Lovely reader Cecilia sent the following note to “les femmes” (yours truly and Tish of A Femme d’un Certain Age). I think this speaks to a challenge that many of us have faced: dressing to fit in vs. dressing in accordance with our personal style. Today we both respond.
Dear Unefemme and afemme,
My question: Are you chic if no one around you thinks you are?
I am writing to you both because I would like to get both a French and American point of view on my question.
I am a 56-year old woman who is often told I look at least a decade younger. I credit this to good genes from my mom and staying out of the sun for the past three decades. I have always tried to dress in what I would describe as a classically elegant way; however, over the past ten years, I had resorted to a very basic wardrobe of either jeans or black pants and a t-shirt, turtleneck or blouse in synthetic fabrics (or cotton) and bright colors. I did not buy the cheapest clothes, but certainly not high quality ones either. During that period, I put on and took off the same 15 pounds. Although it has been almost three years and I had stabilized at about + 10 lbs. over my weight at age 18, I still did not want to invest a lot of money in my wardrobe until I finally lost those 10 pounds. About 6 months ago, I decided to accept my size 8 weight (low by American standards and high by Parisian standards). I started reading a lot of fashion blogs and have found that your two blogs are most aligned to my tastes.
I have read your book Tish, as well as the one you recommended by Inès de La Fressange and really love all your, Ines’ and unefemme’s suggestions on how to dress. I have been buying fewer, much higher quality pieces and having started wearing them to work. I feel so much better!! I really was quite surprised at first. I am an administrative assistant at a large hospital in an outlying suburb of a mid-Atlantic state in the US. I never felt it was worth spending money on nice clothes because very few people in this area wear nice clothes. This brings me to my question.
While I wholeheartedly embrace the French way of dressing, few people here do. This may sound like a vain, silly thing to say, but, while I feel so much better about how I dress, I have received very few compliments. In fact, the only time I receive compliments is when I wear a bright color or a statement necklace. (These were a few pieces I bought when I first start viewing fashion blogs written by younger women in the U.S.). So, I guess my question is, are you really chic, if no one around you thinks you are? (If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?)
I am a native New Yorker, who lived in Brooklyn, Queens and then Manhattan for until I was 26, and I have always felt that my clothing choices did not fit it here. I even stopped wearing certain things because I felt I would stand out too much. Not because I was dressing in a tacky, garish way, but because I was dressing in a chic, elegant way. As I said, I prefer chic. Most women here dress in very inexpensive, poorly made clothes and walk around with low-designer handbags with large logos purchased from outlet stores. This makes me sound like a snob, I fear, but I don’t like wearing logos, big or small. Yet, I am the one who doesn’t fit in (and I don’t want to)!
So, again, are you chic if no one around you thinks you are?
I would love your thoughts on this question.
Thank you both for your great blogs. I will continue to follow both of them as I build my Parisian Chic wardrobe.
The short answer: yes, of course you are!
The long answer: “chic” is one of those very subjective (and often overused and mis-used) terms that often has different meanings depending on who is wielding it. Here’s what “chic” means to me: smart, simple, put-together, dressing in accordance with one’s taste and lifestyle, with attention to quality, fit and incorporating a soupçon (or even a large ladle) of individuality. I think it’s hard to feel chic when you are dressing to please others rather than yourself.
Sometimes that means you are out of step with those around you. But if you are confident in your choices, if your clothing feels like a part of you, that’s bound to come through. If you feel good about what you’re wearing and projecting, people will react to that even if they do not notice or respond to you style choices.
“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”
― Coco Chanel
Isn’t choosing what to wear about presenting our best self to the world? Chic is as much about attitude as style. And I’d bet good money that there are people who admire your style, even if they do not say anything.
Still, the pull to feel like one belongs in one’s community can be strong. And cultural norms change over time. I think you have the right instinct: to add an accessory or two that nods to what those around you find stylish, while at the same time staying true to what feels right for you.
I looks forward to reading what Tish has to say…go here to find out.
And Cecilia, thank you.