Some people are born with style. I am not one of those people. Sure, I
can buy it and sometimes, I can fake it but it’s not in my DNA. French
people, however? Oh, their DNA is saturated with style. Particularly
I noticed this last year when I went to Paris and it hit me like a
slap. The first time I ventured onto the street, I suddenly felt like
I’d stepped into a parallel universe. Planet Chic. The Land Tracksuit
Pants Forgot. It became immediately apparent that if I wanted to blend
in, I’d have to lift my game. Possibly with a cherry picker.
My idea of casual daytime attire is a lot like something a French
homeless person might wear. Actually, many of the homeless people I saw
were better dressed that me. Some even had laptops.
Of course, the first lady of French style and politics right now is Carla Sarkozy, formerly Carla Bruni*. She has the world buzzing about her supreme chic in a way no other world leader’s wife has managed since Jackie O.
And it’s not only because she used to be a supermodel and just had naked pictures of herself sold by auction house Christie’s. That’s just the icing. The cake is simply that she’s French. Well, she’s actually Italian but she’s lived in France since she was 6.
Sarkozy’s first wife was just as stylish. In fact I think you could pluck pretty much any French women out of a supermarket queue and she’d run fashionable rings around the most try-hard fashionista from any other country for that exact reason; French women never look like they’re trying. Me? I always look like I’m trying when I dress up, probably because I am. I’m forever aiming for “Effortless Cool” or “Nonchalant Chic” or even “Casual Eclectic”. But I never pull it off.
I think this is perhaps because I am innately lazy when it comes to clothes and now that I’m not working in an office along side Australia’s army of fashion elite every day, I’ve embraced my laziness. Temporarily free from the relentless scrutiny of my outfits by talented women who consider fashion an extreme sport, I’m letting it all hang out.
I’ve stopped buying fashion magazines and I’ve stopped obsessively trying to emulate whatever look is in this microsecond. The result? I have more money, more time and I’ve almost forgotten how to walk in high heels. I’ve also become one of those people who flip through a fashion magazine at the hairdresser, note that this season’s trends are “Military! Playsuits! Purple! Corsets! Tartan! Cowgirl” and exclaim out loud “Are you people on frigging crack?” Except I don’t say frigging.
French women don’t go for any of this of course. They’re not remotely trendy. Pah to that, they say. French women are timeless and classic, qualities I always used to dismiss as boring when I dressed among the trendsters. But as one gets older, timeless and classic gain appeal.
During the time I spent in Paris, I did lift my game – with both hands and modest results. I tried hard. I sacrificed comfort for appearance and wore ballet flats instead of trainers, pants instead of jeans, a jacket instead of a hoodie. It was kind of like playing dress ups and I never looked remotely French but I did look slightly less homeless which was a win.
My mum doesn’t need to leave Sydney to feel inadequate about her wardrobe. One of her closest friends is French and she’s forever hassling my mother to dress better. My mum is no fashion slob and dresses very appropriately for a woman of her age. In fact by Australian standards, she’d be considered very stylish. But Australian standards are anathema to French women, even those living in Australia. “She wears to coffee what I would wear to a wedding!” my mum marvels of her French friend, resolving to step up from her black pants and sandals and make more of an effort next time they meet. But then she can’t be bothered. I understand.
It’s interesting to notice who you make an effort to dress up for. This question came up for a girlfriend recently when she went to pick up her husband from the airport after he’d been interstate for a week. They’d been married for about ten years and it’d be fair to say they’d long ago slid down that comfortable slope into intimacy where they no longer made the effort of those early stages. Not with appearances, words or actions.
But just as she was about to dash out the door in her tracksuit pants, it suddenly occurred to her that she made more effort to dress up for work or even to see her accountant than she did for the man she loved. “Why is that?” she wondered out loud to me. “So I went and whacked on some clean jeans, a nice top and some earrings. He was happy to see me regardless but just by making that little effort I felt different. More excited. A bit flirty even.”
So sometimes, trying hard is a good thing.
*I like to think I helped Carla Bruni become Carla Sarkozy because when we were in Paris, the apartment we stayed in was directly above the clinic of France’s best osteopath. We bumped into him in the lift one day and he mentioned that President Sarkozy was one of his regular clients and would be coming for an appointment the next day so to be prepared for extra security. It just so happened that I’d just downloaded Cara Bruni’s new album and since it was, you know, in French, I’d been playing it non-stop to get myself in the right ambient mood for Paris. Clearly, while he was lying on the table getting cracked, President Sarkozy heard Carla’s music coming from our apartment upstairs and declared “What a beautiful voice! I must marry that woman!” and the rest is French history.