If you've been following my Paris diaries, you'll see that when I first arrived in France to live there full time, I felt very inadequate. As an 18-year-old young woman, I lacked the "je ne sais pas quoi" of the French women around me, had no secret handbook, no Louis Vuitton handbag, no beautiful shoes, and no effortless style and grace. I never became that woman with the Hermes scarf and a cigarette dangling from my lips, but I did pick up a few secrets.
Over time my chignon became a little more effortless, I invested in some good pairs of shoes, I fell in love with beautiful lingerie, I lingered over my meals a little longer, and I was even given a hand me down Vuitton.
My low rise jeans were pushed to the back of my closet and my necklines became a little higher. I gained a little more class and confidence which I'm still grateful for today.
So what is it about French woman?
This article explains it very well. 'The French don't covet packaged cookie-cutter beauty, au naturel is de rigeur, and less is truly more in France.'
On a personal level, here are some of the secrets I learned and observed during my time in France:
- For fashion, invest in quality basics and buy a few affordable statement items. In Paris, most women seem to own a fabulous trench, great jeans, a good pair of ballet flats, a selection of great scarves, quality cotton t-shirts, the perfect blouse and good cashmere. Statement jewerly adds a trendy touch.
- Master your coiffe. French women always have great hair. What's their secret? A good hair cut, staying true to their natural colouring, washing their hair every other day or every few days and mastering the chignon for those days in between.
- Three meals a day, one or two sweet indulgences. I love the culture behind food in France. Everyone seems to eat a continental style breakfast (croissant/toast/cereal with orange juice and coffee or tea), a full lunch (big lunchtime salads are popular), a sweet snack in the afternoon (baguette with a hunk of dark chocolate, a small pastry), and a full dinner, with dessert. While this seems super indulgent in our diet obsessed culture, these meals are usually fresh, seasonal, balanced, and add up to the same amount of calories or less that we eat in our several snacks per day or hearty second servings at dinner (the French rarely go for seconds).
- Eat sitting down and savour. If you walk down the street eating in France, at least three people will give you a look and say "Bon appetit". Eating is a ritual in France, at the same times every day, and it's appropriate to sit down and savour.
- Drink wisely. While watching French women in restaurants and cafes, I noticed they'd usually have water, sparkling water. espresso, a Diet Coke or wine. They rarely seem to drink their calories unless it's in the worthy form of wine.
- Embrace your personal beauty. Sometimes in North America I feel like we're all urged to embrace a current look or trend, even if it doesn't suit our body, our colouring or ourselves. French women have this way of embracing their grey hairs, their body types, their colouring, and their prominent features that make them even more beautiful. Would Vanessa Paradis be as memorable without that gap between her teeth? I think not.
- Enjoy life. Work hard, but enjoy the pleasures of life. French women embrace the good things in life. Chocolate, cheese, shopping, walking, reading poetry, sitting with a friend for hours with a bottle of wine.
These are are my personal opinions and observations.
The truth is, French women aren't supernatural. They read gossip magazines, follow trends, try crazy diets and sometimes feel self-conscious too. But they have a rich culture and a few secrets up their Comme des Garcons sleeves that we could learn from.
And while we're on the subject, please check out my style profile and more French obsessions over at Nettika B's beautiful photography blog.