Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Inside Her Armoire, The Real Story
























Why I've avoided today's conversation for two years, I'm not quite sure. It's not that I haven't thought about it on multiple occasions, but for one reason or another I didn't "go there."

La pomme de terre chaude (the hot potato) subject is the myth that chic, stylish, elegant Frenchwomen own about 20 perfect items and work with them every-single-day. In this fantasy I suppose they are allowed a good number of accessories to keep these well-chosen pieces "fresh and new" every-single-day.

It's nonsense. 

What I do believe to be true, however, is that they are probably capable of pulling off such a feat. But they don't. They don't unless they're writing a blog about such a challenge and then the writer is most likely not French. Someone is probably writing that book as I write this post. It's sort of like the Julie & Julia blog/book/movie. 

Now I'm thinking, "Get on it, you fool!" I could do it from "a certain age" perspective and maybe, just maybe Meryl Streep could play me in the film, right after the bestselling book rocks the New York Times bestseller list for months. (Sorry, I digress.)

What most Frenchwomen have is a core wardrobe around which everything is constructed, but the core ripples out -- it gets larger and wider. The essence is: shape, neutral color, clean construction, morphability, and, yes, obviously quality. Morphability, which is not a word, but you get the idea, allows them to get more mileage (or kilometers, if you will) out of well thought out purchases.

Wear today and forever clothes below. . .
























Coco, of course. A woman could easily wear this dress today and tonight and tomorrow.
























Ines de la Fressange proving a triple strand of pearls and a lady-like brooch look young and forever, just turn up white cuffs, add sunglasses. (See the white shirt? I know, I know. . .)
























Fanny Ardent, note the boots AND the flattering unbroken black line.

I believe stylish Frenchwomen have fewer clothes than say, an American with the same wherewithal, for the simple reason -- my opinion -- she is more secure. She does, and this is not a myth, wear the same things over and over and over. When she slips on her 10-year-old LBD for example, beneath she is not only wearing divine fripperies, but also her Gallic attitude. Do you know how much style attitude brings to clothes? Exactly.

Some have argued that armoires and small, closet-less Paris apartments are responsible for finely edited wardrobes, perhaps that's true, but frugal by nature, Frenchwomen do not spend carelessly. They add to their wardrobes with clarity. We all know they buy the best of the best within their means and then, even those with couture in their closets (yes, I know plenty of women in Paris with swoon-worthy closets -- both in size and content) might from time to time  run into Zara for a silk shell, Monoprix for a scarf, H&M "for something amusing." These fillers won't last a lifetime, but they cover a specific need and meld with the rest in such a way that one would never suspect the countess is wearing high and low. 

It is also true that more, more, more is not part of the French esthetic. And it's liberating. It's a thrill to wear something which makes one feel so good about herself, so comfortable, so right, so chic because it was perfection when it was purchased 10 or 15 years ago and nothing like it has been found since. The best compliment a Frenchwoman can receive from a friend is, "I love you in that dress." 

Let's never forget either, an elegant Frenchwoman's wardrobe is all about her although it may be sparked with a touch of the latest and the greatest from a current fashion season and if the latest and the greatest happens to be an investment that works in her grand scheme, quelle chance, she'll grab it. 

Finally, an elegant woman's wardrobe is constructed, piece by piece with careful, intelligent planning. That's why she can count on it, that's why it falls together so effortlessly. That's why she needs less. And, I do believe she has far fewer mistakes in her closets than most of us. That instantly gives her more room in the armoire.

24 comments:

BODECI body said...

Hi Tish,
I just love the word "morphability" it says it all! And thank you for enlightening me on the french woman's armoire!

knitwit said...

I read a book a while back that was all about finding your inner French girl. Since then I have been obsessed with living more like the French. But being a North American through and through, I'm finding it's taking a lot of time and effort to throw off all my old, excessive ways. But I will get there. I'm convinced it's the key to a more satisfying life!

Murphy said...

Merci, merci for answering my question! That is a great insight of yours that French women may have less clothes than Americans of similar means because the French women are more secure about themselves. I never thought about it that way, but it makes perfect sense that insecurity leads to restlessness and more purchases - but not always successful ones. Oh and thanks for the great pictures - what beautiful classic pieces!

LPC said...

The phrase says it all. "I love YOU in that dress:)."

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

I feel truth ringing here...loud and clear.

I realize as I advance in age that i have less to prove to others and as I am more and more content in my own skin it is easier and easier to dress with fewer pieces.

I say YES to the white shirt and pearls and applaud the slimming and chic black ensemble.

Arlene said...

Just found your blog through Women Determined to Succeed. Very much enjoying it! This post rings too true when you speak of the "mistakes" in the closet. What was I thinking??

Fay said...

Hi Tish You are right I dont NEED the dress !! just lovely to look at ! you can have it .Rick Owens is my mainstay so there s no point introducing ANOTHER colour ! tee hee Fay xx

Lorrie said...

I taught high school French in an international school. I had to return to Canada for a month and my substitute was a French friend. When I returned, one of our lessons dealt with clothes and such, and I mentioned to the students (mostly Americans) that the French didn't feel the need to have as many clothes as Americans did. My students had an "aha" moment for they had noted that Sandra (the substitute) frequently wore the same clothes.
I think wardrobe size has as much to do with culture (in a societal sense) as it does with finances and style. That said, the French restraint and attention to detail and quality is admirable, and something I am striving for.

Deja Pseu said...

This is a great analysis, Tish!

I think the biggest hurdle culturally is to throw out the old "can't be seen wearing the same thing again" attitude. I find the simpler and cleaner the pieces, the easier it is to do this.

Christina @ Fashion's Most Wanted said...

Dear Tish, brilliant post! I have all these pieces, far, far too many of them, absolutely no planning at all goes into my wardrobe mostly because the majority of it is black or cream or red. The upside is it's very easy to throw it all together. I love my old faithful LBD's and pearls so I feel much better reading this! Thanks again for your wonderful comments - I shall keep my eye out for a camel coat - can you email me size/length etc xx

chicatanyage said...

Love the blog. It is so true. I find that when I am in France I am more creative with less choice in my small wardrobe there. I mix unusual pieces together from necessity. I also observe the women in the local village and notice that they often wear the same outfits but still make them look chic. I am learning.

Charlotte said...

Having small storage is always a good incentive for keeping the wardrobe compact! My NYC friends definitely have pared-down (mostly black!) wardrobes, for this reason.

I notice in all three photos that the subject is dressed in black. I look so desultory in black. It would be nice to see core wardrobes in warm colors, but even when that happens they tend to be dark brown.

Beth Dunn said...

Love all the pictures!
xoxo
SC

Villette said...

No, not Meryl Streep to play you. I rather imagine Candice Bergen. But Meryl could do a deadly Cherie.

Northmoon said...

I want an Armoire!

My fantasy is that I will only move the very best from my current wardrobe to this armoire and my style will automatically become amazing and (French) chic. Talk about morphability;)

I wish it was so easy!! Talking about it and doing it are two very different things.

Charlene said...

Merci mille fois for this post. It makes me feel so much better. The myth of 20 perfect items in one's closet is really more than I can fathom. However, I'm trying very hard right now to cull out the imperfect pieces and to be way more selective in what I buy. My goal is to have a wardrobe chosen with care and clarity like "les francaises". I love what you said about attitude and choosing clothes with morphability (great word). Thanks for your insights.

SouthernProletariat said...

I love this! Please forgive me if you have posted this before, I glanced over your archives but did not see it. What would you say constitutes the core wardrobe for a Frenchwoman?

From reading you so far, I have gathered: the LBD (obivously), a great white shirt, a camel coat (or is that just this year?) and of course - ballet flats... Merci!

Kim said...

WEll, I must be French. I have a very tiny closet...about as big as an armoire and KennyRogersLookAlikeBeforeThePlasticSurgeryWentWrong and I share it. I have a photo in my bathroom of a blazer/jacket that I bought and wore in 1997 and I still wear it..in fact I had it on yesterday. I dress my clothes up with jewelry and scarves. And for Gosh sake...I do not wear panty hose! auggghhh.

quintessence said...

Probably one of the posts we've all been waiting for - and with good reason. Wonderful assessment. It's actually how I try, not always successfully to manage my wardrobe. But as you say, it's not all about the clothes themselves - and that is the biggest lesson of all.

Shelley said...

Sometime perhaps you'll tell us more about that 'Gallic attitude'. I suspect it underpins a lot of the information you give us day in and out, but it's a thought.

K.Bean said...

Thank you so much for opening up the mythological Frenchwoman's 20-item armoire! I've read more than enough magazine articles -- often in Vogue -- about the spare wardrobes of stylish Frenchwomen. This post says it all so much better. Quality over quantity is a hard concept for North American women, but I'm certain we can learn!

Metropolitan Mum said...

You could so pull it off. Go girl, write that book! xx

the gardeners cottage said...

what an excellent, excellent post. i've heard that french women only own like 10 things. ten! that's crazy. this makes much more sense to me. i live in a tiny house with a tiny closet and want every piece in that closet to fit and make me feel good when i wear it. for me, it's so hard to find those special pieces but i have taken my time and the result is a wardrobe that i love. it's amazing how versatile it is. i'm actually shocked. thank you again for this great post.

xo
janet

Sukhi said...

Thank you for writing this post. It's great to know that it's not the number of items, but rather a process of quality over quantity, and a general theme that determines how many items a French woman owns. I never could understand how it would be possible to live on only 10 items of clothing. What would one wear on the weekend when trying to do the wash? Certainly not pajamas or lingerie. What if you ran out of detergent and had to leave the house?! Sorry for the digression, but I thought it would be important to highlight some of my confusion.

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