J'ai passé une soirée difficile

Last week, I had the pleasure and minor terror of attending a surprise birthday party in the company of a group of people I'd never met, except for Birthday Boy, Serge, and his copine, Annie, our hostess.

Everyone but me was French, and since you and I are avid observers of French style, a short report on the 50-something female guests: straight to skinny jeans tucked into boots, jewelry featuring huge–and I mean chestnut-sizedrings (not necessarily precious stones), loose, uncoiffed hair, both curly and straight. Definite dark eyeliner, top and bottom, a contrast to natural-looking faces and lips.

Phillip Lim Silk crepe top
Just winding up my Express Checkout experiment, I wore black pants and that black leather tee with pearl ropes, but this Philip Lim embroidered top would have fit right in, as it would for so many holiday parties. Price, $425 from Barney's.

Digby &Iona's cocktail ring, with a big silver "stone"  set in brass shows that slouchy attitude; price, $130 from Catbird.
Silver "stone"

Bakelite ring with diamond
Mark Davis' Esther ring, of vintage sand, aqua and rose Bakelite with a diamond accent also has du chien. Price, $1,700 from Twist.

If I were buying one new piece of jewelry, it would be a big cocktail ring. Plenty of well-priced pieces around, and they look so pretty as you wave your hand.

Pavé sapphire star
Matthew Campbell's Sapphire Star: blue sapphires set in lavender resin. If you think, Oh I couldn't, try one on. It changes everything you wear; price, $440 from Bergdorf Goodman.

Alexander Wang boots
I'm hoping a fab pair of tall boots in my size might go on sale after Christmas. (Shown, Alexander Wang Sigrid boots, $895 from Saks Fifth Avenue.)

Studying the crowd of a dozen or so, I asked myself if the women looked different from a random roundup of any dozen in that neighbourhood. Yes: more long hair on women past 50, a trend gaining speed everywhere. Many heads with artful high and lowlights, discreet colour, but no natural grey. Admittedly, a small sample.

If anyone cares, the men wore jeans, one with a white shirt and black velvet jacket with a print pochette, the others with cashmere sweaters.

Serge a 60 ans!
Birthday Boy, a friend for over 25 years, responded gracefully to the surprise, a bit shy to be the centre of attention. 

My terror? Nothing to do with the convivial guests. I realized that if we do move to Montreal, my French will not be up to readily connecting with a French-speaking crowd for at least six months. (Le Duc pointed out that everyone there spoke English too. But the chatter around the table was in rapid French, and I'd like to participate.) 

Without ease in language, how can I make new friends or even enjoy a gathering? I'll have to get serious about ramping up my fluency.

Je suis adorable!

I could dance, though, and play with Annie's new Tibetan terrier, Fanny. I'd never met this breed before; she captured each of our hearts (and a slice of cake.)


Susan said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan said…
Removed previous post due to a typo. What I meant to say: Interesting that you note a trend toward longer hair. I've seen those artful lowlights and highlights you mention.

I'm sure you looked great in your leather T and ropes of pearls.
M said…
Being a polite guest is mostly a matter of attitude, don't you agree? Judging from this post, I'm sure you were in perfect harmony with the other guests even if your French wasn't up to par. I imagine your pleasant demeanor is what they will remember most.
Frugal Scholar said…
6 months isn't THAT long a time, really. It would be hard to lose your personality, especially for a literate, witty type like vous-meme (toi-meme? sorry--not sure of idiom, don't know where the darn circumflex resides, couldn't resist the effort). Perhaps you could try making yours a Francophone household for a bit?
Frugal Scholar said…
Oh-and thanks for the fashion tips. My daughter says no to lower liner, since I have terrible eyebags. But I'm going to go for some thicker liner--perhaps one day all the way to Louise Nevelson!
Susan said…
I read somewhere (just as I was turning 50, eight years ago) that all women over 50 should wear eyeliner. However, I also read that they should skip the lower liner AND the lower mascara. I've been musing over why the article said they should skip the lower mascara.

I do wear upper eyeliner (Lancome's artliner is great). Since I am a blond, I wear it in brown--which is not as harsh as black would be. I HAVE been skipping the lower liner (which I never wore anyways) and sometimes the lower mascara which is likely to smear, transfer to the skin as the day wears on.
Susan B said…
I think your leather tee has turned out to be a brilliant purchase.

The dog is indeed adorable.

If you find any good programs to help with your French, let us know. I speak much better than I'm able to understand, especially once the rapid-fire delivery kicks in, and would love to improve my "ear."

I've had a nice big cocktail ring on my "want" list for several months. I may need to get serious about my search, and these are some lovely choices. I love that bakelite one especially, really different!
Duchesse said…
Susan: No 'shoulds' re the liner, one is either a liner woman or not. (See more below in reply to Frugal.)

M: Thanks for the support; I am a polite guest- my heartfelt wish is to be a guest who can converse. Desperately grappling for verb tenses and then being too late is a state I long to move beyond.

Frugal: 6 mos. is optimistic, IMO. We are a bilingual family but Le Duc speaks to me in English; if he had spoken more in French to me over the past 25 years, I'd be more fluent now! I can understand almost any conversation.

re the liner: A certain kind of mature woman rocks the full liner, think Juliette Greco. I have several 50+ friends who do the full kohl eye even by day; their style is not preppy-LL Bean-tote bag. (Le Duc calls one 'Italian beach- babe'.) Undereye bags are not an issue, It's just whether you can carry it off and like it.
Duchesse said…
Pseu: My strategy is to wait till we move, then attend classes, b/c I want to meet people there. Since I share an office with Le Duc-who works in French-I hear it daily, so my ear is better than my mouth.

I'll do a post on cocktail rings!
Les convives étaient "Français de France", comme on dit ici, Québécois et autres Franco-Canadiens, ou les deux?

You might consider taking a non-credit course in French when you move here, or even doing French conversation (with a group past beginner level) while still in Toronto. Course in French not necessarily a language course; it could be on any subject you enjoy.

Switch over to Radio-Canada (TV news and radio) and you might want to buy Le Devoir or La Presse in paper (sometimes people read all articles more attentively that way; I really skim online).
Susan said…
Duchesse, you are right. I can't imagine some of my friends in eyeliner. As for myself, I wore it in high school (late 60s), stopped wearing it in college and then resumed at age 50. I have to say, the eyeliner is a good thing for me--brings into focus my eyes which are very undistinguished. Always my aim is a very thin line in soft brown.

I DO think some women would be surprised if they practices with Lancome's easy to use Artliner, and would find that they like the results--even if they have never worn eyeliner previously. For many of us, the trick is a soft color and a thin line.

Your post today is another great one--multi-faceted with lots of meat for discussion.

Have you thought of asking Le Duc to converse with you in only French at home--at least for one hour a day?
Duchesse said…
lagatta: "de France".
I've taken college immersion courses here, if we move will look for similar, and figure it will be a good way to meet people. Radio Canada is on often, we have no TV. I'm lucky to hear French spoken daily due to our business (and my children were educated in the French system through high school), but one could live life in Toronto completely unexposed to French (except maybe a menu).

So I'm in what I call "the vast sea of intermediateness".
Duchesse said…
Susan: I've noticed that my eyeliner wearing GFs can put in on zip-zip, hardly looking. But the thin line, that was not the look at this party, they had those thicker, arty, kohly lines.

Anyway, your suggestion brings up a fraught topic. I attended years of immersion classes so I could speak with my sons and in laws but Le Duc has not spoken French to me as he found it "work". Now, after 25 years, he sees this *might* have been a mistake, and *might* begin to do so regularly. MIL says my French is good but she is being very generous.
Susan said…
I've seen the kohly lines pulled off by some. But you are right--not suitable for most of us. I DO think the Artliner makes the thin line fairly quick and easy to pull off.

What is your eye makeup regime?
Demi-pointe said…
It sounds like you are very far along in really knowing French. I would hope and think the true comfort level will come with more immersion and time. All those new words and sentence constructs will make your brain sparkle like those rings!
On Monday I thought I would wear a skirt and boots. It was sunny and pleasant. I put on straight/skinny jeans and boots. On Tuesday I thought I would wear a skirt and boots. It was rainy and raw. I put on straight/skinny jeans and boots. Today I planned on the skirt with the boots. It is partly cloudy with mild upper 50degree temps. I put on my (same)jeans and boots. Honestly, tights and a skirt are more comfortable than my jeans. The boots are the same ones I would wear anyway. I love skirts and dresses. My jeans don't even serve the useful purpose of allowing me to go without a purse. What is all that?
And longer with no gray you say? Sounds well done.
LPC said…
Yes : Longer hair without gray.
Yes : Just listening to group conversations will help with that part.
Maybe : I'd like some boots too but I believe they will be imaginary boots, since I just don't need them now.
Maybe : If Alexis can do Bakelite and Lucite we all can.
No : Sturdy Gals look dopey when they try to ape sirens. Eyeliner round here is brown, thin, or occasionally on wild days, purple.

Lord I hope those tags work. If not, my apologies. One must always try new things:).
materfamilias said…
I'd be a bit anxious as well, about the moving and the language, in your shoes, but I'm confident that your natural conviviality and your intelligence will have you comfortably integrated within your first year. I've moved to new cities and, even with kids to break the ice, it took some time to make good new friends -- in some ways, perhaps, the language-learning will provide an opportunity for doing that.
We must ALL remember that "one size does not fit all"...if you like yourself with liner on both upper and lower lids... do it...if you like highlights and longer hair on your head ...do it, if you like grey short hair on yourself...do it....I think people in your circle whether you know them as friends or not will notice and be attracted to the THE BEAUTIFUL, CONFIDENT woman in the crowd, instead of the woman who follows a trend just because she can....speaking from a 53 yr old perspective.
I would also be concerned about learning French to fit in...but i would also certainly make the effort...and also make lots of boo boos.
I had to have my hair cut to a shorter bob than I like (chin-length) to get rid of most of the fading dyed hair - yecch, turning ugly orangey colour) but I'm definitely growing it to a longer bob - shoulder length or so. I'll never say never, but I really don't want an allover dye again, though I wouldn't be averse to dark, cool lowlights. I naturally have some almost-black streaks left and might like some more as I don't want to be snowy yet. I don't think I'd grow silvery hair down to my waist, but it can look very boho attractive a bit longer.

I'd only have short grey hair if I had no other choice (illness, severe hair loss) and I think I'd wear bérets all the time then, as short hair really, really doesn't suit me.

I don't think smoky eyes have anything to do with being a sylph. LPC, the aesthetic is very different here in Montréal (not to mention Paris) from Silicon Valley or California in general (except perhaps some SF artsy circles).
Sounds like a very chic crowd duchesse...your powers of observation are excellent!
I shall be rimming my eyes for the next soiree...the faux cocktail rings are not for me...unless of course it was a real gem...a family heirloom would suffice.
(Mother has an enormous ring that I could borrow!)

Your attire and attitude sound perfect for the event. The fact that your French is not completely fluent would hint at that "mystery
that so many French gals exude! You are much more stylish than you think :)
Duchesse said…
Susan: Quick brush of taupe shadow, Lancome mascara. Lancome kohl pencil for evening in khaki green.

materfamilias: Well said, I have thought about that too, no longer having children with which to break the ice.

Maureen @ Modecor: I would not be "learning French to fit in". It is a deeper matter of participation in the culture, and of familial communication, since various members of my immediate family speak only French. And I believe, as Charlemagne said, "to have a second language is to have a second soul."

LPC: The tags don't work but that may be b/c I have disabled cookies after getting sick of being tracked by every marketing site known to humankind.

lagatta has nailed it re the aesthetic and region.Of course there are exceptions but they stand out where they are the exception and blend in when in their habitat.

hostess: I felt inarticulate, but stylish enough! Borrow that ring!
Duchesse said…
Deni-pointe: Isn't that the way, though; you fall in love with a combo and for a period that's all you want to wear? And why not?

As for my brain sparkling, after one of our bilingual dinner parties my brain is fried! But I'll persevere.
Demi-pointe said…
Not to overthink it, but, ahem, I was thinking about the women at your friend's party. Lots of skinny/straight jeans tucked into boots as I have been doing for days. Is this outfit,that so many of us pull on now a days, our "little shirtwaisted day dress" of the 50s/60s? Sure it has classic elements about it that have never gone out of style. But where is the line where we blindly follow fashion tends on one side, while on the other we choose each day what speaks to us.
I am comfortable and I am not a follower. I hope the women at the party were comfortable and not just followers. But, still, I question my own and so many other women's lack of selectivity lately. Maybe it is just easier. But, I really do prefer dresses...
Susan said…
Fascinating discussion--on several levels.

I find the comments about gray hair very interesting. I recently let go of low lights as they appeared reddish and I didn't like them (have an excellent colorist) and am letting the "white" blend with the highlights of blond. My avatar is not exactly my current color.

The idea of a huge cocktail ring is fun. I've never had one. Once, I was in a (silver) shop that also had huge cocktail rings and a friend came it. She is a very tall woman and striking--I remember her saying that smaller rings just didn't look attractive on her. Food for thought for sure. I'm not a petite woman myself.

I find the different aesthetics of various regions to be interesting as well. I live in Dallas---we are known to be fashion conscious and for having "big" hair. I haven't seen anyone here with the kohl eyes. I'll keep my eyes open though.

I agree that our Duchess has great powers of observation. That's one reason I keep coming back to read.
Anonymous said…
I like your notes about the crowd... I'm almost 50, francophone from Montreal and this is exactly how my girlfriends and myself (45-55 range) look like... We like our hair longer and "dépeignés", we're wearing fun reading (or not) glasses, tall boots (cuissardes), jeans, jeans, jeans, and eyeliners (even faux-cils, heaven forbids!) and for sure cocktail rings!
Duchesse said…
Demi-pointe: I tend to choose the newish thing for a party, even if I have decades old stuff I could wear- think that's typical and am guessing they did something similar, but I would not say they were "followers"... but no dresses or skirts.

Susan: Women of a certain age can wear big rings; a dainty ring on a woman of 50 or so looks like it belongs to someone else, unless stacked. I'm fond of big silver rings.

Anonymous: Were you there? Yes, that is the look!
Anonymous said…
I have a wonderful Bakelite cocktail ring that I bought vintage when I was in college. I've kept it all these years, wearing it only occasionally for evening. Well, I think I'll pull it out and give it a run--thanks for the tip. Velma
Rubiatonta said…
(This is the language instructor iteration of Rubi commenting.) I'm only going to comment on the language part, since I'm running on about 1/4 tank today ... and I'm wondering whether my French is going to make an appearance in Montreal next month. (My friend's Anglophone, but I'm hoping to speak French otherwise.)

Your reasoning for going to classes in Montreal makes great sense, and I think you'd also do well to go to some classes before you move. There's something about "lubricating" that part of the brain even when you don't need to speak a foreign language that prepares you for the situation before you're actually in it.

It can take a long time to get beyond intermediate, and the more input you've got, the better.
neki desu said…
pseu and duchesse: are you familiar with http://www.frenchpod101.com? there are many instruction options to choose from.
i do japanese and the podcasts are very, very good. my listening comprehension has soared.
Anonymous said…
I was thrilled to transate one phrase while recently watching "Coco Before Channel." I started learning French two months ago, a French disciplie to my tapes during my daily one hour commute to work, and studying my French book just before going to sleep. I can follow basic conversation, but I always think, in the real world...it's fast. So, I keep studying. Nice cashmere piecie, btw. Have a wonderful day ~ xox Alexandra
Duchesse said…
Rubi: That would be the ideal; however I plan to max my working days here as I would not be working there, and don't feel inclined to trudge to class on dark winter nights. And I will definitely take opportunities for more exposure while here.

Neki: Thanks for this, great resource for us and others.

Coco: Might that be, "Vous êtes élégante"?
s. said…
Oh, no! For you and Montreal, I would be happy. But if you moved, I should also be sad on behalf of me and Toronto.
Susan said…
Duchesse, This afternoon my husband and I were walking the Univ. of Texas at Austin campus. I saw young women students everywhere wearing the skinny jeans tucked into tall boots. Thanks to you, I could point out the trend to my husband and tell him it is the current style. He said, "How did you know that?" I told him it was through reading your blog. I would have been clueless otherwise. It's a great look on the coeds.
Duchesse said…
Susan: This made me smile; I remember tucking my Levis into my Frye boots on campus, 1968.

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