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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Lessons from Madame Chic

My Kindle is bursting at the seams with all sorts of books.   Quite a few of these books have to do with the French.  The French women, the French culture, the French food.  Most are written by women who either visited or lived there for an extended period of time or married into the country.  Being an immigrant myself, I find culture comparison fascinating.  I also think that although the French women are idealized as the epitome of European femininity, most of the traits attributed to them are common to women all across Europe, including Russia and Ukraine.  Since these traits are not easily cultivated nor are they culturally supported in most of the United States, I like these books as reminders of what's possible.

Lessons from Madame Chic:  20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris is one of those books.  It's written by Jennifer L. Scott, who also writes a blog at The Daily Connoisseur.

Although the book is based on a relatively short period of time Jennifer spent living in Paris, it's a much better book about the French women than some written by women who've spent years living there.  Here are the twenty stylish secrets from Jennifer's book with my comments.
  1. Snacking is so not chic.  (Interesting in theory, but I like a defined snack here and there.  Although I agree that non-stop undisciplined grazing is absolutely not chic.)
  2. Deprive yourself not.  (Quality is important, from food to clothes to daily experiences.  A small decadent meal, especially made from the highest quality ingredients, is so much more filling, physically and psychologically, than a big bag of zero-calorie carrots.)
  3. Exercise is a part of life, not a chore.  (I cannot agree more with this.  Americans spend their lives sitting.  In their cars, in front of their computers at work, on their couches in the evening watching TV.  Our cities are not designed for walking.  Our lives are not designed for walking.  Yet, walking 10,000 steps a day is essential to health.  Personally, on a typical work day, I manage to get at most 3,000 steps by the evening.  I double that number by spending a mere 15(!) minutes on the treadmill.  It's really sad.  Also, recent studies show that gym warriors who are devoted to their burn-500-calories-an-hour-spinning-classes are faring no better than otherwise completely sedentary people.   Oh, and sitting for six hours a day greatly increases one's chances of heart disease.  Europeans believe in activity.  Americans believe in exercise.  Activity is something you do all day, walking, cleaning, doing dishes, generally moving, not at a predetermined time inside a gym.) 
  4. Liberate yourself with a ten-item wardrobe.  (Jennifer is a proponent of reducing your core wardrobe for each season down to 10 items plus a few additions.  Again, the idea is quality vs. quantity.  For me, this is something that's nice in theory, but I actually think that America's winning on this front, and I am not talking about the disposable clothes you can get at discount stores.  Women in Europe will starve themselves to save money for designer clothing, shoes, and bags.   I adore the American sales and know several European women who fly to the U.S. to stock up on high quality (not designer) and extremely affordable clothes.  I also think I would get extremely bored with just ten items a season.  For me, the trick is to weed through your wardrobe on a regular basis and let go of anything that's past its prime.   And don't buy anything just because it's on sale.  Or because it looks okay on you.  Only buy what looks spectacular on you.  Even if it gets you to 20 items.)
  5. Find your true style.  (I so agree with this one.  I think this is a lost (or never acquired?) art for a lot of women.   You need to know what looks good on you, regardless of what's hot in fashion now or what someone gave you as a gift.  Jennifer tells a funny story about wearing a sweater in a color that didn't suit her just because someone gave it to her and learning from Madame Chic that this is a no-no.   Really, you deserve better.  You deserve to wear cuts and colors that suit you.   (And eat camembert rather than carrots.))
  6. Perfect le no-makeup look.  (That's a big one.  It's not easy to look like you have no makeup, yet use it to accentuate your best features.  Although I've happily gone to the office for weeks and months on end with no makeup at all, a little eye shadow and a layer or two of mascara can do wonders.)
  7. Take care of your skin.  (Amen to that.  Without great skin, you can forget about the le no-makeup look. Or any look worth having, for that matter.  Great skin is the foundation of it all.  Great skin shows great health, so it starts with a healthy lifestyle, fruits, veggies, clean air and water, some safe sun exposure, and stress management.  And did I mention the probiotics?   Clarisonic Mia also helps.  Great skin is my hobby.)
  8. Look presentable always.  (I have to hand it to Jennifer.  I've read stories on her blog about always pulling herself together for a dog walk.  (And it paying off when she runs unexpectedly into someone she knows.)  I don't have a dog.   But even if I did, I'd be walking that dog while wearing leggings and a sweatshirt, not jeans and a smart shirt. Always looking presentable is very European, where most women won't run out for bread and milk without makeup and a thought-through outfit; and I find that very few American women see any value in this.  For me, the truth is somewhere in the middle.  I'm busy, so the (imaginary) dog gets walked in leggings.  But I do like dressing up.   Just for the sake of dressing up.   It makes me feel good and alive and optimistic.  Funnily, early on when I was dating Bill, I went to church once with his mom and dressed up for the occasion.   When I arrived to her house, she looked me over and said:  "We are Catholics, we don't dress up for the church."  It made me giggle.  Honestly, I dressed up for myself.  And for the viewing pleasure of the public.)
  9. Practice the art of femininity.  (Another largely lost art in the States.  European women find their strength in acting feminine, in the States it's mostly seen as a weakness.  And in an office environment it's often seen as out of place.  Yes, that's a difficult one.)
  10. Always use the best things you have.  (I'm there!   Break out the wedding china for a Wednesday dinner.  None of us knows how long we are here for, so we should enjoy every day.  Every day we are alive is special and worth celebrating.  Savings things for special occasions makes no sense because you end up not enjoying what you own because the special day never comes.  Use the best of everything you own.  Now, today.  You deserve so much better than subpar.)
  11. Live life as a formal affair.  (Alexis is a big fan of this one.  She likes to have appetizers before her meal (on a separate plate, as a separate course, please) and she insists on eating her dinner in the dining room (no breakfast table, please.  I mean, seriously, how gauche).  She also wears primarily dresses and her best jewelry to her pre-school.  She just turned 5, but I have a lot to learn from her.)
  12. Clutter is so not chic.  (Yes, absolutely!  Clutter is awful and depressing.  I am big on throwing unwanted, unneeded things away and constantly organizing the ones I keep.  Sometimes I go overboard.)
  13. Seek out the arts.  (Yes, I agree that opera and art exhibitions are good for the soul.  As a kid, I spent five years in an art school and five years in a music school.  I saw a lot of good art and heard a lot of good music.  These days, I have a serious job, which gives me quite a bit of food for thought on a daily basis.  I want something mindless for entertainment, so I usually seek out light and unrealistic comedies.  And the Real Housewives of just about any city.  I don't seek out the arts, but if they find me on occasion, I don't run away.)
  14. Cultivate an air of mystery.  (This one's very European and very unAmerican, where everyone shares everything with anyone who'll listen.   Okay, that was an exaggeration, but really, people here are much more in the mood to share their personal information and to make fast friends than in Europe.  Not sharing much helps to preserve that mystery, keep certain people out of your private life and at a distance, and spare your own precious resources otherwise consumed by mindless chatter.)
  15. Practice the art of entertaining.  (This one is also so well suited for Europe, where the work week is shorter and working around the clock to show your commitment to the cause is not expected.  Unfortunately, the American pace of life leaves little time for leisurely dinner parties, with multiple courses and deep discussions.  But it's always good to strive for having just a bit of this in your life.)
  16. Reject the new materialism.  (Yes, your grandmother's china, even if chipped, is an heirloom to be treasured.  Fix what you can, rather than throw away.   Don't buy fifteen of everything.  Personally, I embrace the new materialism, in moderation.  Right along side with the heirloom china.)
  17. Cultivate your mind.   (Yes, read books, look for new information, think critically.  Grow.   It's also important to be disciplined in your thinking and not allow negative thinking patterns to color your mood - but that's from other books.)  
  18. Find simple pleasures.  (Yes, you can find a lot of pleasure as a concierge guest aboard Disney Fantasy, visiting balmy St. Thomas in the dead of winter, but you should strive to find as much pleasure as you can in your everyday life.   In your child's laughter, in grocery shopping, in walking, in admiring that baby hyacinth you bought for $2.49 at Trader Joe's that bloomed into a gorgeous, heavy, and oh-so-fragrant flower.)  
  19. Value quality above all.  (This is similar to 10 and 11.  The idea is that it is better to have one designer purse than fifteen poorly made purses.  Personally, I prefer fifteen designer purses.   But, yes, quality above all is a great goal to strive for.  From grass-fed organic beef to the eco-and-human-safe household products and skincare to the flooring you have in your home and back to organic eggs.  Unfortunately, quality is expensive.  But that's where the idea of a minimalist wardrobe and no clutter comes in.)
  20. Live a passionate life.  (Life lived without passion is only a shadow of what it could be.  You have to love what you do and live your life the way you want to.  Be high on life.)
Jennifer just finished and sent to the publisher her second book.   I can't wait to read it.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely sharing, thank you. I also love Jennifer's book, I highly recommend it to anyone!