The stacks of spring catalogs and websites beckon, and I seek a beacon amid the sea of stripes and flowers, chiffon and canvas. 

When faced with such bounty, I ask, What Would Jane Do? It is the Jane of today who inspires me, not the reedy muse of the '60s. The Birkin attitude, relaxed and unfussy, provides ballast against too much: too much embellishment, too much detail, too much much.

What Would Jane Do?

Mere et fille
1. Jane would never over-coif.

Her hair is always loose, touchable and not tarted up highlights that look like bad wallpaper.

2. Jane would apply a consistent point of view, and not dither, flou one day, Japanesey the next.

Birkin dresses as if she came from browsing in a bookstore. Her clothes look functional, comfortable and uncontrived. She skews to under-dressed, but notice that the belt on the photo is faced in pink leather. She knows that the wink delivers more than the shout.

3. Jane would not worry that a garment shows the aging bits.

There are evident signs of life on her 65-year-old neck:

Open collar, open face

and arms, which many women are terrified of exposing unless corded with muscle. But yes, Jane shows, and she smiles.

She shows her arms...

In fact, joy seems easily summoned, with its creases and exclamation marks:

...a gap-toothed smile

And character shows in her face, along with her years:

... and her journey

Suede with sable
4. Jane would wear beautiful pieces offhandedly.

That's a grey suede jacket trimmed in mink, worn over a thin cashmere tee. She wore this jacket (by Hermès) often in the last year, usually with jeans.

She adores that jacket, you can just tell. Why not wear it again and again?

In fact, it is difficult to date some photos of Birkin, because she repeats key items (cashmere tanks and tees, loose wool shirts; chunky knit jackets) or has nearly-identical versions.

4. Jane would wear black, not worrying that her St. Laurent le smoking is not this-very-instant trendy. Jane does not overthink or "tweak a classic", a phrase I've come to dread, as it usually results in messing with an impeccable design.

She would stand next to one of her talented daughters, Lou Doillon, and be proud.

Jane et Lou

A long sequined tank under a cardi; a shoe she can move in:

Birkin in black

6. Jane would wear colour, applied in unexpected combinations. She does not choose brights at her face.

At Hermès 2012 Fall Ready-to-Wear show in an aqua sweater over navy, with olive pants:

In the front row, bien sur!

On the red carpet in a caramel sweater that slips off the shoulder and a taxicab yellow skirt:

At the Venice Film Festival, 2011

A few tweaks

No one can be Jane but Jane, but anyone can borrow a few notions: pull on jeans, rake hands through hair, apply light makeup. Smile, wear your favourite things to tatters. Dress down when dressing up. But Jane pays attention; her style is gamine, not graceless. 

In Chucks

We differ in some ways: She wears little jewelery, maybe a thin bangle or chain with a small charm. She favours Converse Chuck Taylors, which make my feet sweat. Still, she is a model of a mature woman who looks entirely bien dan sa peau.

And her Birkin? I have zero; she has owned but four, serially, donating the first two to charity and auctioning the third last April on eBay to support Red Cross relief work in Japan. But the winner didn't get a pristine trophy for more than $160,000; the "beater Birkin" came with handles wound with worry beads, sides sporting stickers.

Jane's minou
"There's no fun in a bag if it's not kicked around", she says, "so that it looks as if the cat’s been sitting on it—and it usually has. The cat may even be in it!" 

(Photo of Jane's cat in her bag retrieved from the blog Christopher Niquet.)


Northmoon said…
Wonderful! Jane just became my style hero. Thank you.
déjà pseu said…
Love. Her. Her irreverence is infectious. And now I'll worry less about my arms. I think it was That's Not My Age who posted a picture of her Birkin bag a while back, covered with stickers and beaded charms. In these days of over-wrought "street style" she is a breath of fresh air.
Susan said…
A very inspiring post Duchesse. Thank you. Lots of fun images of Jane here: http://www.google.com/search?q=Jane+Birkin&hl=en&prmd=imvnsol&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=8S6ET-C6J4KFtge7l4SICA&sqi=2&ved=0CEIQsAQ&biw=1267&bih=576

I remember her from the film classic "Blow Up", \first viewed at a drive in movie theater in 1967.
Duchesse said…
Northmoon: There are many of us and we welcome one more!

pseu: She is, seriously, my favourite image reference. My admiration for her style is immense and she seems like a 'real' and good person, too.

Susan: Yes; while she was lovely then, I find her much more interesting today. There were lots of girls who looked more or less like that, but not many women of 65 have her attitude now.
LPC said…
Tomboy Style ages well - I'm so glad. She does color her hair I notice.
Frugal Scholar said…
LOVE. Thanks for putting this together. Love that jacket too--how did you know it was Hermes?
I met Jane Birkin last year in London. She was intelligent and charming and I was struck by her idiosyncratic approach to style. As Deja Pseu mentions, the eponymous bag was covered in beads, charms and stickers - I nearly wet myself when she dumped it on the table. Just had to take a photo of it.

Brilliant post. Thank you.
Anonymous said…
Yes wonderful post and such carefree style, I am tiring of looking at all of the over styled fashion bloggers, their carapace seems so artificial.
Anonymous said…
Great post. Her smile is such a bright light. I've always loved her style, and agree with Lisa - Tomboy ages well. The only thing I'm not crazy about, is that at certain times, she looks as if she's cut her own hair.
She could still get a messy, non-style haircut that I think would be nicer.
Nancy K said…
Wonderful! I love seeing a woman who is comfortable in her own skin and hasn't been botoxed to death. The perfect formula for aging well.
She has that joie de vive that we can all aspire to.
Pepper my cat would most certainly crawl into any bag left open...even a beloved Birkin!

great post Duchesse!
materfamilias said…
She's wonderful! And I agree with you about her inspiration value as a 65-year old, more than in her youth. I'm so pleased to have her as a model for baring our arms -- I've been consciously trying to own my own over the past few years, annoyed at how difficult this is made by the self-hatred so many of us have accepted. Perfectly good working arms that we've learned to cover up because they're supposedly ugly. So stupid. Such a waste!
Duchesse said…
LPC: Yes, she does and I imagine she would look very different with grey. Is there such a thing as a tomwoman?

Frugal: I saw it in the store.

That's Not My Age: Your comment makes my day! Sort of a six degrees. I would love to meet her.

Tabitha: Yes, there is such strenuous styling both on some blogs and IRL. Or am I just making an excuse for myself?

kathy peck: Sometimes it looks like she's growing her hair out- perhaps for a film role?

Nancy K: Who knows, but to me it looks like an entirely natural face, with all its memories and experiences.

hostess: Bet you could coax Pepper into one of your lovely bags!
Duchesse said…
materfamilias: Thanks for supporting one of my "big tiny causes". Let's bare our arms, legs, necks, whatever we please!

And for it to please us, we have to get over thinking a body must be eternally youthful to be shown.
murphy said…
Wow. Thanks for this post, Duchesse! Jane is a great role model for that "bien dans sa peau" vibe I aspire to. I resolve to be braver about my arms, too.
déjà pseu said…
One more thing, I love that she wears some *color* on her lips!
Anonymous said…
I had another thought about this post, while I was in the shower. I think the most important thing about her is that she dresses and looks to please herself. That's the real lesson to be learned. We don't have to copy her, or feel ashamed if we want highlights, or don't feel comfortable showing our arms, whatever. She has developed her own signature style as she has become a "a woman of a certain age" we don't have to emulate her particular style either.
Anonymous said…
Can't say I like her clothes (though I'm a longtime Converse & cashmere fan, too) or haircuts all that much, but I do love the ease and joy with which she wears them. Above all I admire that near-naked, open face and fantastic smile! How often attractiveness comes down to just that--a truly engaged and engaging smile. The pictures with her daughters remind me of my own girls, and that feeling of affectionate pride one has as they grow up: "Your turn now, love!"

Duchesse said…
murphy: Yay, woman who will show her arms. One pair at a time, here we come!

pseu: I would ove to know the colour and you can bet I'd try it out.

kathy peck: I agree and disagree, which makes your comment intriguing. Yes, it's great to dress etc. to please ones' self, but it is *this particular aestheic* I admire, and choose. I walked out of a boutique recently and Le Duc said "How was it". I said, "There was not one thing in there Jane Birkin would buy", and he knew what I meant. It is that very particular style I like and want for myself. When I see a woman with a lot of obvious supports (extensive makeup, fake nails, botox etc.) I cannot think of her as comfortable in her skin.

C.: Though she does have clothes I would like, yes, it is her radiance and insouciance. Jane does not seem to be driven by fears of aging like so many women are. (Who knows, really, but I'll let her receive my projections :))
Anonymous said…
I agree with you. I have a few "style icons" that I use as a sort of litmus test, when deciding to buy something or what I might wear. And I also agree, that anyone who's obviously used a lot of external support in the hopes of appearing younger are not women who are comfortable in their own skin. So, in the light of that angle, I do agree with you.
Jill Ann said…
Kathy Peck: I have a few style icons as well...probably the top one is Audrey Hepburn, notwithstanding that I am a completely different body type (the same height, though!). I wish Audrey had lived much longer than she did, for many reasons, but one of those reasons is that I wanted to see how she handled her older old-age. I admired her, well, always, but when she was in her late fifties and early sixties, she looked so wonderful. She looked her age, I thought, wrinkles & all, but she dressed beautifully and looked so elegant. Liz Taylor, otoh, was about the same age, and while undeniably beautiful, I thought she usually looked frumpy/tacky in her later years.
Kafka said…
She's absolutely lovely, and an inspiration in how to age and remain unfussy. How sad to me that the Brikin bag (at least on NYC's Upper East Side) ) is associated with everything she seems to eschew: conspicuous money and conformity.
Wonderful post! I have always admired Jane Birkin. She is always looks so carefree and unstudied. I notice she's wearing black nail polish in the first photo!
Duchesse said…
Jill Ann: A woman can put on slim pants, a simple tee and ballerines and channel her inner Audrey, but achieving The Liz takes a lot more flamboyance, not to mention jewels. I do see some woman who seem to hold her as an ideal, but it shows that the more flamboyant a 'signature style' is, the harder it is to copy successfully.

Kafka: She has said she wishes they were made in "plastic or even cardboard" and has rreceived charitable donations from Hermes, saying "Once I saw how much money they were making I thought they could make a contribution."

She was admitted to hospital several days ago, and has cancelled her scheduled concert in Morocco in May for health reasons.

Louise: I think that's Lou's hand you see; Jane's nails appear to be pale. (Hers is the hand with the watchband.)
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the introduction to
Jane Birkin. She's certainly not
old school. How do you incorporate her style into yours?
Anonymous said…
Love her iconic style, thank you so much for your insights. She's gorgeous AND an inspiration.
Duchesse said…
Anonymous: I buy these sorts of clothes, adopt this approach to grooming and always consider what I have to smile about.
Anonymous said…
She reminds me a bit of Patti Smith, slightly androgynous.
Duchesse said…
Anonymous @ 12:53: She is an inspiration even if, as one commenter says, one does not like her clothes. She seems to be quite unconcerned with fashion but has loads of style.

Am article I read after posting this, she says she usually wears men's pants but does buy women's sweaters.
Duchesse said…
Anon@ 12:55: Perhaps in body type- both are rangy women- but Birkin, once a model, has more standard-pretty, regular features. Smith wears edgier clothes (Demeulemeester, Prada, Band of Outsiders). I have to say, much as I love Patti Smith, I don't think What Would Patti Do, or try to absorb her style. Birkin's taste is so close to my own that I hardly have to stretch but Smith's would take a new wardrobe.

To all Anonymous commenters: I'm repeating my request that anonymous commenters sign with a name, an initial, a nickname, *anything*, just to keep you separate and to put a little more connection in the online community. I'd appreciate that.
M said…
Wonderful pictures & comments. She appears vibrant, healthy & comfortable with herself- the antithesis of that other Jane (Fonda).
Does this type of dressing require rather gamine features and body type?

My tastes are not too far from hers, though perhaps a little more boho-feminine, but I'm on the small, plump side (think the Lizzes - Taylor and The Queen), though my taste is nothing like either or theirs, to say nothing of budgets.

Jane Birkin had two very attractive parents, not a bad strategy for lasting good looks.

I did read an interview with her once (think in a French publication) and it seems her flat is a cluttered shrine to her late great love Serge Gainsbourg. That was a sad side to her - Gainsbourg was immensely talented and witty, but terribly self-destructive, smoking and drinking (and abusing some other drugs) himself to death.

This resonates with me right now as an old friend died a very similar death not long ago, in his hometown, Vienna.
pinkazalea said…
She looks very natural, dressing the way she does. Re the bare arms, I personally don't like sleeveless on most older women. I am guessing she has the charm and likability to carry it off. I think there is something to age-appropriateness for most of us. I wore mini's and hiphuggers as a young woman, but wouldn't want to wear the same things now even if I could. This is hard for me to express exactly, but I want to have a certain dignity at my age. Don't want to look perfect but not like a frump either. Spider veins and a few wrinkles are OK. Probably the worst sin is to look as if you're trying too hard. Jane got it right.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: You are a totally different body type than hers, but an admiration for simple clothes and a natural face know no size or shape. On the cusp of a tour to commemorate Gainsbourg's music, she has been admitted to hospital and has had to cancel May shows.

pink azelia: There is a difference between deciding not to wear youthful styles like minis and refusing to show a body part because it is no longer perfect.

Clothing choice comes from a sense that certain styles are young- granted, these usually depend on showing a lot of the body, or directing attention there, like the track pants with words on the butt.

But the idea that one cannot show her arms is borne of a different concern whose roots are in our disdain for age, whether ours or others'. I write "Passage" because I reject the belief that a woman of fifty or seventy or whatever age must not show anything less than perfect and taut, that her body somehow offends simply because of her lifespan.

I don't think that bare arms are a loss of dignity; they do, however, reveal the inevitable process for all of us if we are lucky enough to live that long. A loss of dignity to me is a face full of botox.
M said…
"A loss of dignity to me is a face full of botox." Well said.
FA said…
"I reject the belief that a woman of fifty or seventy or whatever age must not show anything less than perfect and taut, that her body somehow offends simply because of her lifespan."

Thank you, thank you and thank you again. These words should be prominently displayed on the front page of your blog.
Nitti said…
I found a photo of her wearing Uggs! I think some of what Jane B. carries as insouciance would come across as ordinary, even ugly, in less glamorous environs. In rural America, Converse, cargos, tees, no-makeup and mussed hair aren't considered stylish by most. Perhaps it is because we know J.B. has conscientiously selected her wardrobe that we admire it. I think making this look CONSCIENTIOUS and purposeful is very hard to convey.
barbara said…
She's definately a great role model for those of us who aren't the classic female type of woman.
I browsed a bit the Zimbio website: she looks best with her tomboy style, but hair not to short and a bit lighter.
Dressed up sometimes ends in a desaster (that brown evening dress).
And, I don't know any other person who can doe those awful Granny Glasses.
Lately I read an interview in the magazin of "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" in which she mentioned her suffering of Arthritis.
Mabe that's the reason for her hospital stay.
Would love to know her lipstick color for taking a bit of her spirit with me...
Duchesse said…
M.: After some thought I think we sometimes use the word "dignity" when we might more accurately (and honestly) mean "vanity".

Anyone wishing to see real loss of dignity might spend some time in a nursing home.

Nitti: I know stylish Parisiennes who wear Uggs. But Jane's cashmeres are Hermes or her own label for Lutz and Patmos- and she didn't find that suede and mink jacket in WalMart. She mentions wearing an old Hermes raincoat that she just had relined; I'd call this approach "old money boho". It is a deceptive look, "just" jeans and tee or simple skirt and sweater till you really look. Here is a link to her discussing her makeup and skin care choices: www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/beauty/article-1226417/How-I-look-good-Jane-B

barbara: In the interview I mentioned @ Nitti, she mentions liking Dr Haushka so that may be a first stop. It's a kind of rose-gold... I'd love it too. Thanks for the tip about her arthritis.
xerna said…
Thought you might like this:



Anonymous said…
Similar in many ways to Annette Bening's vibe, open, happy,simple

niamh said…
What was wrong with the brown evening gown? I thought she looked very nice.
Yes, like Annette Benning, haven't thought of her in a long while. There are so many mature stylish women. Helen Mirren, Diane VonFurstenburg, Donna Karan, Oprah, Diane Sawyer, Vera Wang... it's wonderful to behold.
barbara said…
Duchesse, thank you for the link.
Maybe JB's lipstick is from their Limited Edition "Inner Glow"...

I wonder that she believes in pricey creams like Sisley.
But as you mentioned, that whole gesamtkunstwerk of her isn't doable with a limited budget.
Duchesse said…
xerna: Thank you! (I usually read The Vintage Years). There is no "answer" re how much to make up, but I like Jane's uncontrived look.

NE: I guess that Bening is relatively undone-up by Hollywood standards. Maybe it's the short crop that leads you to connect them. And thanks for the initials.

niamh: The "stylish women" you list are quite different from Jane, and whether one admires their style will depend on your taste, or perhaps, how closely one resembles them. (If you are adopting someone as a point of reference it helps to have at a similar body type or at least aesthetic kinship.) Vera Wang, for one, is a very different type than Jane Birkin.

Liked the brown evening gown, too, but I'm nuts about her.

barbara: I know! Though she will wear Nivea if that's what's around. Don't think I could afford even a sample of the Sisleya!
Marie-Christine said…
Interesting that someone who was so famous primarily for being so young has segued into being old so well - must have learned back then how silly age stereotypes are :-).
And it's also good that her no-good husband died young, so that she gets a good solid chunk of life of her own.
I adore that Hermes jacket..
Duchesse said…
Marie-Christine: "So famous primarily for being so young": She was 22 when she met Gainsbourg; that lasted 13 years. That isn't quite so young in my book.

I'm shocked by your statement that it's good someone dies young.
While Gainsbourg was destroyed by his excesses, he was also a major talent, at least in terms of pop culture. She had left him over 10 years before his death at age 62, which I would not call exactly young.

Gainsbourg left Birkin a percentage of his song publishing rights. If unfamiliar with his contributions and artistic reputation, this article is a good reference:
tinyjunco said…
Duchesse, thank you for these great images of Ms. Birkin!! i've been quite curious about her style for years now, but i truly stink at searching the net for images.....very nice to see some great ones here and to have your insight into 'how it all works' as well.

It's interesting to me how a minority of very beautiful young women age. It's like they had a blast being young and hot while they were young and hot, but they also knew that it wouldn't last and that it does have it's disadvantages. So when they look in the mirror and see a few wrinkles, flab, whatever, they're fine with it and see it as a sign of all the fun and accomplishments they've had in the meantime.

My next door neighbor is like this - a typical harried mom now, she was a real knockout (face, hair, bod - whole nine yards) when young. She enjoyed it then but always realized there was more to life.

One way or the other, it's a whole lot more fun to be around than someone constantly grasping at a lost youth, or complaining about the passage of time (huh?) steph
Unknown said…
I think those are Superga, not Chucks. Or has "Chucks" become a generic, like Kleenex, for sneakers? Superga are much more comfortable than Chucks, in my opinion. Better made, too, and more European. I'm pleased to see Jane make a less expected choice. :)

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