The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris- #4 The Art of Femininity
Before I lived in Paris I was afraid of my femininity. Looking back, that is the only way I can put it. I wasn’t a tomboy- I liked feminine things, but I was afraid of what or who I could become if I unleashed my full potential. My posture was bad. I didn’t have a real haircut (my hair was too long- no layers), I covered my body with frumpy clothes. My tastes had not yet blossomed to those of the sophisticate. Mon Dieu, I was a wreck.
It was in France that I learned to claim my femininity and use it proudly. French femininity is very refreshing. They scoff other western interpretations of femininity such as breast implants, fake nails and hair extensions as being vulgar and instead encourage women to use what they’ve got and work it.
Having been lucky enough to observe first hand Madame Chic and Madame Bohemienne as well as the entire city of Parisian women for the time I lived there, I came to the conclusion- French women do feminine and they do it very well.
A few key points I noticed when observing them, and how I changed myself:
French women have great posture. It is not rigid, stiff and formal- but wonderfully fluid- an active posture that exudes confidence. They carry themselves with poise, shoulders back and down, chest out (not too far out- just not caved in) and carry themselves with a certain ease. Madame Chic had this- so did Madame Bohemienne. Sure there are some bohemian types (not Madame Bohemienne, mind you) who wear berets, slouch, smoke cigarettes and recite poetry- but even their slouch has an affectation to it- nevermind, we’re not talking about them. No, the first thing I noticed was that French women had really great posture. My posture was improved just being in their presence. Good posture is somewhat contagious.
Also it is quite difficult to sit in a beautiful and ornately appointed Parisian apartment (like Famille Chic’s) with hunched up shoulders. The formal atmosphere is enough to make you want to sit up straight. I find good posture to be extremely powerful. If you ever find yourself in a bad situation or one where you’re intimidated, fix your posture- it suggests you are a force to be reckoned with and makes a big difference.
I would occasionally wear scent when in California before living in Paris, but it was usually the unsophisticated variety (Bath and Bodyworks freesia sprays- that sort of thing) but living in Paris I noticed that each woman seemed to have a bold signature scent. When you greet people over there, you generally forgo the handshake for the more familiar kiss on the cheek and this is where you really catch the scent. It is like a calling card. Most French woman have one or two signature scents and wear them religiously. Now I feel rather naked without a spritz of my favorite perfume. (I currently wear Stella but am going on the hunt for my new signature scent in the new year... more on that later).
Fake nails are considered vulgar in France. Most French women (Madame Chic and Bohemienne included) have short, manicured nails that are painted in a clear or neutral color. Essie’s Mademoiselle is perfect for this look. I try and have a manicure and pedicure once every two weeks to keep up my nails. This look is so easy though, having a professional manicure isn’t entirely necessary. All you need to do is cut and file your nails, and apply a base coat, color and then top coat. Once dry, moisturize and you are done! Neutral colors are also very easy to fill in if your color happens to chip away prematurely.
French hair lends itself to spontaneity. It is not the sort of hair that says “Stand back. Do not touch. If you do a serious meltdown might occur!”
Hair is a very feminine accessory in the French woman’s arsenal. Most French women have a really simple cut- usually erring on the short side rather than the long- Their hair is simply styled and not stiff. You would be really hard pressed to find someone with hair extensions, multi-colored hair (I'm talking about hot pink highlights), high maintenance, flat ironed hair or any other sort of pained look. French hair is very flirtatious- it suggests fun, spontaneity. It says that you could just jump in a pool at any given moment if you wanted to or have a man run his fingers through it- if you so desired.
When I arrived in France I didn’t have much of a hairstyle. I would love to say I ventured into a salon and got a chic short cut à la Sabrina- but I didn’t. I waited until I got back to America and now I visit my stylist every six weeks religiously. To me, good hair is très important aspect of my femininity.
Lingerie and Sleepwear
After Madame Chic called me out on my frumpy, holey pajama sweats, I marched promptly to Etam where I purchased two sets of sleepwear- one tailored cotton set in a pretty, luscious cream and one lingerie inspired one in orangey silk. These two purchases were a revelation for me. It was the first time I respected myself enough to realize I deserved to wear beautiful and feminine articles of clothing- at all times- not just out during the day or on special occasions.
French women value the importance of good lingerie. They wear silky chemises to bed and during the day wear matching bras and panties- whether someone will see them later or not. A tip for shopping for matching sets- buy one bra and three or four pairs of the matching panties. Store them together in pretty mesh bags in your lingerie drawer and you will always have a complete set on hand.
Both Madame Chic and Madame Bohemienne’s clothing were tributes to femininity. I never saw Madame Chic in anything other than a skirt. She never wore jeans, skirts were just her thing. Madame Bohemienne wore skirts all the time too- the skirt is a very feminine tool in the Parisian woman’s arsenal- showcasing the legs and just subtly declaring that you are in fact different than a man- you are feminine. I never saw either woman in shapeless, baggy sweatpants or unflattering, ill-fitting clothing. Their clothes were orchestrated so to bring out their best features and hide their worst.
Of course there are many more aspects to cultivating ones’ femininity than what I’ve discussed in this post. And I could elaborate for days on each one of these subjects. One recurring theme that I find rather refreshing is how simple this all is. The French rules of femininity say work with what you’ve got. No need for anything fake. Subtly enhance your features with makeup. Keep your natural nails, just polish them and take care of them. Same with your hair- nothing too over the top, just healthy, gorgeous hair in a manageable cut. Pretty, feminine clothes. These tools are meant to encourage you to go out and live your life, not be bogged down by having to maintain a 'look'.
I would love to know… how do you pay tribute to your femininity?
Hotel France et Chateaubriand is pictured above.
My book, Lessons from Madame Chic: The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris will be published by Simon & Schuster and re-released in the fall of 2012.