Chic. Even in English we use the French term. It is a stereotype, to be sure, but like the best stereotypes, this one comes with a large grain of truth behind it. French women are incredibly elegant. And it is not about expensive clothing or formalwear, either. Last year Birkenstocks were all the rage. Hippie shoes. How exactly do the women over here pull off that look and stay so alluring? What is their secret weapon? After decades of research and observation, I have noticed something of a pattern.
Le Look. It begins with perspective: how the parisienne sees herself and the world. She approaches life as if she were the most attractive, seductive woman around—flirting with the server at the café first thing in the morning, her boss in the afternoon and the butcher as she picks up a poulet roti on the way home from the office. What gives her that confidence? Training. Learn to keep a stiff upper lip, never let the cracks show and watch that posture, Madame! That, and wear some really sexy lingerie under even the most sedate outfits. Sounds odd, but wearing matching bras and panties gives one a secret confidence, because true fashion starts below the surface.
Know the code. In France, originality is not in. There is the odd genius, like Sonia Rykiel, who can get away with incredibly mad combinations, but for the most part there is a fairly simple style that most women follow. The style changes annually, but there is one rule that never changes: limit yourself to two colors, never more. This gives local women two advantages. First, if a certain look has already been “approved,” she knows she looks good and it boosts her confidence, helping her maintain Le Look. Second, the “approved” looks really do look good, limiting those awkward days when tops and bottoms are inadvertently mismatched and ensuring that one usually looks one’s best.
Less is more. This is especially true of makeup and jewelry. I once read a quote by Karl Lagerfeld’s muse, Inès de la Fressange, declaring that true elegance dictates that you choose to either make up your eyes or your lips, never both. Parisiennes don’t cover their faces in a solid foundation, piling colors on top. They keep it simple, covering a blemish or two, using a natural-hued lipstick, a touch of mascara and maybe a hint of eyeliner. You don’t often see large, shimmering jewels. And because less is more, you choose either a necklace or earrings, never both. This rule also applies to designer clothing. The parisienne is at ease in a Chanel jacket with a pair of Levi’s. One really good-quality garment is enough. If you must wear two, it is best to mix and match—respecting the two-color rule, naturally.
Keep it clean. Maintenance is an essential aspect of Le Look. If you were to take me and a parisienne, give us the same outfit and snap a photo, she’d look infinitely more alluring. One reason is Le Look, which means she has much better posture and carries herself well. But another would be her impeccably ironed T-shirt, cleaned to maintain its startling whiteness. And then there would be the perfectly shined shoes. While I would probably leave mine dull and lackluster, the posh parisienne has been raised in the cult of clean, and she would never think of heading out without giving her footwear a quick wipe. And this is only if I were lucky enough to receive the same shoes. Otherwise, I’d be in my incredibly comfortable rubber-soled clodhoppers, while she would be willing to brave the cobblestone streets in any one of a dozen pairs of CFMs she has stashed away in her closet.
If all this sounds exhausting, it is. Taking out that iron after a full day at the office. Ugh!!! And shining my shoes. Every day? Please! But the men do it, too, if that is any consolation. And the results are well worth the effort. Especially when a handsome man gives you his seat on the bus, or walks into one of the poles that line the sidewalk because he was too distracted by admiring you.