Friday Miscellany: Books, Coffee, And Hair

Cover of "Dress Like a Parisian" by Aloïs Guinut. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

Reading List…

I’ve read quite a few style books over the years, and “French Style” books were particular favorites. Lately though, I’d hit a saturation point of sorts with the genre, and felt they’d become repetitive. But a friend of mine suggested the book, Dress Like a Parisian, emphasizing that it had some sound style advice, regardless of whether one is particularly a fan of the Parisian style aesthetic or not.

She was right… I found this book offered lots of concrete and practical tips for those who like to look well put-together but not over-done. The writing is straightforward, informative, and actionable. I found the sections on combining colors and choosing the best cuts and fabrics for your body particularly clarifying. And I appreciated the overall tone, which was a more nuts-and-bolts analysis of a particular aesthetic (or aesthetics, as the case may be) and less a breathless ode to French style.

Dress Like a Parisian, by Aloïs Guinut

Book cover for The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers. More about this book at une femme d'un certain age.

Knowing I’m a fellow coffee lover, Lisa of The Sequinist recommended The Monk Of Mokha, and I’m really enjoying it! Part a history of coffee and the coffee industry, part one man’s story of reinvention, it’s quite engaging and I have a hard time putting it down (I’m about halfway through).

The Monk Of Mokha by Dave Eggers

More Thoughts About Hair…

Lately I’ve come to the conclusion that I often see myself quite differently than others see me. To some degree, I think we all tend to focus on our perceived “flaws” at the expense of a more holistic view. One of the reasons I decided to grow my hair out was that the very short pixie cut was feeling too harsh and masculine. I thought it made my ears look bigger and emphasized my softening jawline. But then I look at my current style and all I see is forehead. 😆 I’ll admit, while I was putting the post together earlier in the week, I had second thoughts…first about posting at all and then about this longer style.

I’ve never been satisfied with any hairstyle for long, and I’ve realized that I just need to change things up from time to time (as I’ve done over most of my adult life) to get a fresh perspective. I don’t know if I’m going to keep this length, but wanted to try it out again. In retrospect, I think that my best cut is probably the longer pixie in the image from September (in the white shirt). It’s still short enough to be fresh and easy to care for, but a little softer. Stay tuned…

Sales of Note:

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Bloomingdale’sFriends & Family, 25% off a wide range of items.

TalbotsSpring Sale, up to 40% off.

Lands’ End40% off full-price styles. Code RAIN, pin 4712

Nordstrom Spring Sale, up to 50% off.

Anthropologie20% off all dresses and skirts.

Macy’sGreat Shoe Sale, 30% off one pair, 40% off when you buy 2 or more pairs.

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  1. I absolutely love that you are recommending books here. Ditto everything you said about French style … I have so many of those books that my eyes glaze over at the thought of another, but I am going to check out the one you’ve suggested here. Thank you.

  2. I’ve been through that rethinking thing too. Growing out my hair took forever because I kept cutting it when I couldn’t take it anymore! We are always our own worst critics. I think the new style is very cute, but you could always try a fringe of bangs before going all the way with a shorter cut.

  3. As I recall, many of us liked the “softness” of your growing out phase, including me. Perhaps go for that concept, and stay with the softer look that you feel more comfortable with. A middle range.

  4. Yes I agree on the style in the white shirt. I actually showed it to my stylist. I have had a pixie forever and waited about 3 months from my last cut to my next cut.I found I really like having a little more hair . My hair is baby fine like yours. But I would love to have your color, love the very blond!

  5. I agree with you on your hairstyle in the white shirt. The pixie cut gives you a younger and more current look IMHO.

      1. Yes this is the best look! I am a pixie person short and light in summer. In the fall I let it grow out a little and add a little carmel. I love your style You look hip and young ,but not too young.

  6. Hair. Oof. For many of us it’s a constant struggle. Your white shirt hair style was an immediate “zing” for me when I first saw the photo, and I like the idea of trying bangs with your current length.
    Dave Eggers’s “What Is The What” is an astonishing book. I’ve been supporting a school in South Sudan ever since I read it. He is an amazing writer.
    I feel like I too have read every Parisian style book there is, but I’m looking forward to reading this one. Thanks for the recommendation.

  7. Have you considered letting your hair go natural? I have been coloring my hair for ages about the same color as yours until several months ago when I saw Glenn Close with short, white hair in The Wife. I showed my hairdresser her picture, she said let’s do it, and I haven’t looked back. I had no idea my natural color white would be so vibrant and becoming. I get compliments all the time on my new look!

    1. Hi Elizabeth, yes, I’ve considered it. I started coloring my hair in my 20’s, not to cover grey, but because my natural color is rather drab (the best description I can come up with is “cardboard”). So far, I’ve only gone grey in the temples. When I get to the point where I have more grey than cardboard, I’ll probably go for it. 😉

      1. Ditto here, Susan! My natural hair color is very mousey and drab. Sometimes Mother Nature must take a day off. I’ve been coloring my hair for years now but just enhancing that mousey hair. My natural color now would not be snowy white. Trust me.

  8. I agree with Elizabeth, I think your new style would look fabulous ” au naturelle “. (spelt right ? ) I will check out that style book, although my shelves are already groaning with the genre!

  9. I loved the pixie on you, long or short. Not many of us can do this style but you definitely can. Am looking forward to reading the Parisian book but hope I can find the clothes to support a new look!

  10. My favorite is your hair in the pic from the end of February during a session with Makeover Workshop. It looks soft and oh-so-flattering! I thought it was your best hairstyle look ever!!!

  11. I was so happy to see “Dress Like a Parisian” when I read your post this morning. I checked this book out of my local library so many times I decided it was time to buy it! I agree with your comment that, rather than an ode to to the mysterious superiority of French style, it is instead a practical, realistic and fun guide to finding one’s personal style. I love the pictures and photos – the whole book just makes me feel energized and upbeat whenever I dip into it. A wonderful recommendation!

  12. Yes – the hair length in your white shirt looks great!- but then I always think you look quite chic!! It looks really ‘fresh & fun’ – yet polished (and not stiff) ….which is an ‘ideal/idea’ that I’ve been going for even though I have curly hair.
    I agree about the French fashion books getting repetitive….thought I had cured myself of that genre..haha, yet I keep an eye out for something else that might be tempting. I’m going to give this one a look!

    Finally, I’ve been meaning to ask – do you have any travel blog posts about packing for southwest France in June? I’m headed over & will be teaching two painting workshops (with 5 days between for some sight-seeing on my own). I hear it’s getting warmer each summer. Any recommendations?? 🙂

    1. Hi Roxanne, thanks! We’ll actually be heading to France (Bourgogne and Paris) in June so I’m already thinking about my travel wardrobe, and should have some suggestions posted in the next few weeks.

  13. I was just about to say: “I like your pixie haircut the best” when I read you saying it:) I think it is such a fresh and sassy look! I am myself in the shortest hair in my life after chemo, but I actually like it and am keeping it for a while. My husband on the other hand wants me to grow it out, so chances are, I will eventually find a compromise (or he will get used to my short pixie;)

  14. I love that you were informed by your own post! I will say that I am jealous of your ability to wear the pixie cut so well, because it is my dream hairstyle but does not work with my face.

    If you’re looking for a guide in Bourgogne, Stephanie from Aux Quatre Saisons is wonderful.

  15. I honestly love your pixie! In my lifetime, I’ve done it all; the hair to the waist, perms, growing out bangs, LOTS of really bad haircuts and, in my dotage have settled on the pixie. I always tell my stylist that I don’t want to walk out of the salon looking like, “Marion the Librarian”, so she spikes it a bit, adds product, then messes it up just so, and I end up feeling just a tiny bit hip and badass!

  16. I love a pixie cut – just waiting to get the courage to chop it off! In the meantime I am struggling with a weird back part. Does anyone have any ideas how to manage a balky back part?

  17. I have hair like yours, only maybe even thinner. For me, short is better because it makes my fine, thin hair look thicker. Once I get past a certain length, my hair gets stringy and flat. If it’s too short, I can’t cover my scalp. I am 71 and have looked for the “perfect” cut and style my whole life. Oh the problems of fine, thin hair!

  18. It seems that too often women think more hair is going to solve the perceived flaws in their look. I have very short hair. I often get “wish I could wear that, but my nose is too big”. What the…?!? Hair won’t cover your nose. About the only thing hair will cover is ears.

    Sounds like we have similar hair – fine and mats when wet. Very short is the answer for me and I liked the pixie on you. BTW – I find that a combination of Redken Thickening Lotion and Rootful (spray) gives my hair substance and at least a couple of days of style

  19. I went for the “messy pixie” look a couple of years ago. At the same time I decided to stop coloring my hair and go with the natural gray/silver tones. I have to say, I’ve received more compliments from strangers than I ever did with my colored, longer hair. I went for a trim yesterday. Afterwards I ran a couple errands and two young ladies in their 30’s told me they loved my hair – “it’s not dowdy” they said. I took that as a compliment for my 63 year old self.

  20. The September look is my favorite, too. As a hairdresser, I have worked with numerous clients going through the cycle of grow hair, cut hair, regret cut and grow hair. There is usually a point where the hair behaves and looks its best but is bypassed in the quest for longer hair. How wonderful you have so many photos to review all the stages so you can pinpoint that ideal length.

  21. Love the long pixie on you! I also have fine, blond hair and go back and forth between growing it out and keeping it short. The struggle is real, LOL! You always look put together and chic!!

  22. For my two cents, I think you are very lucky to look great in the pixie you show early on. I think the shorter hair is more youthful at both lengths. I have short hair, and seeing your progression inspires me to let the hair on the sides grow out a bit, for a softer look. Your growing out process was not a waste of time, it just gives you more information to work with even if you decide to go back to a shorter cut.

  23. The thing is, you can’t look “harsh and masculine.” Your bone structure is so feminine. The pixie is a lovely dash of yang to your very feminine mouth, eyes and bones. It is also playful and chic all at once. It is so very hard to see oneself. I am always surprised to see myself in a picture. I feel unrecognizable compared to what I carry around in my head. I wonder why that is? Love the book recommendations. I wonder if you could do a post on what you see as “Parisian Style.” What are the elements as you see them? Thanks as always.

  24. Susan, the pixie is cuter, the longer is prettier, in my view. Then I have opposite hair, not fine, used to be red and very curly, now a mixture of red, brown and white which looks strawberry blonde in some lights, and wavy. Lucky in hair, feet, however, which were my pride and joy, never having had a pretty face, now too ugly to wear the cute shoes you do. Sigh. Also sigh that I cannot wear those EF cardigans. Finally figured out that my shoulders are too narrow, I look like I’m wearing a bag, but I do have the Missoni jacket you bought in Rome, in two versions.

    Your blog is a note of cheer and hope in a sad world.

  25. I liked your hair length in the March 29 picture. Don’t cut it just yet, give it a bit more time to judge.
    Short hair can be more youthful but your hair now is far from long. You might like it a bit longer!
    Love your posts, so down to earth!

  26. I have always found that women with very short hair always want other women to wear their hair very short whether it’s flattering to them or not. Not sure why that is, but I let myself get talked into a pixie cut once and never again (and then there’s the cutesy-poo name). Though some people liked it, I just never felt like me I it. You should wear what makes you feel like you look good whatever that is. The fact that you keep growing it out tells me you probably aren’t 100 percent with the pixie. While you definitely carry it off better than most women over 8 and under 80 do does that mean it’s your best look? I loved your hair when you first went blonde and grew it out a little a couple of years ago and loved it when you did it again.It’s flattering, soft, contemporary without that “trying too hard” look of an extreme length.

  27. I am enjoying your posts on hair. After all its a very important part of our overall look. You look great in all the hair photos. I admire you for putting yourself out there for all of us to comment on! Personally I love pixies. And I don’t think they look masculine unless that is your goal. Some of our most famous fashion icons have worn short hair. Pixie cuts are very feminine if you dress feminine. And I have seen some very rugged and masculine men with long hair. It depends on the overall look desired. Personally I love pixies and the sides can be grown out a bit to soften and still have the top a little messy for that edge.

  28. After a half dozen or so trips to Paris, I realized that most of the people I was seeing on the streets were tourists just like me. After a few decades visiting France, I see the “French Aesthetic” as mostly a myth. My French niece has a good chuckle over the American books on the subject. The truth is that French women come in the same varieties as American women: slim and not, chic and not, along with some untidy housekeepers who are also bad cooks. I have met more than one woman who was disappointed after visiting France to discover the myth did not hold up. The reason there are so many books on the subject is that the marketing of that myth works. I’m glad you found a book that might be worth the money. (Okay, so I’m a wet blanket…)

    1. Hi Kay, I agree with you that there is no single monolithic aesthetic in Paris (or any other city), and that style has become more globalized over the past couple of decades. I also agree that the myth of the “chic French woman” has been overblown, especially in recent years. But I still appreciate the aesthetic (a wardrobe based on simple pieces, outfits that are coordinated but not too “done,” attention to fit and detail) and find it helpful in building and updating a workable wardrobe. As with all style advice, I think “take what works for you and leave the rest” helps to keep perspective. And don’t swallow anyone else’s style whole…personal style is, after all, personal. 🙂

      1. I like that aesthetic too, though as you and your latest book have noted, there are many variations on it, depending on neighbourhood, income level, social class (not quite the same), profession, political or social outlook, ethnicity and many other factors. Actually, Frenchpeople are NOT known as particularly fussy housekeepers: that would be Dutch, Swiss and Germans, though there too it is an overgeneralisation.

        As for southwestern France, it gets VERY hot in Toulouse. Some other places are very hilly so cooler, and the Pyrénées are very rugged mountains. I knew a fellow (now dead, after a VERY long run) who fled fascist Spain, and he faced snow and ice as well as difficult ascents and descents.

  29. Susan, this is a fascinating post. Isn’t it interesting that we look to other women to approve or disapprove how we appear to them? It’s all about the hair, makeup, clothes, shoes, jewelry–all the adornments that we put on to try to appear and project a certain image. Like you, I had a pixie for several years, let it grow out to chin length now, and wear it either Anna Wintour-bob style or let it dry naturally curly and sort of Parisian-ish. Retired now and just turned 70, I’m just trying to find and enjoy being myself as I am right now. You look fabulous no matter the length of your hair. It’s your persona, coupled with your overall image, that is beautiful.

  30. Hello, long time lurker and enjoyer of your blog. I also enjoy your commenters very much.

    Discussion of gray and short hair triggers me, so this post led me to sign in and comment for the first time. Just my 2 cents and I don’t cast aspersions on anyone else’s opinions. I just have strong ones of my own.

    As a bit of context for what I’m saying, I’m a retired art history prof among other things and I’m very sensitive to color. I believe a lot of what people are positively responding to in the white shirt picture is the white color. When you have very light hair, blonde or gray, it becomes an overwhelming item defining your color/contrast level.

    Not saying it’s happening on this particular post, but often people comment positively when light (especially gray haired) women wear bright colors. They are responding positively to the color itself, not how the bright and overly harsh color is making the wearer look.

    All that said, I have real prejudice against gray hair. At 70 (and my mom at 94) mine is not very gray, but if it were, I’d put a blonde rinse on it and probably some lowlights. Gray is very, very harsh and aging. Fact. “Striking”, well, yes, in its way.

    I feel just as strongly about short hair. Very, very few women (leave aside men, we’re socialized into looking past their short hair and they get away with looking many more ways than we do) have the bone structure to carry off short hair. Same with very tightly scraped back hair, which you can test yourself by checking red carpet looks. Most actresses are not symmetrical enough to carry it off well. Models are, yes. They can wear anything really. (Most models are Type 4 in the Carol Tuttle system, very symmetrical bodies and faces and very still energy.)

    My recommendation is a few layers, very subtle because of the thinness of your hair. Definitely not a bob, which suffers from the same need for symmetry as the short or scraped back look. And some fringe, which you are sporting in the white shirt picture. Both look great on you. Length within several inches doesn’t really matter if you have bangs and layers.

    Thanks again for your blog. I enjoy it greatly. I just hate to see older women look even older and worse than they need to.

    1. Your comment resonates completely with me. Grey hair can be very aging and since skintone fades a great deal, attention should be given to makeup, especially a brighter lipstick and wearing stronger colours. Not everyone will agree I’m sure but, “à chacun son goût”.

    2. Odd, people LOVE my grey hair. My hair was a very dark brown that many people called black, so with the remaining pepper, people do think it is very striking. I’d look utterly horrid as a blonde – think of Donatella Versace. I also have a background in fine arts, as well as social history and languages.

  31. Ah, the pixie…my mom made me have that cut from birth to grade 6. I hated it and hid when it was time for a hair cut! Mom believed that a short hair cut would strengthen my hair and thicken it. Well she got her wish and so did I. I was allowed to finally grow it, way passed my bottom and it was thick and coarse! Never cut it again until I was 30. Then guess what? Cut it to a super, super short pixie. Loved it so much that I kept it that way for another 25 years. When I retired I decided to let it grow again, to a classic bob. Something wasn’t right. My nose looked bigger, my jaw line less defined, and my eyes appeared smaller. Tried slight variations, still not right. Spoke to my stylist and we agreed that the pixie, a super, super cropped one, was the cut that suited me best. Chopped it all off and hello! My nose appeared smaller, my jawline was back and my eyes popped. Happy to say that I am loving the ease of this cut, even with my silver hair! Maybe mom did know best. Bottom line, experiment when the mood strikes, but trust your instincts when it comes down to it.

  32. Re: gray hair. Yes, it sometimes can be aging: I remember noticing an older, gray-haired woman a few years ago and being shocked when I realized it was my (younger) sister-in-law. That said, I often see women who color their hair who would look much more natural and attractive if they reverted to gray. I think it depends on one’s natural hair color: blondes and lighter brunettes can get away with coloring their hair longer than redheads or dark brunettes, iMHO.

  33. i think your hair looks good in all its incarnations but i really like the shortest one… somehow it makes you look even younger and more feminine

  34. Also, I think “cardboard” sounds like a flattering and versatile color with your light skin tone and pretty blue eyes. You might try an app that lets you put in that color on a photo and check back to it from time to time. I know it’s a bold statement the color it is. But it is basically 100% the case that one’s natural hair color is the most flattering.

    I understand people change it up for a statement or professional reasons like Nicole Kidman or because they’ve drastically lightened their skin (Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, Megan Markle–believe me I know their techniques; I’ve used them to drastically lighten mine) or just because. But the older you get, the more it generally pays to look attractive.

    Again, not meant to cast aspersions. Just an alternate viewpoint. Thanks again for the effort you put into your blog. Oh, btw I think I have bought more things that you showcase than any other of the bloggers I follow. Brava!

    1. You are aware of the contradiction – my natural colour is now salt and pepper. I do twerk it a bit, but by using a mild and harmless violet rinse to remove the yellow cast caused by urban pollution. Colouring my hair as dark as it was would be terribly ageing, and dark hair dyes are often signalled as carcinogens. I think being alive is in general a better look than being dead.

  35. Hair is probably the most important element when we talk about style. I recall years ago observing women on upper East side in NYC walking around on Madison ave. beautifully dressed accompanied by the stiffest hairstyles, sprayed, teased, and more sprayed. Nothing moved, It killed the outfits!! In fact, that was how in Europe we could identify American tourists, that and the ubiquitous mink stoles!! Thank goodness things changed. I’m always of the opinion that as we age, regardless of hair fullness or lack of, shorter styles are more becoming. Proper layering whether pixie or longer version is key. Same with color. Very few women look great with grey/ silver hair, only a few can pull it off.
    As for being “chic” the trick is to maintain a slim , healthy silhouette, a layered haircut, wear a simple, well fitted pair of jeans with a chic white shirt, cute shoes and bag and a fashionable pair of sunglasses, Voila, you are dressed come une Parisienne. Quite simple, really.

    1. I agree! Most of us do not gain snowy white or pretty silver hair with age. A lot of us just get gray which is not universally flattering! There is nothing wrong with tweaking your hair color as long as you stay true to your skin tone. And yes, what could be more chic then staying fit, a cute layered hair cut, a flattering hair color, and uncomplicated clothing styles? Keep it simple.

    2. Susan, you have invested quite a bit of time in growing out your pixie cut. Why not give it a bit more to make sure that shorter hair is what you really want? Whenever someone is transitioning from short multiple layers to longer, there are difficult stages of growth when the different lengths are not working well together, that make a person just want to chuck it all and go back to what they started with. Since the expanse of your forehead is bothering you, maybe add a bit of wispy bangs and give the rest a little more length till you can get a cut that eliminates some of the old layers and works better together. Then, if you are sure you do not like it, you can have it cut to the length that you liked best without second guessing yourself again. My opinion is that you have looked nice in all the different photos, so I hope you find the style that you are happiest with.

  36. I love your posts- always wonderful. I also think pixie cuts are very feminine. I just came back from 16 days in France with 5 of them in Paris. It was a trip of a lifetime. I read every style book I could before I went and loved every minute there. But- I did not see a single trench coat, sneakers were everywhere, food was fabulous but the portions at all of the restaurants were large- infact so large that my daughter and I split a meal several times, few people were wearing scarves and my family and I were all over the city. I loved every. single. minute. I would go back in a heartbeat!

    1. Yes, we’ve found that too about portion sizes! We can rarely finish a full meal and have learned to order judiciously.

      And yes, I’ve observed that scarves are rarely worn there anymore once the weather warms up. That’s a change from a few years ago.

  37. Yes, portion sizes have greatly increased in France. In some cities such as Lyon, they have never been small.

    And as soon as you leave the posh, chic quartiers, there are far more overweight people. Fewer, and not as obese as in the US and some other European countries, but the thin Frenchperson is a bit of a myth. Look at some of the gilets jaunes, who are in general from areas beyond Paris and its suburbs.

  38. Most French women I know ( of a certain age) seem to have the classic bob cut. Usually chin length or a bit longer to tie back. Yes, think good ol’ Anna Wintour… Or Deneuve. The short pixie one sees on young women usually a very funky variation though. When French women think short it’s not as short as you might think. That weird, severely layered at the back bob ( my son calls it the Mom cut!) I have never seen in France only on North American tourists. I will say there is a certain reddish hair colour that many French women are fond of that really should be banned.