"Chic," qu’est-ce c’est?

French women supposedly Have It. The rest of us supposedly Want It. But what is it?

“Chic” is something most of us feel we recognize when we see it, yet a clear definition remains elusive. It’s almost easier to define what it isn’t. Chic isn’t deadly serious. Chic isn’t (necessarily) glamorous. Chic isn’t a formula, and what is chic isn’t the same for all women. Chic isn’t (again, necessarily) the latest trend. Chic isn’t overdone. Chic isn’t stiff. Chic isn’t afraid. Chic isn’t self-conscious.

If une femme were to define what makes an item, ensemble or woman chic, these would be the crucial elements: simplicity, balance, functionality, timelessness, a careful balance between playfulness and sophistication, and an overall feeling of a harmonious whole, even while certain elements may be tweaked. Chic is highly individual; what would look naturally chic on one woman might look forced and ridiculous on another.

Chic hasn’t come naturally to me, but it also seems like trying consciously to achieve it undermines the effect, much like a cat chasing her own tail. Perhaps we try too hard. Perhaps it’s a question of putting yourself together to suit your own taste and then letting go. Perhaps chic is as much a result of attitude as anything else.

What do you think? How do you define “chic”? Do you do anything in particular to try and achieve it?

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8 Comments

  1. September 10, 2007 / 6:24 pm

    Chic is definitely about attitude and appearing to have just thrown on whatever. Miss J knows she only acheives it occassionally.

    As for French women, the Janeys stayed at a bed & breakfast last year in Ojai. The proprietess was French & Miss J was looking forward to checking out her style. She had the fabulous accent but there was nary a beret or scarf in sight, and certainly no trace of chic. She was appallingly unkempt. Miss Janey thought, “A FRENCH woman, going around this way. C’est impossible!” Miss J had to wonder if the End Days were upon us. Not only were her clothes mismatched and wrinkled, they were stained. And had been for some time. She was anything but chic. And not a very good hostess either. She kept complaining about the other guests and locking the Janeys out of the house.

    On the bright side- at least she didn’t smoke!

  2. September 10, 2007 / 7:35 pm

    Perhaps the proprietess had been exiled by her countrywomen for her slovenly ways? 🙂

    The women I observed in Paris were by no means universally chic either. Probably a bit better put together on the whole than you’d see around here, but definitely some eyebrow raising looks too (and not in a good way).

  3. September 10, 2007 / 9:03 pm

    Mais oui, with a few exceptions, designer logos (and especially head-to-toe designer logos!!!) don’t come across as particularly chic. And London was the birthplace of Mod, so I’ve always had an image of the women there as stylish. (That’s the next city in Europe I hope to visit.) When I was growing up in the 60’s, Britain–and London in particular–was a BIG influence on styles here (not just the Beatles, but all fashion, music, art perceived to be British was en vogue).

  4. Shefaly Yogendra
    September 10, 2007 / 8:33 pm

    Dejapseu:

    I think there is Paris and then there is France. One visit to Alsace or other countryside type locales in France quickly corrects the misapprehension that the French women are universally gifted with a sense of BCBG.

    Some Southern European women are very stylish too. I recently moved back down to London after some years in Edinburgh and the women are singularly very well turned out. Largely I think it is a matter of being comfortable in one’s skin.

    And also of not violently disregarding some basic rules of dressing. For instance, in the UK, thanks to TK Maxx, everyone can buy branded goods, but then some go overboard with making everything matching-matching. There goes any semblance of style!

    Thanks.

  5. Shefaly Yogendra
    September 11, 2007 / 5:57 am

    You will have a good time in London, I am sure, although ‘style’ is highly variable.

    London in certain areas has a dense population of fashionistas so you may see some well-dressed but understated chic. In the other areas, we now have tonnes of Russian money, which manifests in more ostentatious dressing. Largely, the masses dress like one another in hues of grey, blue, black. 🙁 Which, coming from a colour-full culture, I still find very odd after all these years, especially in contrast with memories from visiting India where there is a burst of colour at every corner.

    BTW on that Hermes thread, I forgot to say – well you probably have it anyway – that Hermes sponsored a beautiful book on the history of handbags. Written by Farid Chenoune, a French historian, it is a great, big book called ‘Carried Away’. Their stores were selling it some years ago.

    Thanks.

  6. December 10, 2007 / 6:05 pm

    Chic has an unsktudied element but also, it’s never settling, as in “I don’t have quite the right heel height for these pants, so I’ll just wear these.” I spend time each year in Paris. The shoes are better quality and always right for the outfit.

  7. ed
    March 19, 2009 / 11:26 am
  8. October 22, 2010 / 5:56 pm

    Chic, c’est le style magified!

    Chic is the mixture of low-end and high-end, something old and something new with a little of “I don’t care” attitude thrown in for good measure. It is being completely comfortable in your own skin and no envy of others!

    Enfin, chic, c’est vous et chaque femme, qui sait qui elle est et elle arbore!

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