a Hollywood A -Lister, you might get the opportunity to wear a formal gown a few times, which is why it’s especially important to find one that fits well and makes you feel fabulous. Formal gowns are designed to be worn for special events such as white tie or black tie events.
Finding a gown that best reflects you relies on a number of factors. By now, we might all be familiar with seasonal color palettes and at least one form of body typing, whether you subscribe to Kibbe typology or more traditional “pear, hourglass; apple” theories.
One form of typology that is arguably less well-known has to do with the seven style essences as developed by Harriet McJimsey, which focuses not only on the details and overall aesthetic of clothing but your personality and general style. Here is a brief guide to the seven essences and which gowns work best with each so you can find the perfect dress to wear to your next formal event.
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Free, relaxed and casual are all words used to describe natural types, such as Jennifer Aniston, so you would not expect formal gowns to fit into this category. However, this type also looks best in long, relaxed lines and large irregular shapes which complement any slight asymmetry in their facial features. Formal gowns with irregular details such as off-the-shoulder gowns in flowy, draping fabrics work perfectly for this type.
Classic types such as Zoe Saldana and Anne Hathaway have an equal balance of the yin and yang (typically masculine and feminine) features described by David Kibbe, calling for an equally balanced style of dress that is neither too soft nor too sharp. Generally well suited to more conservative styles of dress, classic types can wear styles of gown that are quite minimal and classic with panache.
By contrast, romantic types (Marilyn Monroe is a classic example) are more typically yin: meaning their facial and body features tend to have more softness and curve to them. While more angular body types might look fussy in dresses intended for more yin essences, romantic types look stunning in gowns that have added curvature, for example mermaid-style skirts or vintage elements, for example corset-style bodices.
If the first person that springs to mind when you think of the word “gamine” is Audrey Hepburn, you would be correct. Gamine typically describes someone who is petite, with typically almond shaped eyes and angular, smallish features that look great in boxy, angular shaped clothing with use of bold color. In terms of formal gowns, this translates to broken silhouettes (either using pattern or color) with staccato details and mid-ankle (not full-length) hemlines.
Not to be confused with gamine, this is another petite essence, yet a softer, more yin version (Christina Ricci and model Lily Cole are both good examples). Someone with this particular essence might tend to look younger than their actual age, with small, doll-like features and a small, compact figure. People with this essence can wear exaggerated feminine detailing and delicate patterns without appearing immature or clownish.
Dramatic types tend to be tall, straight and angular; think of Anjelica Huston, or Cher. Dramatic types also have strong (typically) masculine or “yang” aspects to their facial features and bodies (they look great in androgynous tailoring) and beautifully expressive eyes. If this sounds like you, the best formal gown is likely to be something that complements your statuesque figure with straight lines and architectural, geometric detailing.
Also described as angelic, ethereal types have an otherworldliness to them some might describe as “unconventionally attractive”; think celebrities such as Tilda Swinton or Lisa Bonet. Frequently tall in stature, people with this particular essence suit long formal gowns in gauzy fabrics with metallic elements either in the detailing or the overall fabric.
How to Find your Style Essence
Much like various other forms of body typology, there are various quizzes you can take online to assess which one you might be. When taking a test to find your style essence, pay attention to the natural lines of your body and sharpness or softness in your facial features, as this will help to determine the type of clothing that would look most harmonious on you.
Breaking the Rules
If it’s your first time attending a formal event and you’re not sure what to look for in terms of attire, there are one or two rules when it comes to the basic fit: formal gowns are typically full-length, though depending on the occasion, there are a few exceptions; some can be midi or knee length.
While it might sound counterintuitive, and even unflattering, going against your natural lines in clothing can produce some interesting effects in terms of contrast. In some cases you might find that you are a combination of different types, in which case opting to combine different pieces or elements of clothing that reflect this duality can be useful in helping to create a more rounded personal style and an added boost of confidence at any event.