Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Put a Little French Style in your Life

When I think of French chic, one image that comes to my mind is of an elderly woman I once saw. Yes, that's right -- an elderly woman.

DH and I were sitting in a creperie in Paris, when I looked out the window and saw an elegant older woman walk slowly past us. Younger people passed her by, but she kept up her slow, steady pace. She had beautiful posture, yet she did not look stiff. Her style was simple and classic. She had very young looking skin for her age, with lovely laugh lines around her eyes. I don't remember if she wore makup or not; if so, it was understated. Her long hair was swept up into a soft, neat hairdo. She was petite, as so many French women of her age are, and her features were dainty. The weather was chilly, with occasional showers, so she wore a neat all weather coat with a pretty scarf tied inside the neckline. And, on her feet were THE PERFECT PAIR OF SHOES. They were of perfectly polished leather. They had a short, stacked heal. They were at that elusive midpoint between shoes you can walk in on the one hand and stylish on the other hand.

There are many elegant women in Paris. Keep in mind, however, that French women are prey to many stereotypes -- both flattering and unflattering. Some of these stereotypes have become further etched in our minds by books and movies that either romanticize France and Paris or vilify them. Also, some people confuse Paris runways with Paris streets. One common stereotype is that every single French woman is always chic, always looks elegant twenty-four hours a day, and is agelessly alluring.

When it comes to style in fashion, cooking, decorating, and the arts, there's no doubt that France has left its mark on all of our lives. And, many French women do have that certain "je ne sais quoi" that intrigues the rest of the world.

But, remember, French women are flesh and blood, just as we are. They each have their challenges, just as we do. No earthly woman manages to look and be perfectly chic at every moment of every day, though the French do give this a good run! And, no earthly woman manages to elude age forever, either. Some do manage to age more gracefully and with more dignity than others do, and the French do seem to excel at this. However, unless the second coming happens soon, in the end, the frailties of age will catch up with all of us at some point. Also, there are many different kinds of beauty represented in all the countries of the world; French chic is but one very famous style out of many.

Still, it's fun to learn and to talk about French chic. There are many little ways you can add some French spice to your life. Here are a few:

1) Read "The Piano Shop on the Left Bank" by Ted Cuthcart. I picked it up because of my love of Paris, but I kept reading it because it appealed to my love of music!
2) Read "A Well-Kept Home: Secrets of a French Grandmother" by Laura Fonty. I haven't read this one yet, but it's high on my list.
3) Buy enough French farm-style drinking bowls for your family and fill them with steaming hot chocolate on a cold winter morning.
4) Find a bakery that makes the most authentic baguettes in your area. Eat one large slice with a little pat of real butter.
5) Imitate the French in this one area: Cultivate a soft speaking voice at all times, even when making an emphatic point. A gentle tone can soften someone's heart so that they can hear and take in what you have to say. Notice how much more readily people listen to your observations when you speak gently than when you fly at them with a loud and intimidating voice. Save your louder tones for those rare times when they are needed, and you will find they will be more effective. Of course, if you have a great passion for something, be glad. And, if you are from a country where people are generally lively and exuberant, count that as a good thing! But, at the same time, do remember that a gentle tone of voice is an asset to every woman.
6) Though there are notable exceptions, most French women do not wear heavy makeup. What makeup they do wear is generally understated. For a French-inspired look, take some simple steps to maintain your health and the natural radiance of your skin. If you use makeup, apply it in a way that enhances your natural glow.
7) The French are on to something when they claim that beauty comes from being comfortable in one's own skin. The French believe that personality, confidence, personal style, kindness, happiness, love, intelligence, etc., all create a beauty that transcends physical imperfections and that also transcends time. Unfortunately, many French women come at this from a humanistic and worldly point of view. But, if this is true in a worldly sense, how much more true is it in a spiritual one? Those women who truly look to the Lord in France or in any other country will be radiant.
8) Unless you are positive that you can carry off the sporty American gym look, assume the French attitude towards workout gear and athletic shoes: Wear these only inside the gym or for strenuous activity, such as gardening or hiking! Even if your style is casual, make some effort to look pulled together. Even if you're just going to the store, you can still slip on a great pair of Capri pants or a simple skirt, cute shoes, and a pretty top.
9) Find your best neutral and use it as the basis for a great wardrobe. When I was last in Paris, they were having an unusually rainy and cold week for late March. The women wore lots of dark colors -- black or dark navy -- or they wore rich colors -- camels and browns with beautiful sweaters. I did see some light colored trench coats. Dark or rich neutrals suit many French women, for many of them have medium skin, darkish hair and darkish eyes. If dark neutrals overwhelm you or make you look washed out, try a lighter one. A medium gray or a softened navy might be the thing for you.
10) Obviously, France is loaded with museums, beautiful church buildings, lovely gardens, gorgeous bridges, palaces, chateaux, Roman ruins, and all sorts of fascinating and beautiful places. I'm exaggerating only slightly when I say that it's hard to walk a block in the inner city of Paris without passing something of artistic or historic interest. But, what about your area? When was the last time you visited a local museum or paused to look at a local building that has great beauty or history? Have you taken a day trip lately to explore something a couple of hours away? Why not make a plan to visit one new place with your family this week? Or, go back to some place that your family enjoyed, but that you haven't visited in a while. Sometimes, the treasures in our own back yard are the ones we take for granted.
11) Check out books from the library about French decor and French art. Study how French styles vary from province to province and from century to century. Which French styles -- if any -- do you like the best? Women are often very comfortable in French rococo or French provincial surroundings, because we relate to the curvy lines of the furniture and to the feminine colors and symbols. If you do like these styles, add a few elements of traditional French beauty to your home. If your husband or sons aren't a big fan of feminine French style, don't overdo, though. Men are sometimes put off by too much rococo or even too much provincial. (Also, realize that the French are not stuck in time; they do move on to new decorating styles, just as we do. But, in the U.S. at least, some form of decor that is inspired by the classic eras of French decorating is always "in".)
12) Grow a few herbs, either in a garden or in pots. Grow lavender.
13) Explore ways to incorporate fresh produce in your diet. Make the best of what each season in your area has to offer.
14) How are your unmentionables? Your nightwear? Are they worn? Faded? Save your pennies and treat yourself to something that makes you feel fresh and pretty.
15) Re-read Emma's posts on posture!



Meredith said...

Great ideas!

I think I will pull out those baguette pans I never use and try my hand at a little French-style baking.

It was pretty disastrous last time!

Elizabeth said...

Ooh, homemade baguettes!

Terri said...

Wonderful articles, Elizabeth! I am always fascinated by the French style.

Kelli said...

What a wonderful post....so many beautiful ideas! The "A Well-Kept Home" book sounds like a great read and I see that my library has it so I will pick it up today..thank you for mentioning it! Speaking of books, I have been re-reading "French women don't get fat" by Mireille Guiliano. It talks about how French women eat, the choices they make and how to really enjoy your food. I have lost 10 lbs. in the last 6 or so weeks by making some changes mentioned in the book. Anyways, thank you again for such a lovely post!

(((((HUGS))))) sandi said...

I am *SO EXCITED!* about your blog! I found it through the Finishing School, and OH! How I LOVE the histories! (((((HUGS))))) sandi

Elizabeth said...

Hi Sandi,

I'm glad you're enjoying the posts! Thanks for visiting my blog.

Sherry said...

One should absolutely grow lavender. I wish I had a whole field of it!

Elizabeth said...

Hi Sherry,

See today's post about the link to the French woman who does lavendar weaving!


Elizabeth said...

Hi Kelli,

I've never seen this in our branch of the library, and I didn't have much hope of finding it in the big system. But, now that you say you've found it in your library, I'm going to try the county's online catalog. If they have it at any branch, they will send it to my branch.

I love Mirelle's books, but, alas, I haven't put them into practice as I should. I had every intention of doing so when I last came back from France; in fact, I read it coming home on the plane. But, alas, I have been rushing through my meals and eating out of stress -- both no no's in the FWDGF way of thinking. And, it shows!

I'm so excited that you are finding it works so well for you. Maybe, you and I can be FWDGF buddies and inspire each other along the way.! You don't look like you need to lose any from your photo, but I surely do.


Mrs. U said...

Lovely post!!! I have some lavendar on my back porch awaiting planting. I guess I'll plant a little bit of France in my garden!!

You do have me curious, though, about the lady's shoes. Do you happen to have a photo of some similar shoes? Call me silly, but I'm dying to know! LOL!!

Mrs. U

Elizabeth said...

Hi, Mrs. U.

You wouldn't believe how much I have searched for years for shoes that were at that perfect midpoint between dressy and casual, heeled and flat. Then, I looked out the window of that restaurant in Paris, and there they were -- THE PERFECT PAIR.

Alas, I don't have a picture of anything like them. I would like to find a similar style on the Internet but I wouldn't begin to know how to search for them.

If I'd had enough presence of mind, maybe I could have found a sneaky way to snap a picture through the window without anyone noticing. Or, I could have jotted down a thorough description.

But, instead, I just sat there -- watching those shoes step away -- down the sidewalk and out of my life.

Heather said...

I love this. Great post! ;)

Elizabeth said...

Hi Heather,

I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Elizabeth said...

Hi Terri,

I'm so glad you enjoyed the articles about French culture and style.

Lilith said...

Here again, I must say that there is much truth in this post :o ) That is very true that french and american fashion are very very different. However you must know that for clothes, there are the parisians and the rest of France. Nowhere else you will find those edgy women who seem to just have pop up from Vogue's pages... But we all do prefer light make-up and light hair treatment. The key-word is "natural". The best make-up is the invisible one : just a prettier and fresher you ! Same thing for the hair ! Rigid hair because of hairspray, or thick foundation are the worst "faux-pas" you can make when you dress-up (without any jogger in your clothes, that's true too !).

Elizabeth said...

Bonjour Lilith,

Thanks for the French perspective.

Yes, I am glad you pointed out that there is a difference between Paris and the rest of France and also between the different regions of France.

Also, I'm glad you mentioned that French women generally do use a light hand with makeup and hair. I have seen many French women who don't appear to wear makeup at all, but who have very pretty skin.

U.S. women tourists have a rep overseas for applying way too much makeup and hair products. But, then some South Americans who come to live here in the U.S. think we don't use enough and are plain! Maybe, it's because U.S. women all have lots of different ideas about makeup -- some use very heavy makeup, some apply a natural looking makeup, and some don't wear any.