How to Understand the Yin and Yang of Clothing


How to Understand the Yin and Yang of Clothing


Have you ever considered Yin and Yang (or Receding and Advancing) in relation to your clothes?  I first read about this concept in Judith Rasband’s Wardrobe Strategies for Women, and realised that it relates to all personality style and why each style communicates in the way it does.

It’s a powerful tool to help you understand what your clothes are communicating. You can use these concepts to help you:

  1. Create harmony with your personality.
  2. Create balance with your physical appearance
  3. Communicate a message with no words.

In this first post (I can feel a series coming on), I’ll show you how to interpret the yin and yang of clothing and design (though you’re already reading it, you just didn’t realise).


Yin and Yang

Yin (Receding) Elements of Clothing

  • Curved lines
  • Broken lines
  • Thin lines
  • horizontal lines
  • Curved shapes
  • Small shapes
  • Low contrast colour combinations
  • Muted/smoky colours
  • Soft textures
  • lightweight fabrics
  • Thin fabrics
  • Matt fabrics
  • Sheer fabrics
  • Natural flowing patterns
  • Dense all-over patterns

Yang (Advancing) Elements of Clothing

  • Straight lines
  • Solid lines
  • Thick lines
  • Vertical lines
  • Angled Shapes
  • Large shapes
  • Bright colours
  • High contrast colour combinations
  • Crisp fabrics
  • Heavyweight fabrics
  • Geometric prints
  • Abstract prints
  • Large scale prints
  • Repeating patterns
  • Thick fabrics
  • Shiny fabrics
  • Opaque fabrics

When you consider these elements, you can start to see how much our clothing is communicating without us realizing.

As you can see from these few pictures, Yin elements are softer and less dominating, while Yang elements are strong and draw attention.

When thinking about how these elements communicate.  The Ying elements are better to communicate that you are:

  • Warm
  • Nurturing
  • Gentle
  • Felxible
  • Subtle
  • Informal
  • Open

The Yang elements communicate that you are:

  • Intense
  • Bold
  • Deliberate
  • Decisive
  • Direct
  • Business-like
  • Closed

Of course there are many garments that have a balance of Yin and Yang elements.

Interpreting Yin and Yang in a garment

Here for example, are two similar shift dresses, yet they communicate very differently.

If you worked in a corporate environment, which would you wear to work? The dress on the right – right!  You didn’t even need to think about it – but here is why:

dresses communicating

The one on the right will help you present a more business-like appearance, that dark serious colour with a high contrast pattern, the straighter, less feminine shape and the ordered patern (says you have an ordered mind).  The one on the left will make you appear warm and nurturing, informal and gentle but lacking in business expertise and you wouldn’t be taken as seriously because it is lighter in colour with a lower contrast with a natural pattern and those extra curves in the structure of the dress highlight your femininity.


Further Reading on Yin and Yang

How to balance your yin and yang

Yin and yang of clothing design

Identifying yin and yang elements

Creating harmony with your personality

From intimidating to friendly

How to express the right message

How to resolve style conflicts

How to make an outfit more yin or yang

Your voice and movement and how they influence your style

How to use colour to communicate

6 Essential tips for wearing sheer fabrics

How do your clothes make you feel?

Communication, introversion and others focus


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  • I am more Yin than Yang, but I definitely dress more Yang than Yin, I think it is to compensate. Do other people do that? Is it a good tactic or is it deceitful? What are your perceptions?

    • Not deceitful, it’s a great way of balancing – and nothing is wrong with balance! If you are self aware you can use this to work for you. Not a bad thing in my books!

  • great article. Interesting how your styles/preferences can change depending on what is going on in your life too. I love the detail you provide in your articles!

  • I never thought about yin and yang in terms of receding and advancing before. You’ve summed up my whole nature under the yang list of descriptors plus the organized mind part. I find that even for at home clothes to do chores in I need to have something definitive in them like bolder stripes and plaid so that when I glance at a mirror in passing I get an impression of energy and activity or else – in blurrier clothing – I take away an impression of “oh, I must be awfully tired or coming down with something.”

  • Very interesting. I’ve always had an understanding of this concept but could never put a name to it. I would love to hear your thoughts on what to do if your colouring is very soft but your personality is more on the yang side. I have a hard time finding clothes because when the colour is right the fabric is often too soft, the style too curvy and drapey and the prints too muted.

    • Julia

      My body shape and color are both yin but like you, I have a yang personality. I have the same issues–very few things feel “right.”


      • Imogen

        Your latest post on this issue sums it all up perfectly. Thanks for sharing so soon after your surgery, and glad to hear it went well!

        Julia: I totally spaced out but search online for Kibbe soft classic for some other examples.

  • This is very interesting. Lately I seem to come across a lot of information relating to things that I have already sorted out in an intuitive way …
    I think that my body looks all yin, but my personality and the way I want to present myself to the world are more yang, so this is reflected by my personal style – especially by bold colours, high contrasts and structured garments in crisp, thick fabrics.
    But I’m also aiming for traditional figure flattery, so this introduces some yin elements by types of garment, cuts and fabrics that flatter my curves.
    I would wear, for example, a fit-and-flare dress in an intense colour with edgy black boots and a fitted black moto jacket. Or a fitted blouse (in an intense colour and a thick, woven fabric) with wide black dress pants. An A-line-skirt with a tee and sneakers.
    If I wear something yin, I feel the necessity to combine it with one or several pieces that are yang. Right now I’ve noticed that I’m even reluctant to wear more than one garment made of jersey.
    Thanks for the food for thought!

  • What would you do if you personality is the opposite of what type person you want to be? Wearing lace and floral but look more serious in them?

    I prefer to percieved as “yang” but my personality, personal style and appearance is more like “ying” unless its for a more formal event, I would dress yang almost top from toe. I just dont feel comfortable in dressing in business-like or “serious” clothes but at the same time, I dont feel comfortable when people dont take seriously either so its a complicated issue Ive.

    Recently, I tryied to dress after how I want to percieved (being take seriously – looking my age and not looking for “casual relationships” with strangers because i dress feminine), but I dont “feel” happy to always dress after others expectation of you but to due to some bad experiences in the past, Im a little bit anxious to wear what I want because my social life has always been on a tricky road (often looked down by other females and older people dont take me seriously sometimes… but this is mainly due to that I refuse to be fitted in a box and like to be different… also most of the time were sterotypes.. like guys mistook me for a streetgirl becase I wore bright blue eyeshadow. lol. I know its better to avoid these type of people, but Ive hard time to do so! 😐 )

    Perhaps Im just overthinking about this… ^^;;

  • I, too, am looking forward to the series. It looks similar to the David Kibbe types. In his system, I am Soft Classic (or yin classic). I definitely feel a strong pull from the yin side and I have discovered that I do not exactly feel comfortable in traditional corporate attire. Also, the darker colors do not suit me. I understand that we have stereotypes for what is seen as professional, but I can’t help feeling that not dressing true to my nature would have some negative impact at work, even if it is just in how I feel about myself. Would love to see how you would address a Light Summer working in a corporate environment whose favorite print is florals.

  • I LOVE this article. Hadn’t ever known what to call the yin/yang — but sensed it.

    I have a strong jawline, square face, and my essence is sophisticated, sultry, and confident — it’s a combo that can be very threatening to a lot of people when I walk in the room, and I’m in a business that requires this high confidence but “buys” based on a warm relationship. I’ve recently found that by mixing the yin and yang in my wardrobe I can tone down the high personal yang essence and be more approachable and less threatening. I was doing it naturally, but now because of this article I can be even more strategic.

    Thank you!

  • Dear Imogen,

    You say the dress on the right has a high contrast pattern- is this the pattern or the colour for grey/vs black I do not see the high contrast as grey (silver) vs black not much difference.

    Thank you

  • Interesting! As usual I feel somewhere in the middle. I grew up being encouraged to show way more yang than I had in me. Ying is too soft too though. Now I dress along the middle, which reflects my true content. For business meetings, I turn up the yang, though I still think the ying warmth is important to getting the job done, so I only turn it up as much as I have to.

  • Hi Imogen,

    Good luck with your breast reduction surgery! My aunt has had a surgery like you years ago and she is still very happy she made this choice.

    The yin yang article is very interesting and so are the comments. When I read the comments I see there are more people who look best in yin when their personality is yang and the other way round.
    I love yang clothes very much, I am very much drawn to them (perhaps it’s indeed nature’s way of balancing) but would sometimes also like to wear ying soft feminine clothes, but it’s often too soft for my coloring. I need bright colors and contrast.
    Perhaps you could write another post about what to wear when you have a yin personality and would like to wear yin, but yang looks better on you and vice versa? I like the examples you give in interpreting yin and yang in a garment.
    I am thinking of you and the surgery, take care!
    Warm regards

  • I see so much of myself in Yin and so little of myself in Yang. I never would have put it all together, so to speak, without this post. Thanks!

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