Paris: Un certain regard

When I looked at the visual style of Parisiennes, I realized there is only one look I have not seen replicated here. You can walk through any upscale neighborhood in a large European or North American city and see the jeans/boots/jacket, the sexy dress/heels/big hair, the preppy cardi/narrow pant/ballerinas; there's a universal upscale mall look, the InStyle Effect.

I began to people-watch only for what I do not see at home, and my eye began to notice one particular look that I couldn't define.
When I was at my beloved scarf and textile boutique Wolff et Descourtis, the owner gave me the key when she referred to one scarf's colourway as "plus strict".

The manner of dress (and as a precedent, thinking) I began to appreciate is
strict. The look is worn by women over 35, and entails precise, demanding tailoring, the best fabrics, a base of neutrals (no bright colours), pattern usually tone on tone if any, each piece revealing idiosyncratic, subtle details.

There is humour, but it's a fleeting smile, not a giggle. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy was fluent in the look, but it's a touch bohemian for her current role, so she kicks it up a notch or two with shots of colour and St-Laurent rich-lady flourishes.

It is not CDG or Yoji, not Eskandar, not decontracteé; the items are close to the body, with evident construction and conventions like buttons, and the buttons will always be mother of pearl or horn. Nor is it classic jolie madame dressmaking, there's more far more wit and modernity.

Searching for an example, I found this
Riser Goodwyn dress (from eLuxury), but on the Left Bank it would be worn with pale blue wool Wolford tights and blue-grey low heels of exquisite cut and construction. The bag would be an aubergine portfolio. An interesting earring, a cuff bracelet, or an antique brooch on the cuff, for strict is not cold or masculine.

The boring black tight and shoe shown would kill the dress, and leads me to wonder whether Americans just don't speak this language.

skirt length is to the knee or 2-3 inches below, lending a timeless look. The designers who occasionally reach for strict (Donna Karan comes to mind) kill it by hacking off skirts at the thigh and committing careless tailoring.

Here's a
coat that's strict, a Smythe "Holiday boyfriend jacket" (from net-a-porter, the best online illustrative strict source I can find at 4 am. which is when I'm waking these jetlagged days). At this price ($680) the quality would probably be disappointing, but the intent is there.

And this Limi Feu top (from Anastasia, $490) embodies strict's use of pattern achieved by texture.

Strict looks like you have nine things hanging in your closet for a given season, and each is perfect.

Naturally, if you wear strict, it's all you wear, there's no schlumpadinka shadow wardrobe for running to the hardware store on Saturday afternoon.

Elderstrict is the 70-year-old woman shopping at the epicerie beneath our apartment in a camel coat of subtle herringbone over matching camel skirt in the same tone, but lighter fabric. What saved this from a society look (in Simon Doonan's typology) were the deep, soft pleats in the skirt, her ecru tights, and her khaki booties piped in tomato red.

Would I wear this look? In my large, multicultural Canadian city, yes, though I know most people, accustomed to mass-market dictates, would find the clothes a touch odd, indefinably challenging. I find myself reaching for my stricter pieces, hoping to evoke the particular spirit of the women I watched.


Anonymous said…
I have a dress exactly of that style and cut. It's a real passe partout that I wore throughout my later student years (1996-98). The flare is perfect for camouflaging a heavy thigh and the jersey fabric is 'ultra-comfortable'. But what I really like about it is the middle front dart seam which runs from the shoulder over the bust and down to the hem. It's really flattering and gives a really modernist look. I remember being complimented on it by my tutor at college who only every wore CDG.

But I've never heard of this style as 'strict' before. Keep going, duchesse, we're soaking it up! Now I'm off to unearth the dress, which hasn't been worn for a few years - I hope I still fit into it!
materfamilias said…
Really interesting analysis -- I'll be watching carefully for this look next spring. I've seen and admired it before, but without recognizing the overall pattern. Too strict, too restrained for my personality, I'm afraid, but I do find I'm moving increasingly in that direction with age. Certainly, manifestations of subtle wit are appealing in whatever mode or genre or material.
Anonymous said…
Great post, Duchesse, one of your best ever.

I think "strict" is old. And after my trip to Paris, I'm stickin' to the good old American classics. I love to look at French women, but I don't want to emulate them anymore.I'm all for quality, but I need color, whimsy and a LOT of humor, not just a hand-covered giggle. Life is too short in my mind for "quiet patterns" and somber colors and "subtle" details. Why restrain at our age?

Do you ever read Lucky Magazine? I think I will let my subscription expire. I think the looks are very european, very downtown New York, very complex. French dressing seems complex to me and I just can't do it. American dressing is simple, attainable, democratic! There's something for everyone--and an icon for everyone from The Olson twins to Lauren Hutton.

When I see Carla Bruni in Dior, with the matching hats, I want to cry. She looks like she's dressing up in costume for a theatrical PART. Her clothing now does not help her ASSUME the role in her own style. STrict does not suit her. Even if it IS French! Look at how Diana did it. She just WAS a princess, and her clothes were an extension of her being. Carla is not herself in outfits that you could just as easily put on Queen Elizabeth.
Duchesse said…
Karen: Your comments remind me of something I once read in an interview with Candace Bergen, when she was married to Louis Malle. She said she never attempted to imitate French style when she was in France with him, she just bought classic American (especially sportswear) and "was who she was."

It is a much more sober look than Americans are used to seeing, and many, like you, will prefer the "color, whimsy and humor". And certainly I saw French women who dressed that way too.
Anonymous said…
I agree with Karen. I think it is a matter of sticking to what makes you feel yourself. As an Anglo-Italian I just look ridiculously dumpy in jeans and white shirt, yet my lovely American friend looks a million dollars.

Catherine Deneuve is a real natural at strict, whereas Carla Bruni, although charming, as you say, sometimes looks contrived.

However Diana is not a woman I would associate with the strict look. She was born the same year as me and I always felt that, until her divorce, she dressed 10 years older than she needed. Although tall and beautiful I never thought she was very imaginative with her clothing choices. No, she was definitely an English Rose.

I think 'strict' comes out of that Left Bank look of the late 50s. Certainly the dress you show reminds me very much of Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face.

I found my old 'strict' dress - it's a little tight, but not as bad as I anticipated! What a relief!
NancyDaQ said…
Hmm, this sounds a lot like what I call my "Amish palette." That is, a base of black with accents of aubergine, navy or charcoal. It's severe, so I can't maintain it everyday. It would be too depressing. But it does make dressing easier sometimes.
Duchesse said…
Nancy: it is a restrained palette of mostly what I'd call uncolours. But the overall effect is austere but not severe. it's a look that represents an intellectual, restrained sensibility. I did not see it on many women; those who wore it stood out.

GP: Glad you found the dress! Audrey Hepburn is close, and Deneuve in Belle de Jour wears some elements but the 2008 edition is more relaxed.
My personal style is not this disciplined, I like a theme I call "Amelie's Mother".
Duchesse said…
GP: Diana was the opposite of strict. Yes,English Rose with occasional Dallas overtones. Strict is so rarely seen that many North Americans do not recognize it, confusing it with Dior/YSL socialite pieces. Deneuve's current wardrobe is (from what I have seen) is solidly Socialite.
WendyB said…
I fear I haven't been strict enough with my clothes. Does that mean they're spoiled brats now?
Anonymous said…
I know I'm walking on thin ice when I say this, but I do think 'strict' requires a slim figure or it just comes over as frumpy. Which is probably why Deneuve has now abandoned it, as have I!
Duchesse said…
Wendy: Your signature vintage is an exuberant anti-strict look and you spoil all of US by posting yourself in your magnificent choices!

GP: Yes, average weight to slim, since it is a look of restraint.
Susan B said…
I love your definition and think you've captured the look precisely. Like Karen, I stick to my Americanized version of this, which I tend to call "classic with a twist": simple sportswear pieces with one fun element to keep it light. Being a woman of curve, I also find the "strict" look a bit difficult to achieve. But brilliant observations...I am in awe!
Unknown said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

The posts with the most