Sometimes A Sandal is Just a Sandal

Most readers will have reached a point in their style journey where they become aware that style is much more than knowing whether to wear this t-shirt or that one for the best effect. Understanding the fine points of Season and Image Archetype is one thing, putting them into practice in our actual lives is another. By far the most common question I receive from analyzed clients is about this. It can sound a few different ways, but some of the most popular versions are these:

“I get why I’m this type but it just doesn’t feel like me.”

“I love my archetype and I see how it flatters me, but it’s just not practical.”

“I love my archetype and I see how it flatters me, but no one else I know dresses like this and I feel weird being the only one.”

“I just feel so unfeminine, am I really THAT yang/dark/severe?”

“I just feel so fussy, am I really THAT yin/cutesy/light?”

And so on and so forth. I’m sure there are dozens of lenses we could use to examine this phenomenon, but whenever I am looking to investigate human motivation, which is the source of our idealized self-images, I turn to the enneagram. The enneagram is an incredibly layered and deep system, which sadly is only familiar to most people in the form of very oversimplified quizzes if at all. It would be impossible for me to explore in one article all of the nuance that the enneagram can explain when it comes to what works and doesn’t work for certain individuals as far as their image goes. So today, I would like to examine just the most primal level, namely the Instinctual Subtypes (also called variants by some schools).

When most people think of enneagram, they think of their type number, 1, 2, 3, etc and sometimes of their “wing” i.e. 1w2 vs 1w9, a leaning towards one of the types to either side, which is certainly a major piece of the puzzle. (If you don’t know the enneagram at all, I highly suggest watching this education tv series to get a basic understanding and maximum value out of this article) Instincts, however, are even more dominant in our personalities. To quote my enneagram teacher, Katherine Fauvre:

“The personality is made up of the primal needs, the ego and the higher essential qualities. The instinct as the most primal aspect of the personality is dominant and always in charge of the defense system. Type and Tritype are secondary to the instinctual stacking.”

Everything we encounter filters through this defense system, and most certainly our personal style and way of dressing does. How we are perceived by others and how our bodies feel in our clothing are important when it comes to assessing potential threats. Despite modern living conditions afforded to likely every one of the readers here, we are all hardwired to constantly scan for threats, as we inherited our brains from our ancestors who needed to be sure they didn’t get eaten by lions on a regular basis to survive.

The three instinct are know in the enneagram world as self-preserving, social, and sexual (sometimes also called 1-to-1), and it’s important to note that we all can, and need to, use all three. However, we have a preferred order in which we use them, and our top choice is the one we tend to “overuse”. This overuse is something we can temper with awareness, but the tendency will always be with us and will always color our experience.

If you have the self-preserving instinct, you focus primarily on your own physical survival, and on the availability of resources such as food, shelter, money, energy and time. If you have the social instinct, you focus on belonging to the group and your role, identity and status within the group as a means of survival. If you have the sexual instinct, you focus on creating deep intimate bonds with a special someone and on what is needed to attract that special someone as a means of survival. It’s likely that you may relate to more than one or all of these at times, but one is always dominant. It may help to think about which of these arenas is most likely to cause you to behave badly. I can also recommend taking the relevant test at

Depending on your combination of instinct type and Image Archetype, you may experience different types of friction (or, more rarely, none at all). It is my belief that there is always a way to express both, but it may require some thinking outside the stereotypical box. In this article, I will explore the different combinations and show examples using this issue’s topic item, sandals.

The Self-Preserving Instinct

The self-preserving Instinctual Subtypes focus on “survival, safety, security, and a sense of well-being”. (Katherine Fauve, Enneagram Instinctual Subtypes, p17) The unconscious belief of the type is “I am my body”, so the physical status of the body, and the resources needed to maintain that status, are always top priorities. As such, concerns such as comfort, practicality and durability must always be met for this type to feel at home in their clothing. I’m reminded of one of my all-time favorite scenes from The Office:

For all of us, comfort matters at some threshold, but for the self-preserving person being comfortable and free to move subconsciously feels like a matter of life and death. I have had clients agree to work together only on the condition I wouldn’t force them into uncomfortable shoes! It’s important to note that these threats, as for all Instincts, are real or imagined, so even shoes that simply look uncomfortable or impractical can trigger distress. There is a down-to-earth and grounded quality to her, and she usually prefers Natural clothing the most, though her attraction to simple, traditional and subdued clothing may also mean that the aesthetic of Classic appeals.

The Self-Preserving Dramatic

YangD shoe: Beige Leather SSu or any Su; Blk leather any W; Blue leather SA SSu ; Pink Leather SA TA

This woman usually sees herself as a Natural before analysis, though depending on type and tritype she may enjoy the exceptional quality of the Dramatic types, and yet comfort is still king. Self-pres Instincts eye shoes without sturdy soles and a visible amount of cushioning and support with suspicion, so those are non-negotiables. This style of shoe, which attaches securely to the ankle and doesn’t flip or flop while walking also tends to be preferred, as she is always concerned with whether a shoe will inhibit her ability to move freely and without thought to what is on her feet. Despite these qualities, this shoe retains a modern sleekness and a sci-fi quality, like a shoe for climbing a mountain from the world of Logan’s Run.

The Self-Preserving Natural

Yin N Sandal: In Black Suede for Darks, Black Leather for any winter, Blue Leather for Light Spring, Grey Patent for Bright Spring, Light Grey Suede for Soft Autumn, Natural Patent for Dark Autumn, Orange Leather for True and Light Spring, Rust Leather for True Autumn, and Soft Gold Metallic for Light Summer.

This is the most common instinct among Naturals, perhaps even more so than being the most common instinct in the population at large. They usually feel quite comfortable in their type, though for some the relative flash and impracticality of certain more boho items in these types is enough to make her ill at ease and not line up with her self-image. She will tend most often to choose that within the type which is simple, clean, unfussy and practical. The above sandal is a good example of the direction her aesthetic preferences tend to veer in, in addition to ticking the boxes laid out in the Dramatic section above with regards to comfort and ease of movement.

The Self-Preserving Classic

YangC sandal: Red leather TA ; Brown Suede SA ; Grey leather LSu; Pink Leather TSu TW ; Turq leather TSu

Though she often admires classic styles, she generally has questions about how exactly to manage her needs while dressing in more tailored styles. I suggest a two-pronged approach, which on the one hand involves adjusting one’s perception to discern the difference between “comfortable” and “comfortable-looking” and on the other hand involves finding places to stealthily insert more comfortable elements into one’s wardrobe. This shoe maintains a reasonable degree of elegance and composure, while being very much designed for the sort of long walks self-preserving types like to remain prepared for.

The Self-Preserving Gamine

YangG shoe: White TW BW; Blk Darks ; Cherry Darks

Like all self preserving types, she would have liked to be a Natural, but she sees that something isn’t working with those clothes. Natural clothes can look like they’d be more comfortable than they actually are because of the disconnect in scale on this woman. She usually doesn’t mind being quirky, except when it interferes with practical concerns. Fortunately when it comes to footwear, a little chunkiness can be used to great effect for both gamine types to juxtapose against more delicate elements of an outfit in an unexpected way. Here, a shoe that looks like you could climb mountains for the next 30 years that still reads and trendy and fun.

The Self-Preserving Romantic

YinR sandal:  Blk W; Cognac SA TA ; Scarlet DA

I don’t see this woman a lot but when I do, she usually would have much preferred to be a natural, or anything less fussy. Footwear is one thing self-preserving types tend to be most sensitive to, so it becomes necessary to find styles that meet their standards of practicality while still being able to make logical outfits with the type of clothing which is flattering to her. These sandals would definitely work for other yin types, but overall they have a subtle retro quality with a heart-shaped toe that would look pretty and normal among other Romantic items.

The Social Instinct

The social Instinctual Subtypes focus on “people, recognition, popularity, honor, status and social acceptance”. (Katherine Fauve, Enneagram Instinctual Subtypes, p19) The unconscious belief of the type is “I am my group”, so a sense of belonging and status within the group, are always top priorities. As such, concerns such as fitting in and playing their role within the community must always be met for this type to feel at home in their clothing.

For all of us, feeling included matters at some threshold, but for the social person looking appropriate and appearing as part of their group subconsciously feels like a matter of life and death. This can be the hardest subtype to identify, because depending on the group they are a part of, they may prioritize very different things - i.e. a client who lives in Seattle vs NYC.  It’s important to note that these threats, as for all Instincts, are real or imagined, so even clothes that seem like they could cause exclusion from the group can trigger distress, whether or not that is true. She is friendly, considerate and self-sacrificing, and as mentioned she may look wildly different depending on her social environment, however a common theme is an attraction to status symbols, which may mean Classic items like a strand of pearls or something else entirely.

The Social Dramatic

YinD Sandal: Ivory for Lights, Black for any Winter, Rose Gold for Brights, and Silver for True and Light Summer and the Brights.

Concerns among social instinct types of these IAs can be myriad for the reasons mentioned previously, but numbering among them might be looking bizarre or garish. (Another very common concern is “being too dressed up” and drawing commentary, the remedy for which might look similar to that which was outlined for the self-preserving types.) This shoe does glitz and glamour in a way that remains polished and contained and relatively familiar, in a sense that it would feel at home in any country club.

The Social Natural

YinN shoe: for the social instinct, also YinC  ; brush silver n tan, any 5 Su, lo C for W (N would overlook tan sole)

The social instinct type in these IAs may fear looking messy, sloppy or inappropriate. I have a visceral memory of a particular Natural client of this subtype who began to cry as I read off the guidelines for her type, fearing that she would be doomed to looking like a surfer who had just washed up on shore. She almost never cares for bohemian looks unless that’s what everyone around her is wearing (for example, a lot of women in the health coaching profession feel pressured to look hippy-ish). This shoe could easily be worn by YinC as well, but most importantly is subtle enough in it’s natural detailing to easily blend with a more contemporary, less artsy take on the type.

The Social Classic


YinC sandal: v pretty seashells and lt tan LSp BSp

She is usually happy enough to be a classic, which at face value seems to be perhaps the type with the most innate connection to the idea of having status, however her inherent aversion to low status within the group can mean that she fears being too boring in certain iterations of the classic types, especially if she is under 40. If her peer group is having fun dressing up for a party, she definitely doesn’t want to be the only one looking stodgy and traditional. She can often be attracted to gamine styles, or what she might perceive to be gamine styles, like the above. Which is not to say a gamine couldn’t wear these shoes, but simply that when paired with a simple outfit one little detail like this would be highly apropo for summer in general or especially any occasion for which the seashells would be thematic.

The Social Gamine

YinG Sandal: Nantucket red Brights;  Navy LSu SSu DW

This gamine tends to be apprehensive of standing out or looking strange, and tends to swing her style more towards classic with a playful twist, perhaps with a bit of a preppy aesthetic. There are exceptions but she tends to be the most comfortable with cutesy, especially if the sexual instinct is last in her stacking order. Not necessarily a bad thing, but she does still need to exaggerate things just a little more than a classic would, and suits having a little more going on. This sandal takes the idea of a preppy sandal with a pearl button and blows up the scale and adds an animated print - relatively subtle, but the animated proportions do make a difference on her. Of course, styling would also be key with these. Something like a second, different print like a polka dot somewhere in the outfit and plenty of graphic contrast would keep this in her realm.

The Social Romantic

YangR slide: grey, any winter

More than being too flashy, the social instinct Romantic tends to be more concerned with being too sexy for her role; i.e. too sexy for a mom picking up her kids, too sexy for her age, etc. She is drawn to classic but doesn’t like how it looks on her, and often even more drawn to gamine because it satisfies her need for detail without triggering her fear of being inappropriate. A reasonable remedy might be to balance the vavavoom of these types with a healthy dollop of sophistication, as in the shoe above. Together with a beautiful, feminine blouse and a pair of well-fitted jeans, they would look mature and sophisticated anywhere.

The Sexual Instinct

The Sexual Instinctual Subtypes focus on “intimacy, pair bonding, chemistry and one-to-one relationships”. (Katherine Fauve, Enneagram Instinctual Subtypes, p21) The unconscious belief of the type is “I am my relationship”, so a sense of closeness and twinship with a “special someone”, are always top priorities. As such, concerns such as feeling feminine and attractive and standing out must always be met for this type to feel at home in their clothing.

For all of us, intimacy matters at some threshold, but for the sexual instinct person feeling attractive, feminine and unique subconsciously feels like a matter of life and death. It’s important to note that these threats, as for all Instincts, are real or imagined, so even clothes that seem like they might make them undesirable can trigger distress, whether or not that is true. There is a sensual and intense quality to her and she is often attracted to Romantic styles or anything overtly sexy, flashy or glamorous, like a peacock displaying its feathers.

The Sexual Dramatic

YangD Sandal: Any Winter and Bright Spring

She is usually quite thrilled to be a Dramatic type, and it can be quite healing for her to understand her own version of sexy, which is so much more effective than trying to shoehorn herself into Romantic clothes (often she will think YangR but can’t seem to make it work). If she is Yang D she will need to see that her choices extend beyond the realm of androgynous tailoring. Here, a shoe that is modernist and minimal, but also definitely unique and sexy in the Dramatic’s signature way.

The Sexual Natural

YinN Sandal: For any Winter

Probably the rarest instinct in Naturals, though I have been told the same holds true for the general population. Like most sexual types she can have a propensity to self-identify as a Romantic. At times, she is deeply upset to learn she’s a Natural, particularly when she sees herself as a woman who wears pinup bombshell styles, but there are many sexual instinct Naturals who readily embrace and are have always been attracted to the more raw, earthy sensuality of these types. While social Naturals may be gutted not to be a Classic type, these women often express that as their greatest fear. Some clothes in these types can lean too rugged and practical for this woman, who needs some kind of glamour. Here, a shoe that has the flavor of the courtesan, in a way that we may think of as Romantic (and indeed, she could wear them in the right context), but suits her beautifully. (And, a wonderful find for Ns with wide feet, as is not uncommon)

The Sexual Classic

YinC shoe: Platino Lights, Silver TSu; Strawberry DW BW; Ivory SA maybe LSU

When she hears mink and diamonds, she does relate to being a Classic, but like other types, she is drawn to something more overtly feminine. As a more medium person, she often underestimates how much yin in design elements she could actually balance, which is definitely not none, even for YangC. Classic need not mean Brooks Brothers unless you want it to, and for the sexual subtypes it probably shouldn’t. A more European flair, something like French or Italian Chic is apropo. An example above of how YinC could do more embellishment, something this woman craves, particularly nice for evening.

The Sexual Gamine

YangG Sandal:

While the abundance of design detail and opportunities for unique and flashy styles appeal to this woman, she fears being too childish. This is perhaps common to all gamines, but her specific motivation is that *too* young skews distinctly unsexy just as much as too stodgy or old fashioned might. Done right, gamine clothes can be as sophisticated as any, and have a witty kind of appeal that’s unique to her. Here, a sandal that emphasizes bare legs, especially when paired with the short skirts that suit her to create a look that is most definitely alluring.

The Sexual Romantic

YangR shoe: For Soft Seasons

This woman already knows she’s probably a Romantic before she comes in for the appointment. One could choose almost any of the shoes for this issue to please this woman, but this is a great example of her type of thing. It’s definitely sexy and it really says “look at me”, which is much more important to her than practicality. Self-pres would be asking “how long could that flower possibly last…”, she’s less prone to worry. It’s worth noting that she can sometimes have a propensity to overfill her wardrobe with flashy pieces and then struggle to make outfits or have anything to wear in her daily life. As with all combinations, seeking more balance would serve her well.

I hope this was helpful for you in understanding the relationship between your defense mechanisms and your type. As with anything, simply by being aware of these things, we can start to have more power over them.


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