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!