1.10.2011

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:

Posture

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.

Perfume

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).

Nails

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.

Hair

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.


Clothing

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'.

How refreshing.

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.

24 comments:

Mrs. Q said...

For me it's all about the perfume. I feel naked without a spritz of my signature scent (currently "Pure" by Caron). Along with that, heels, well groomed eyebrows, and for emergencies: lipstick. Normally I hate lipstick, but when I'm feeling annexing frumpy, a slash of Chanel's 'Portofino' fixes my whole outlook.

I love this series - can't wait to find out what #1 is!

Mrs. Q said...

For me it's all about the perfume. I feel naked without a spritz of my signature scent (currently "Pure" by Caron). Along with that, heels, well groomed eyebrows, and for emergencies: lipstick. Normally I hate lipstick, but when I'm feeling annexing frumpy, a slash of Chanel's 'Portofino' fixes my whole outlook.

I love this series - can't wait to find out what #1 is!

Bezaubernd said...

Wow! What a wonderful post. I will be referring back to this post often! Thank You!
-Angela
http://bezaubernd-bezaubernd.blogspot.com/

Sherry said...

Just discovered your blog. Love it. I was an exchange student in France and have gone back a fee times since. I'm long overdue for a visit though. Love your insights.

Jennifer said...

I love doing what I can to feel feminine, whether it be pretty shoes and comfortable, yet pretty summer dresses or even styling my hair in soft, loose, romantic curls, just the smallest touches can make me feel so much more like a lady and I love it, it gives me confidence that lasts all day long

Beth - In My World... said...

Love this post...I am afraid too many American women are afraid to let themselves embrace their femininity. I love being a woman! Every day has a spray of my beloved Chanel - it is my signature fragrance and I would be naked without it. I am also a devout follower of the matching lingerie. No one else may know about it, but I know it is there!

Lacey said...

Great post! I am a big fan of Carmindy's 5 minute face and I either wear my Chanel "Chance" perfume or vanilla spray everyday. I do have gel nails, but I always get them done clear, no fake white chunky tips here! My manicurist is very good, my nails look very natural and sometimes I'll have them painted in neutral or metallic colours. Very easy maintenance and upkeep. I plan to start getting regular facials this year to help improve my skin...maybe I will try the Clairsonic?

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

Tips from your blog ....continue my French education

steppingmywaytobliss said...

I could write a "book" response to this post and I am going to try very hard not to. This is great! And I do think there is a big difference in what is "perceived" as femininity in the USA and what is executed as femininity in other cultures. When I was younger I use to disguise my femininity but as I have grown older, I have learned to embrace it...draping fabrics, skirts are preferred, long, flowing nightgowns, signature scent (Fracas or Chanel Premiere), matching lingerie, etc. It's fun being feminine!

I have ask, and maybe you have addressed this in a prior post, but what did these French women wear when cleaning or lounging around the house? This is probably where my wardrobe could improve greatly. xo-Bliss

Sarah said...

Wonderful post as usual! You'll be happy to know that your blog has greatly influenced the seemingly small decisions I make each day in favor of being more "French". Out with ratty clothes, cull my wardrobe, see an exhibit in a museum, leave the house looking presentable. Thank you!!

WB said...

Well done! Excellent post! When I read the title, I was hesitant about what you meant by "femininity." But after reading the tips, I scolded myself for not having faith in you and the French. I was worried that you'd tell us to look like painted dolls, but obviously you didn't. :)

Fiona said...

J, you've outdone yourself. This is my favourite of the series so far. Merci for your observations.

My favourite way to celebrate being feminine is to be clean, soft, lightly made up and fragranced at all times.

I might have the occasion to pull out all the stops, but on a daily basis I want it to be known by those close to me that my basic minimum is smooth legs, soft skin, silky hair and a glowing complexion.

Rebecca said...

Your posts keep getting better and better! I especially loved the sentence "I respected myself enough to realize I deserved to wear beautiful and feminine articles of clothing." Great advice!

Fixing My Thoughts said...

What a lot of wonderful and useful information here! I so agree that it's much better to live life by making the most of what we have than to have to maintain an unnatural look. Great summary of French femininity! Bess

Rose said...

I need to work more on posture- I used to do ballet and have great posture but all this sitting at a desk has really meant that has slipped.

I abhor fake nails, big white stripes on nails, fake hair and orange tans- I know that in a flash you might see them and think a person looks groomed but it's just vile- I subsribe to the French way like you- making the most of what you have and perhaps learning to love what might not be standard beauty- red hair, freckles, pale skin if you have it. Above all being clean and neat goes a long way I think.

Pug1 said...

Another award-winning post! BRAVO!
I sooooo look forward to #3!!!!
CHEERS!
Michele xx

Trish said...

I'm guilty of taking the easy way out-and being lazy. So, I have started to make some small changes-Mia cleansing 2x daily, wearing my hair down more often instead of a strict bun, and not wearing my sloppy sweats every day after work.

I have had my signature perfume-Chanel 19, since 1971, but I got out of the habit wearing it while working as an RN. I want to start wearing it daily again, but now it seems harder to find.

Maybe one of these days I will wear make-up again!

Thank you for this series-I am really enjoying it!!

The Daily Connoisseur said...

What amazing comments. I am so lucky to have all of you in my life. Honestly.

Ok let’s get into it.

Mrs. Q- I have never tried Pure by Caron and now I am intrigued. I will have to try it as I am looking for a new signature scent in the new year. And yes! Groomed eyebrows for me are a must too. I have very difficult eyebrows (if there can be such a thing ha!) but I do-they are sparse and not in a natural arch. I always dreamt about having Brooke Shield’s eyebrows but again must remind myself to work with what I’ve got : )

Angela- Thank you very much

Sherry- We are so lucky to have studied there aren’t we? It honestly changed the entire course of my life. Thanks for visiting my blog.

Jennifer- I love your list… When I curl my hair in loose soft curls I feel so pretty too! It’s amazing what such a small thing can do to one’s esteem…

Beth- I love being a woman too! Aren’t we lucky to have so much at our fingertips… and isn’t it delicious to wear beautiful lingerie and be the only one who knows it?

Lacey- I love Carmindy’s 5 minute face too. So many of us (myself included) never got proper instruction on how to wear makeup and her book is so easy to follow. My sister has gel nails and they look amazing- really natural! Could this be the alternative to those obvious fake nails so many women wear? I might look into it. And I recommend the Clairisonic for everyone- it really is amazing. I should honestly be their spokesperson lol!

Hostess- ☺

SteppingMyWaytoBliss- Thanks for your comment and question! French women don’t change into different clothes for house cleaning or ‘lounging’. They wear what they wear throughout the day. I never saw Madame Chic or Madame Bohemienne wear any special “cleaning the house” clothes or “lounging” clothes- which for me was a very foreign concept (and still is, frankly). I do think American women put too much emphasis on ‘comfortable’ clothing thinking they can only be comfortable in sweats or tracksuits at home. I used to change out of my day clothes when I got home but now with baby I simply don’t have time and find myself doing everything in my ‘day’ clothes. So inadvertently I am doing it the French way right now ☺ The stereotypes you hear about French women cooking a five course meal in a silk blouse without an apron are, I’m afraid, true.

Sarah- Thank you so much- your comment means a great deal to me. It means I am not wasting my time! Haha ☺ Thank you again. You readers inspire me xx

WB- Thanks for your support and for having faith xx

Fiona- Thank you gorgeous Fiona. I love reading your articles on the same subject. It is so much fun being women isn’t it? We are lucky indeed. Love your list xx

Rebecca- Thank you my dear! Xx

Bess- Yes! It takes the pressure off doesn’ t it? When we can just work with what we’ve got and celebrate our unique beauty…

Rose- I am constantly working on my posture too- and now with baby I find myself hunched over a lot when I am carrying her. I must constantly keep it in check. And I agree being neat goes a long way…

Michele- Thank you for your support my darling! Xx

Trish-Thank you! I love that you wear Chanel 19- what a glamorous scent- best of luck finding it again. I stopped wearing scent when I was pregnant and when my baby was a newborn but I am just rediscovering it again and can’t wait to find my signature scent in this new year…

Pearl said...

And when the femininity is coupled with a cultivated mind: fantastic!

J. said...

What a great post! For me, having pedicures and manicures on a regular basis is one thing, and wearing nice bedwear is another. I also think it is really important to choose everything (even small, silly things like a keychain or a cover for an e book reader etc.) in your favorite color or pattern or whatever. And since I like pink (not because it is feminine necessarily, I just do!) I have quite a few boring items (umbrellas, gloves, workout bag etc.) in bright or pastel pink. I feel that is a great nod to feminity for me, but it might not work as well for those who do not like pink as much.

Rebekah said...

Great post. I especially agree with having natural nails and hair that are merely enhanced with cosmetics. These physical things about ourselves are to be celebrated and enjoyed, but only as a side benefit -- not the main focus of our feminine allure.

The French woman calls to attention the contents of her mind and soul with cultured honing. She wouldn't dream of distracting people away from the important things she is saying or doing with either gnawed stumps of nails or fake claws. The effect is, "If you think my exterior is refined, you should see what's inside my heart and mind."

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Pearl- I couldn't agree more. The entire package is what we are striving for non? xx

J- I just got a much needed manicure/ pedicure. It really lifted my spirits... it's the small things :) and I love that you pick out random items in girly pink. Eveyone has their mood lifters and tricks to make them feel feminine... whatever works!

Rebekah- "If you think my exterior is refined, you should see what's inside my heart and mind." - Brilliant!! And well said. I love it xx

lady jicky said...

I shall be waiting for when you find a new signature scent! Love, love, love perfume :)
Oooo, would you please do a article on the choice of lipsticks for I adore them but I find it so hard to find "my" best colour!

C T said...

Thank you for this interesting perspective! Your writing is excellent, it spoke to me. But perhaps because I had a similar experience in Japan. Japanese culture is traditional and has sophistication (sexism too) in the ideal woman. Unfortunately, the universities lack women, but the women I did see often wear skirts and pretty shoes. They also let you try their skin care products in the drugstores!

 
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