In honor of this past Wednesday being Coco Chanel’s birthday, I thought I would talk a little bit about French fashion. Not my normal type of topic, but it is certainly one I have read about, observed first hand, and discussed with my husband at nausea.
My husband always says that there are two things that the French are undefeated champions at luxury goods (clothing, handbags, and perfume to name a few) and food. And while I agree (except that I think that Japan and China can compete on the food), you do not have to be in the highest income bracket to dress like the French.
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You can pick up almost any book on French culture, and I have read plenty. You can pick up almost any book on French culture and it will describe the key principles or secret to French fashion as refined simplicity.
That means buying basic pieces like black slacks, a black skirt, and a white shirt in the best fabric and as expensive, you can afford. A good pair of black heels and black boots, also as expensive as you can manage. And no French woman’s closet is complete without a simple black dress as well. If you don’t like black, deep brown or grey works as well.
After you have a good foundation of the basics you can add pieces to bring some color, or add scarves for the same reason. But don’t go too far over the edge with a bunch of trendy pieces, you will not get the usage in terms of longevity and they probably will not hold up as long when it comes to endurance.
French women do mix expensive and inexpensive pieces. They like to keep people guessing and to be original, but the bottom line is that quality over quantity is another key principle of the French woman’s fashion criteria.
Women make such a big deal about their clothes, and unless you work in the fashion industry, no one really cares. Seriously. If you work in an office, do you remember what your boss wore on Wednesday?
I remember when I first started working in Switzerland I was shocked to observe what people wore to work. There was a woman there in management, she was only in the office two to three days a week, she would wear a suit, usually pink or orange or yellow (she was Italian and Spanish so she gravitated towards brighter colors) the two or three days she was in the office.
The same suit. I am not sure if she changed out her shirt, I don’t remember, but I do remember after a while I did not even notice. And a lot of people did this, not in orange or pink suits, but in blacks, greys, and whites.
The culture around clothing care is to take extremely good care of their clothes. They buy the best they can afford and take very good care of. After returning home from work, the clothing is immediately hung up (to air) and more casual clothing is put on.
The clothes are meticulously washed and pressed and folded or hung. They last a long time and I am telling you, no one really remembers what you wore yesterday!
The last thing regarding French fashion. French women would not be caught dead wearing sweats or yoga pants outside the home (if they even own them in the first place!). Even if it is to walk half a block to purchase bread, they will put on slacks (or dark jeans) and a shirt with coiffed hair and buy their baguette.
While living in France, our baker was literally 1/2 block away. On Saturday or Sunday mornings my husband and I would want fresh croissants or pastries with our coffee, so I would pull on my jeans and sweatshirt, slap a baseball cap over my bedhead, and run out to collect it.
People stared at me like I was an alien, and to them I was! The baker’s wife certainly did not appreciate it and in three years’ time, she was never nice to me. Personally, I think she thought I did not respect her enough to come into her store properly dressed, and she was probably right, but I never adapted that cultural norm.
French women take care of whether it is with their beauty routine or the clothes in their closet. Simplicity, quality, and care.
Hmmm…those are the kind of characteristics that should be emulated through all aspects of our lives, don’t you think?
A bientôt !