Not long ago I finished reading Forever Chic: Frenchwomen’s Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style, and Substance by Tish Jett (2013). YLF member efbgen recommended it in a post a few months back, and since I am currently interested in learning more about French chic, I thought it would be a good read. And it was!
The book is written for les femmes d’un certain âge (women of a certain age), that is, women who are 40 and older—my age bracket (I am 45). Jett is an American journalist who was sent to France to be a Paris fashion correspondent, and the book compiles what she learned from actively researching French style. She still lives in France, having married a Frenchman. She spoke to both high-class French professionals and average women to come up with the gems for this book. Here are some of the things that stuck with me:
Body and Face Care: Every Frenchwoman has a dermatologist to recommend the right products for her skin; they don’t mess around with figuring it out themselves. As we age, we need to work harder to maintain what we have than we did when we were twenty—and that’s OK. The key is to view this self-care as a joy and not a burden. Take time to pamper yourself as you apply your creams and serums. You want to be the best version of yourself that you can be. (Translation: We don’t give up and let things go, but neither do we stress unnecessarily about trying to look younger than we are.)
Makeup: Bronzer is a favorite of Frenchwomen. They like the just-back-from-St.-Tropez look. Jett talks about bronzer quite a bit, saying that it is important to get just the right shade for your skin and to learn to apply it properly. Makeup is always worn when a woman goes out, even if it’s just to run an errand. It might just be a bit of lipstick and some mascara; you don’t have to do a full face, but you do want to look somewhat put-together. Makeup is generally kept natural looking, unless you are purposely trying to make a statement. Jett mentions that one makeup artist she went to refused to conceal her under-eye circles, saying that they were beautiful and very natural looking. Rose lipsticks are the standard for everyday wear.
Nails: Neutral nails are the norm. Many women soak their nail tips in a mixture of water, lemon juice, and peroxide, then push back the cuticles, run a white nail pencil under the tip, and put on a couple of coats of pale pink polish.
Hair: Give yourself permission to drop a lot of money on hair, specifically cut and color. Your hair is such an important part of your overall style that you must not skimp in this area! Be willing to work with what you have: your natural texture, face shape, etc. Frenchwomen in general maximize what they have and don’t try to be something that they are not. As we age, generally shorter hair (just above the shoulders) looks best. An “effortless” styling is very popular, but that effortless look might have taken a very long time to achieve (and your French girlfriend will lie and tell you it took her only five minutes).
Diet: Frenchwomen don’t deny themselves sweets and rich foods, but they are careful to eat them in moderation. Or, if they splurge one day, they will cut back the next few days to make up for it. The adjustments are minor, not major. They try to eat healthy as a rule, which allows them the occasional indulgence. If they notice that their clothes are getting tight, they adjust what they are eating accordingly until their weight is back to normal. This approach to food is portrayed as very cultural and a lifestyle.
Clothing: I skipped most of this chapter because a lot of it I already knew from Angie’s blog. One important point was to maximize your best body traits and minimize your less beautiful traits. For example, if you have a small waist, wear tailored clothing to emphasize that; if you have cellulite, downplay it by wearing a longer skirt. Women rely heavily on tailoring to get their clothes to fit perfectly. They may wear the same dress for thirty years, taking it to the tailor to have seams let out if necessary as they age. Jett mentioned one woman who even had sleeves added to a much-loved sleeveless dress because she no longer wanted to expose her upper arms.
Accessories: Scarves are popular. Hoop earrings are a favorite.
Substance: Jett says that women who are cultured and can carry on a good conversation are considered highly attractive—even if they aren’t much in the looks category. She emphasized the importance of attending concerts, plays, and museums and continuing to learn about all kinds of things.
My Reaction: I thought this was an excellent book. As I read it, I felt myself growing in acceptance of my aging self. I no longer felt like I had to try to find the latest magical potion to make me look like I’m twenty. At the same time, I felt vindicated in devoting a decent chunk of time (and money) to maintaining my appearance—and actually daring to enjoy that time that I spend on myself. I also made an appointment with a local esthetician for facial product recommendations so that I am not shooting in the dark. I am renewing my commitment to developing my substance side: I agree that a woman of substance is very attractive indeed, and I want to cultivate that. I want to be the best version of myself that I can be.