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.
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.