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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Style and Beauty Tips for the Challenged - and Who Isn't, in Some Way?

It has come to my attention that some of my readers would like to know what I’ve learned in my travels among French and other style writers. Yes, indeed, certain conversations I’ve had lately with women of about my age, some older, some younger, have clued me in. I tend to roll with a very natural group - Earth mothers and such - so I’ve been rather circumspect about my dabblings in the land of fashion and beauty. Ok, maybe not so circumspect. I’m blogging about it, after all. My point is, there’s been interest. Eager interest, even. So. There you go. I aim to please.

 So. What have I learned? Well, everyone has his or her angle on style and beauty, and the whole French style thing has some amusing little published arguments going on. French women don’t get fat – well, they do. They don’t exercise at gyms – well, they do. They don’t get facelifts – well, they actually get a lot of work, maybe not classic facelifts, but then again, with all the available alternatives to surgery, lots of women don’t get facelifts and still end up looking, well, you know.

What do they agree on? 


·      Posture. Style, the consensus seems to be, depends on posture. Stand up straight. Dancers  and Pilates folk know the drill. Pretend there’s a string running through your spine up through the top of your head. You’re a marionette. Create space. Tilt your pelvis & tailbone forward slightly. And draw your shoulders down and away from your ears.

·      But if you need more than posture – and anyone who doesn’t live in the nudist colony I saw signs for on our trip to Quebec last year does - if you need clothes, then go for well-fitting garments of the best quality you can afford, in neutral colors for the main pieces. 

My first exposure to this theory of wardrobe came via the French teacher at my high school. I didn’t take French, but my friend did, and she reported on lessons on style as taught by Mme. She also reported rumors that Mme wore no underwear, but they were unverified. Images of Mme later blended with images of Sharon Stone in that infamous scene in that infamous movie she made. Forgot what it’s called.

·      Scarves and other accessories for color and pizzazz. Scarves are very popular among the French. And the Italians. Italian men wear scarves, too.
Our tour guide in Pompeii, Mario

Good old Tim Gunn in his tres drôll book, A Guide to Quality, Taste, and Style, told me to go through my clothes and get rid of stuff I don’t like, that doesn’t fit, that I don’t wear, and to identify the “soul-stirring” pieces I own. And then to wear them. Well, I don’t know about soul-stirring, but I do know about saving my favorite items for “someday.” I’m the queen of saving things for someday. Especially anything new. Only someday never comes, does it? And now I’m That Age. Fewer tomorrows ahead of me. So I’ve started wearing those saved things more often now.

Emboldened by the closet purge, I approached the owner of a boutique I really like and asked if she ever does style consultations. She said she does them all the time –for free. She said I can bring in a few of my things and show them to her and she can use them to make suggestions and so on. It turns out she’s just turned the golden age herself. And she looks fab – pixie cut, cute outfits, and best of all, a similar body shape to mine. I haven’t taken her up on her suggestion yet, because the boutique is a bit cher, as we French say. But I’m thinking about it.

·      Good haircut, good shoes.

Which morphs us into beauty.


·      Good haircut being an essential here. My style writers devote much amusing print to creating “French” hair, which is, apparently, slightly scraggly, kind of dirty, and slept on. Thank God I’ve got that down. If I washed my hair every day, it would be so puffy you’d never see my face.

My good haircut is, however, in danger. My stylist, you see, has fallen out with his business partner, who happens to be his sister, and he has left his salon in a huff. I’ve followed him to a temporary place until he starts another one; but I’m worried.

·      Make-up of an enhancing rather than en-masking nature. This is apparently only possible once you’ve passed the teen years. Dramatic eyeliner is the style around these parts for the under 16 set. For those older than 30, it’s the unnaturally natural look, all the way.

Take it from me, a lot more women are wearing the unnaturally natural look than you think. I didn’t realize it, until I discovered Trish McEvoy. When we lived in NYC, I used to get my hair cut at Frederic Fekkai, which was upstairs at Bendel’s. One day, I strayed too close to one of the make-up counters, and before I knew it, a charming young fellow was working me over.
             “Listen,” I told him. “I’m from Boston. In Boston, women don’t wear make-up.”
             “Yes they do,” he said. “Half of them are wearing Trish.”
I left with a lovely kit of practically invisible stuff. I only needed about ten items for the natural look.

·      Facials and more. Here’s the sticking point for me. Apparently every female in France has an intimate relationship with a dermatologist-aesthetician and also, peut etre, with a pharmacist.  
Pharmacies in Italy, by the way, were nearly as fascinating as pharmacies in France apparently are. The 10th grader and I experienced one when one of us, no need to mention which one, because she might be embarrassed, ran out of deodorant. The whole store was full of interesting bottles and tubes, and all the names and ingredients were in European, so we could barely understand half of them. I figured this meant they were automatically at least one standard deviation above the norm, quality-wise, compared to what we can find at home in CVS. We bought a deodorant, after resorting (on my part) to some ape-like gestures. Guess what? We love it. It smells great. And so, when we used it up, we went online, and were able to order some through that Hachette-murdering website (Amazon, for you unliterary types), for at least three times the price of drugstore deodorant.

·      Argan oil. I bought some at the local food co-op, so I know it’s pure, not laced with corn oil or little bits of titanium dioxide (see upsetting Mother Jones article). I’ve used it on my face, my neck, my, uh, sternum, and my scalp.

·      Retin-A. Really, this should go without saying. It’s one thing that actually works. And, oddly, insurance paid for it the last time I got a prescription!

Oh, the hours I’ve spent reading up on beauty treatments, cleansers, lotions, and other potions. It’s. Well, let’s just say I wish I could be paid for them all.

Other lessons I’ve absorbed for your edification, as well as mine, include the following.

·      Water. Drink it. A lot. First thing in the morning. I already do this. Check. I’m a thirsty gal. Half the time, I’m worried I have sudden onset diabetes. So far, no. BTW, years ago I read that Donna Karan does this, too. Drinks a glass of water first thing, that is. I don’t know about the hypochondria. I felt validated, for absolutely no reason, by this information. But I never forgot it.

This reminds me of the saddest thing I’ve learned. French women don’t drink much wine. They sip a little. But they’re not teetering around sozzled.  And they don’t do cocktails. Too many calories. Too drying to the skin. Which brings us to….

·      Moisturize. Again, I’m already on it. I have dry skin and a history of eczema, so I’ve been moisturizing for years.

I feel I must end this post with one of my favorite jokes. It pretty much sums up this whole style thing. Ready?

Q: Why are you sophisticated when you’re going to the bathroom?
A: ‘Cuz European.

Get it? Say it slowly. Break it down. “Eur-o-pe-an.” Get it?

Okay. Good. Have a good weekend!


Giuliano, Mereille. French Women Don't Get Facelifts & French Women Don't Get Fat.
Gunn, Tim. A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style.
Jett, Tish. Forever Chic.


  1. Ugh, this is making me tired. Guess I'll just have to be content with being an ugly American.

    Oh, and it might be worth it to pay for some mediation between stylist and his sister.