When French women shop

Two of my French GFs visited over the summer, and in the service of our fascination with French style, I noted some of their ways. These native Parisiennes have never met, yet Daniele, who lives in the 10th arr., and Huguette in the 15th are sisters in style, and close in age.

Shown, Daniele in a Toronto café.

While they consider Toronto rather slim pickings, they still wanted to check the boutiques; Huguette was especially interested in Canadian design heroines Comrags.

I noticed that they are incredibly particular.

ction details I would have ignored were cause for rejection: the set of the shoulder and armhole had to be perfect, close but not tight. Buttonhole thread had to be the right colour (precisely matching or at most a tone darker than the garment). Lining could not bunch, even in place you will not see, like the inside of the arm. And the body; if the gorge too high, a collar too pointy: out.

And did you know there is "good black" (inky, deep) and "bad black" (flat, ashy or too shiny)?

They were leery of sale merch. They were not interested in trolling double-markdown racks, believing that leftovers were not worth their time. If looking for bargains, they preferred consignment.

Apparently 100% cotton tees are expensive in Fra
nce. Daniele, shopping with her daughter, bought a half-dozen for vacation wear at Winners (our TJ Maxx), as well as several packs of Fruit of the Loom white tees, which she finds very good quality. But she did not give Winners' other clothing or shoes a glance.

Both women plan to keep their clothes a long time. Daniele wears a black velvet jacket I remember from at least a dozen years ago, and thinks nothing of it. She carries a 20+ year old Kelly bag, refurbished a few times at Hermes.

She said she buys more skirts than pants, finding them more forgiving of a few kilo's weight gain, the result of finally quitting smoking. She organizes her wardrobe around only two colour schemes, black for fall through winter, and ecru for spring and summer. She buys two or three pieces a season, always casting off worn or dated items. She does not count tee shirts, gym wear or lingerie in this tally. (Shown, the Comrags dress Huguette bought.)

Huguette will spend a fortune on a beautiful blouse or sweater. Superior fabric and tailoring, seen "above the table" are evident; the skirt may cost less, mid-line bridge or Banana Republic was acceptable. (Shown, blouse by Ventilo, a favourite.)

She invests in an array of
aesthetic treatments and specialized massages, probably one treatment most weeks, though I would call her skin just okay (but who knows how it would look without this attention).

Both of them buy exquisite lingerie: "Cent dollars pour une culotte!", Huguette said in a but-what-can-you-do tone. This lacy laissez-faire is fueled by deep identification with femininity, relatively new romances for both, and an I'm-worth-it attitude.

The investment is not without sacrifice; neither has a great deal of money. Much of my time with one was spent discussing her precarious finances.

Regarding the women in my city, they said, on separate outings, the same thing: the mature women who made an effort looked good, but they were amazed at how many women did not seem to care. "Not caring" to them meant jeans and running shoes, bland coats indifferently worn, and poorly coordinated bags and shoes. Sloppy tailoring (pants length, sleeve length) was "everywhere", they thought.

Also, I should note, their jewelry is real. Huguette's is gold and gemstones; she wears this Fred "36" watch.

Daniele wears multiple carved ivory bangles bought on a trip to Africa with her late husband in the '70s, simple gold hoops, and on a gold chain, three antique family wedding rings.

I stood back while we shopped and tried to assess, if I did not know where they were from, would I think they were locals? Huguette's boho chic is uncommon here. Daniele is more classic; you do see the type, but not as often as on rue Parmentier.


Deja Pseu said…
These are great observations, Duchesse! Thanks for paying such close attention and sharing with us.

I probably will never develop an eye quite that discerning regarding construction and fit, but I like the idea of investing more in tops than bottoms, and not succumbing to the siren call of the sale rack (though I wonder if this is because les soldes are not ongoing in Paris as they are here so perhaps the merchandise is more bottom-of-the-barrel?). I cannot bring myself to spend $100 on a pair of panties though. Just can. not. do. it.
thank you for the excellent tips on shopping. i'm in the midst of a closet purge and strategizing the refit so this was very timely and helpful.
Maggie said…
Duchesse, you have touched upon one of my favorite topics here. I have read that although Americans spend quite a bit on padding their closets, we wear seemingly the same outfits year round and everywhere we go. Of course there are the well dressed and well groomed about, but a quick trip around the town will certainly show up the sloppy tailoring, poor fit, and just too casual for their own good, looks. The Satorialist would not find too many subjects for his photo collection. An article in a local paper last spring hit on this. The author had gone to a very posh, upscale eatery and was amused to see fellow diners in outfits they could have worn to play golf, go to the gym or just hang around the house. The article went on to describe the difference she saw while in France and Italy. I'm pinning the change over in this country to the 70's and 80's. Before that, at least to my knowledge, more care was taken in dressing oneself. The two friends you describe are certainly women to aspire to. They each have their own style and seem to know it. Although they buy expensive, the quality level sustains the purchase for many years to come. (maybe not the undies?) I guess we need to develop a sense of what to look for in a good purchase. Thanks for another thoughtful post.
metscan said…
I splurge on lingerie too and wish my jewelry to be real. I´d rather have one great bag than 10 so,so ones. An interesting post once again. Thanks!
Anonymous said…
Very interesting and food for thought there!
Interesting - I have a friend who runs a bespoke tailoring business and she is the fussiest person to shop with (in fact very little passes her quality test so she has all her clothes except jeans and underwear and some knit tops made for her).
s. said…
Thanks, Duchesse; how interesting! When I lived in Paris, I was fascinated to see how differently the women there approached fashion and beauty. But different is not always better, and I saw some ways in which I think Toronto (or Chicago, or Los Angeles or any other North American city) women have better style sense than they.
(I am not trying to discount your insightful observations or be devil's advocate, but I do think that all women have something to learn from each other.)
- Parisians tend to be label snobs. It was not unusual for my French friends to wear hideously unflattering items because they were Dior, Vuitton or Gap (yes, even GAP can be considered - by some - a brand good enough to forgive what should be unforgiveable).
- they spend a lot (too much, I honestly believe) on treatments that do not do much of anything (Shelves upon shelves in drug stores of anti-cellulite creams, etc.)whereas to look 100% better, Parisians need to learn to put down the cigarettes and start wearing sunscreen every day.
- Parisian women care about chic, but chic is not always attractive. Mr. s. is Parisian and his Parisian male friends often complain that women in their city care about looking fashionable but not necessarily appealing. Eg. A hair cut can be sculptural, hip and interesting but can also be severe and look untouchable.

One invaluable lesson that I learned from Parisian women is that carrying oneself with confidence and grace can work wonders. Daily in Toronto, I see beautiful women schlumping around, shoulders rounded, mumbling and looking apologetic. In Paris, even the most average women are quite certain that they are elegant creatures of exquisite beauty, and carry themselves in a way that helps convince others around them of that same fact. They take risks with fashion and even the abysmal failures are worn as though they are the greatest successes. That, to me, is what truly makes Parisian women look fabulous.
s. said…
I am especially jealous of these friends' attention to construction detail and fit. Chere Duchesse: would you please consider writing a future blog post or two about "correct fit" for those of us (= me)who never really know exactly how a shoulder ought to fit or a sleeve ought to end? Merci!
Duchesse said…
Maggie and s.: re label snobs. H. grabbed my bag to check the labe1 (inside)! Alas it is a non-status one :)

I've seen incredibly frumpy Parisiennes and also some who wedge themselves into too tight (by my standards) clothes. But the chic ones have "du chien". What I do not see are the sexless, nunnish-looking women in baggy cords, scuffed shoes and limp interlock turtlenecks that I see all over our city any weekend (and even during the week, at work.)

s: correct fit is essentially that the garment following the lines of your body closely but not tightly. No pulling vertical lines. The sleeve or pant length ends on your body where it's supposed to (e.g, a full-length sleeve at your wrist.) A knee-length skirt is knee-longth on you, not an inch shorter because your legs are long.

Quality of fabrication is a related matter: no lumpy seans, uneven darts, wandering stitching or badly-set shoulders.

I find many Canadian women do not bother with these alterations (canp;t beleive how many boutiques do not offer them; 'too-short pants are common.
Duchesse said…
Imogen: Good for her; I'm hunting my dream tailor now.
Pseu: I suspect that though some were bought, some were gifts :)

Maggie: There is sportswear, and sportswear, isn't there? My mother and father dressed very formally to take a flight- now people fly in track suits.

s: Oops, I mean, "no pulling horizontal lines"- I'm turned around this morning.
Belle de Ville said…
Great post.
The one thing well dressed women from all over the world understand is proper fit. A proper fit will make a middle range garment look great, and an improper fit will make a high end garment look horrible.
Today, I concentrate on a fit that flatters rather than on a designer label.
Anonymous said…
Fruit of the Loom white tees- did she buy crew neck or v-neck?
Duchesse said…
Anonymous: V-neck.

The posts with the most