Monday, February 20, 2012

The great French equation

There are many trillions of things I love about France - food, architecture, people. language, parks, crepes, grafitti, food markets, the smell of the chicken and potatoes on the rotisserie in the food markets - but what I love most is the way French women dress.

 I don't usually buy into the stereotypes attributed to countries, especially not as far as style is concerned, but it is undeniable in this instance: French women really are fabulously well dressed.

I watch them closely whenever I'm there and until recently thought that there was no obvious formula or discernible method to their style, that it was some secret alchemy that could not be imitated outside of France or by a non-French citizen.

But that was until I finally came up with the equation as I watched a young woman in Paris waiting at some traffic lights with a companion. They appeared to be on their way to or from a work meeting. It was a Wednesday and they sounded like they were discussing business. Madame was dressed in all black....

...except for her tights, which were brown and her bag, which was perfectly red. It sounds a bit odd but she looked fantastic. The varied textures of the black garments was highlighted by the brown tights. The red bag was plain but beautiful quality. The effect was flattering, a little quirky, refined, work-appropriate, feminine - her outfit ticked so many boxes it seemed impossible. How can one person look so right with such a simple style deviation?

Later that same day I was trying to sneak a photo of some older men playing checkers in a little park, and another example of real style whizzed passed me.

This woman wore a fitted red leather jacket, a fishtail skirt in lilac and black, tight fitting black jeggings, a red coloured scarf and her heavy dark hair was soft and unstyled. It was a wonderful combination and suited her so well. I wouldn't choose any of the items this woman is wearing; if confronted with them piece by piece, I wouldn't dream that they would work together. But they did, and she too looked fantastic: colourful, breezy and comfortable. I found myself wanting every single garment she wore and wanting her confidence even more. How does she do it, I wondered? Why does she look so great?

And then it hit me:

What I like + Comfort x (flattering version for me) - brash
______________________________________________     = French style
      Best quality I can afford + trends I find appealing

After my eureka moment, I sought to expand my theory by closer observation as  I shopped. Let me share my findings.

French women like quality, dependability and they are loyal to the outlets that provide that. I saw women in Monoprix (a French chainstore that can be most closely compared to Target), in Gap, in Zara, in Dries Van Noten, in Galleries Layfayette - shopping right across the board and making their selections very carefully. Young and older women shop in similar places and the seek the same things. For example, Monoprix released a range of very flattering trench coats while I was there. They did them in two colours - black and khaki. I saw all kinds of women - younger, older, full figured, slender  - head for those coats like they were called by a siren. The black sold out everywhere over about three days. Other things that grabbed their immediate attention include: plain blouses, florals (especially skirts) tights, medium height or flat shoes, blazers of any kind, sparkly jewellery and large softly structured functional bags.

Oh, and underwear. I believe it is impossible to buy dreary underwear in France.

They shop carefully. Shops in France have to by law display prices with their goods in any window display, so devising a wardrobe to your budget before you actually splurge is eminently possible with some window shopping in Paris. And there are few malls. All the great shopping districts are a mixture of independent boutiques interspersed with chainstores (Zara et al) so there is endless variety.

They wear their accessories sparingly and use colour as a punctuation mark rather than a clause. They are always well groomed - clean, clothes ironed, shoes in good repair - and they will err on the side of conservative rather than garish. Oh, and the gaelic complexion - dark hair and eyes, smooth olive skin - is the perfect canvas for a swipe of dramatic red lipstick.

So there you have it, the missing equation in true style according to a wandering blogger.

That's all I have, except for the picture of the guys playing checkers.