I’ve been flicking through and re-reading one of the many little French books that I’ve had for years.
A Guide to Elegance by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux, originally published in 1964 has been described as being “the original what not to wear from one of fashion’s most enduringly stylish women” and ”a classic style bible for timeless chic, grace, and poise”
Certainly much of the advice is very dated and ridiculously old fashioned. There are many humorous statements like, ” Salesgirls in the sports departments should be required to verify a customer’s birth certificate in order to avoid selling a pair of shorts to anybody over forty years of age”, but every few pages comes some relevant and clever advice.
One of the things I try to get across to my clients is that you really don’t need as many clothes as you might think you do. (I wrote about the subject here a little while ago). Sure, some of us love shopping and like to have enormous wardrobes full of clothes, but for those who feel cluttered by all their stuff and find dressing frustrating and confusing because there’s simply too much to see what they have, this piece of advice is quite pertinent.
Under the heading QUANTITY, Madame Dariaux writes..
“One of the most striking differences between a well-dressed American woman and a well-dressed Parisienne is in the size of their respective wardrobes. The American would probably be astonished by the very limited number of garments hanging in the Frenchwoman’s closet, but she would also be bound to observe that each one is of excellent quality, expensive perhaps by American standards, and perfectly adapted to the life the Frenchwoman leads. She wears them over and over again, discarding them only when they are worn or outmoded, and she considers it a compliment (as it is meant to be) when her best friend says, “I’m so glad you decided to wear your red dress – I’ve always loved it!”.
Americans are often shocked by the high prices in Paris shops, and they wonder how a young career girl, for example, who earns half of the salary of her American counterpart, can afford to carry an alligator handbag and to wear a suit from Balmain boutique. The answer is that she buys very few garments; her goal is to possess a single perfect ensemble for each of the different occasions in her life, rather than a wide choice of clothes to suit every passing mood.
An elegant Frenchwoman expects her coats to last for three years at least, her suits and dresses at least two years, and her evening clothes almost indefinitely. She owns very few sets of lingerie at one time, but she replaces them frequently. The same is true of her shoes and gloves, while her handbags last for years and years. It is only her vacation wardrobe that she renews every summer, most often buying these expendable items ready-made in a department store or an inexpensive boutique.
Of course, these two different attitudes spring from two different ways of life, and it is undeniable that the American woman is constantly surrounded by new temptations and assailed by the most irresistible kind of fashion advertising. Moreover, she has been told that her role in the national economy is to continually buy and consume.
And yet, I wonder if she wouldn’t profit by replacing once in a while her penchant for quantity with a quest for quality. She might find that not only is her elegance increased, but also the enjoyment and even the confidence that she gets from her clothes.”
In my wardrobe there’s a combination of cheap and cheerful and good quality, expensive pieces. Some items like coats, handbags and shoes I’ll save for and “trendy” pieces like my neon sneakers and my emerald green jeans, I’ll grab when I come across what I consider a bargain. BUT I would certainly prefer to have one beautiful white shirt that cost me $150, that I saved for weeks for, that will last for several seasons, fit beautifully, be made of lovely fabric and make me feel good every time I wear it, than ten $10 or $20 tops that are of poor quality, that fall apart in the second wash, that don’t fit quite right (puckers here and pulls there) and that aren’t at all flattering.
You can buy A Guide To Elegance here
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