While I wandered the Paris streets, I made it my job to get to the bottom of what exactly it is about French women that sets them apart. I went to the Yves Saint Laurent retrospective at the Petit Palais, I scoured the vitrines in the most fashionable quarters (including braving the deadly chic customers at Colette), furtively examined women in cafés from behind my menu, and did the head-to-toe assessment on the metro of anyone with a whiff of style.
And you know what? The French woman's secret isn't that mysterious. I'm not going to repeat all the pap you've heard before--buy classics, get a few things but make them high quality, etc., etc.--although it's true that older French women especially seem to stick to a menu of trench coats, sensible but expensive-looking pumps, and a scarf. (Really, what's so chic about a trench coat, unless Catherine Deneuve--or Peter Sellers--is wearing it?)
No, the secret is that French women spend a lot of time and money on good clothing and a good haircut, but they wear their hair messy and barely bother with makeup. American women, on the other hand, slather themselves in makeup and spend hours on their ill-cut hair, then slip on a Juicy Couture jogging suit and Uggs and call it a day.
To clarify, here's the American woman's routine: She gets up and showers, washes her highlighted hair, blows it dry, curls it, and applies at least two different hair products. Then she attacks her makeup, laying on primer, foundation, blush, various clever eye colors, mascara, lipstick, and lip gloss. To top it off, she might squirt a veil of Tommy Girl over her body. At this point, the day's a-wastin'. She puts on her jeans, a sweatshirt featuring the name of her alma mater or something from J Crew, and tennis shoes, slings a bag the size of a kitchen Hefty over her shoulder, then finally hits the streets.
Now let's look at the French woman's routine: The French woman showers, uses some expensive face cream she gets at her facialist when she goes in for her monthly appointment, and runs her fingers through her meticulously cut but still damp hair. She applies lipstick and a spritz of Shalimar. Total daily routine: 15 minutes. Then, if she's over 30 she puts on a simple but well cut outfit and gorgeous shoes. Even walking to the metro, she's wearing gorgeous shoes. If she's under 30, she probably puts on jeans, a shirt, Repetto ballet flats or '80s-style boots, and drapes a fringed scarf around her neck a la Charlotte Gainsbourg.
If you question my observations, park your hind end in the Luxembourg Gardens and watch. You'll be able to separate the American women from the French women easily. When you ask yourself why, you'll see that the carefully assembled but slovenly clothed women are American, and the casually made up, but nicely dressed and shod women (and often wearing a fascinating necklace or statement ring) are French.
But this is what I really learned when I was in Paris: in Portland, on the whole, we look great. We have a style that feels natural, imaginative, and confident. I love walking in my neighborhood and seeing a woman with a thick, sky blue streak in her hair that matches her bluebird tattoo. She's wearing a 1940s day dress with Victorian-style boots that might be new, and her jewelry is handmade, maybe by a friend. She looks inspiring. She should have songs written about her.
Xtabay Beauty Joanne in vintage.
Come to think of it, the average Xtabay customer could go toe to toe with the average Parisienne any day.
Xtaby owner Liz with her pomeranian Gabe wearing a vintage hawaiian dress and silver bangles that belonged to her grandmother.