Embracing Your Inner Bourgeois* - une femme d'un certain âge

Embracing Your Inner Bourgeois*

Or, What’s So Bad About Looking Respectable?

*Title inspired from this comment from materfamilias on her post here, (responding to comments from the Scarves discussion at The Thoughtful Dresser), “Personally, I rather think that fighting one’s inner bourgeois is a foolish and losing battle, and I’d rather embrace my and give her a bit of funk while I’m at it…”
From Merriam-Webster.com:
Main Entry:

\ˈbu̇rzh-ˌwä also ˈbu̇zh- or ˈbüzh- or bu̇rzh-ˈ\
Middle French, from Old French burgeis townsman, from burc, borg town, from Latin burgus
circa 1565
1 : of, relating to, or characteristic of the townsman or of the social middle class 2 : marked by a concern for material interests and respectability and a tendency toward mediocrity 3 : dominated by commercial and industrial interests :

Back in my 20’s and 30’s, one of the worst insults that could be lobbed at one was “bourgeois.” Bourgeois carried the implication of staid, smug, middle class complacency, intellectual laziness, and indiscriminate materialism. Coming of age when I did during the counter-culture years, I fought against that part of myself that craved comfort, stability, and yes, luxury. As an outer manifestation of those values, my friends and I chased a more bohemian aesthetic, while I still secretly admired more classic and quality pieces that I saw on stylish, upscale women. The primary sartorial values my parents had instilled were a) buy quality fabrics and workmanship and b) stick to simple styles as you won’t tire of them quickly. Not surprisingly, I’ve come full circle back to that way of thinking when it comes to style.

In the comments on Linda’s Scarves post, a few people described Hermès scarves as looking too “bourgeois.” In some instances, I think the word was being used in place of “stodgy” or “matronly,” but I think also it was being used to represent that stuffy complacency that we ascribed to it way back when. But thinking about style and how it reflects our values, doesn’t it make sense from the standpoint of avoiding mindless over-consumption to have a few good things that will last for decades rather than chasing trends or purchasing cheap throw-away-after-a-few-wearings types of items? Which is more materialistic and “bourgeois”: the quiet luxury that an Hermès scarf conveys or the overwrought look of someone decked out in a “J’adore DIOR” t-shirt, huge Chanel logo earrings and a $2K bag splashed with overdone designer logos? (And yes, I recognize that there is a vast universe of middle ground.)
Sure, some of the Hermès scarf designs can be a bit stodgy, and I say that as someone who is nuts for anything with an equestrian theme. But it’s all in how you wear it, and even the stodgy can become ironic if done right. To me, the trick is to keep the rest of the ensemble simple and current, and wear with an air of insouciance. Materfamilias gets it Exactly Right.
Stodgy is as stodgy does. A lack of intellectual curiosity, a dour and judgemental demeanor, and a miserly spirit will always appear dowdy regardless of what au courrant garments one wears, whereas a generous spirit, an open heart and a sense of fun will always look fresh. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have some nice, classic things. If that’s bourgeois, so be it. And, as my grandmother used to say, “there’s no point in having nice things if you don’t use them.”
Updated to add: I’d missed this earlier, but Duchesse at Passage des perles has some great comments on this topic as well. Another one to file under Great Minds Think Alike! Love this bit especially, “I began to wonder, as opposed to what? Insouciantly bohemian? Stoutly working class? Private-jet megarich?”
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  1. Shefaly
    May 21, 2008 / 4:52 pm

    DejaPseu: Keeping with the spirit of your granny’s wise words, and taking inspiration from your foulard de la semaine feature, I gave one of my new DvF dresses an outing today. Worn with a silk scarf from Satya Paul (an Indian designer whose work I bought in the 1990s when nobody knew him and now his style is all the rage, so I guess I had a good eye) tied in a style I learnt from you, Wolford knee-socks and flat Cole Haan shoes, I think I was appropriately dressed for an event about luxury marketing in India and China. Your blog was quite instrumental today! Thank you! You would have been proud. 🙂

  2. May 21, 2008 / 5:00 pm

    LBR – yes, wasn’t Hermes a bit of a troublemaker too as I recall?

    Shefaly – your ensemble sounds lovely, great mix of elements!

  3. May 21, 2008 / 5:04 pm

    Not only is Mater’s scarf lovely, how ’bout that bag???

    Miss J has always loved mixing classic peices with something new and trendy or vintage scarves and hats. She has pieces that won’t outlive the summer (not many tho), and pieces worthy of passing on to her chidlren if she had any. Perhaps that is a bourgeois preoccupation as well?

  4. May 21, 2008 / 5:21 pm

    Enjoyed your comment about Hermes, Belette!

    My GF Helen is married to a guy named Hermes. “Don’t I look like a Greek god?” he asked her once, preening. “No”, she said, in an attempt to reduce his vanity, “you look like a G-D- Greek.”

  5. La Belette Rouge
    May 21, 2008 / 3:52 pm

    I love what you say about how done right stodgy gone be done in an ironic way. Yes! A few years ago a friend described my tongue-in-cheek tailored style as post modern preppy. I loved that label. I am drawn to classic pieces that can last the test of time. I am not into what is hot, hip or on trend. I don’t see a Hermes scarf as bourgeois at all. But, Juicy Couture, that is a bourgeois horse of a different color.

    The Greek God for who the brand is named is a clever, noisy, and fun-loving god. Stodgy, no, not Hermes. And, in my mind, you and Materfamilias are incapable of stodgy. The scarf like the God is shape shifting and changes from one wearer and wearing to the next.

  6. La Belette Rouge
    May 21, 2008 / 5:26 pm

    Duchesse: Thanks! And, I love that Greek god/God damn Greek. One of my favorites!! I think that is a very Hermes like joke. Hermes is a bit of a trickster. I love that about him.;-)

  7. hi
    i just discovered your blog : a great one


    i am from Paris and created Style and the City, a new way to humanize fashion with photo romances

    and monday i just met Sarah Jessica Parker.

    let’s keep in touch !

    street style romancer in Paris

  8. hi
    i just discovered your blog : a great one


    i am from Paris and created Style and the City, a new way to humanize fashion with photo romances

    and monday i just met Sarah Jessica Parker.

    let’s keep in touch !

    street style romancer in Paris

  9. May 22, 2008 / 12:49 pm

    Hi Kamel,

    Merci for stopping by, et pour votre commentaire. Votre blog est formidable! I’m adding to my blogroll.

    You met Sarah Jessica Parker? Fantastique!

  10. May 22, 2008 / 1:40 pm

    I’m down with my inner bourgeoise. She co-exists peacefully with my Inner Punk, my Inner Grace Kelly, my Inner Siren, my Inner Avant-Garde-ist, and my Inner Cowgirl, among others.

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