Strictly speaking

Something has been tugging at une femme lately, drawing me back to a post by Duchesse from last November, where she describes that particularly Parisienne d’un certain age style of dressing that she’s labeled “strict:”

The look is worn by women over 35, and entails precise, demanding tailoring, the best fabrics, a base of neutrals (no bright colours), pattern usually tone on tone if any, each piece revealing idiosyncratic, subtle details.

There is humour, but it’s a fleeting smile, not a giggle.

It is not CDG or Yoji, not Eskandar, not decontracteé; the items are close to the body, with evident construction and conventions like buttons, and the buttons will always be mother of pearl or horn. Nor is it classic jolie madame dressmaking, there’s more far more wit and modernity.

Despite recent pushing of my own sartorial envelope (wearing more color, mixing patterns) I still keep coming back around toward a version of this style Duchesse describes, one a bit less relentlessly strict perhaps, but still clean of line and edited, based on mostly monochromatic neutrals with a small dollop of color from scarves or other accessories. I can’t yet claim the impeccable tailoring or the witty details always, though I aspire to these. When I feel most at home in my clothing, most myself, invariably I am wearing my version of strict. Though I appreciate more feminine, embellished styles on other women, ultimately it’s this kind of clean, edited look that most aligns with my sensibilities.

In comments on Duchesse’s post, greying pixie noted that strict is a style that best works with a figure plus mince. I’ll agree when it comes to the very literal translation of the Parisienne version, but believe that one can tweak the individual elements to best suit one’s own body type, environment, and venue. Those key elements for me are simplicity, fit, sticking to a neutral palette and subtle but unique details, all of which can flatter even those with more curves.

The dress Duchesse posted as an example, I believe would work for a majority of body types provided the fit was good. A dress like this would create a great neutral platform to launch from, even if one wanted to wear more color overall.

I adored this dress when Duchesse first posted it, but at the time it was out of reach, both price-wise and size-wise. So when I went to to find the picture for this post, quel trouvé? Still there. Marked down from $605 to $269 $161.40 through 4/8! And the size that I’m hoping will fit me in a few weeks was still available. I’ve broken one of my cardinal shopping rules, and purchased something that will not fit me right now, but I’m crossing my fingers that my gamble will pay off. Best case scenario, it will just need to be shortened a bit.

Picture this ensemble with grey diamond patterned tights, and here’s strict á la femme.

Strict 1

(Or, I’d wear with some black, but it would probably be a black leather motorcycle jacket.)

Edited to add: found these shoes, less clunky, more funky…

Strict 2


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  1. Okay, first off, fantastic dress. Well shopped!
    Secondly, I’ve also been a little obsessed with this look lately, especially as shown in that Audrey photo. It seems like it’s been a year since I wore a full skirt — it just feels too fussy right now. OTOH, I’m still all baout color. I’m down with the sleek silhouette, but I still want color.

  2. Bravo! And one of my personalities is also very drawn to this kind of dressing and would wear an ensemble exactly as you’ve Polyvored it. (The other days of the week, someone else takes over and I’m wearing a long peplumed sweater with leopard chiffon flounces at the cuffs!!)

  3. like the dress very much and the charcoal grey is perfect…the shoes are a little heavy for me…clunky maybe is the right word?
    i would also pair with tights…love tights but, most likely i would not wear a scarf but a large necklace or brooch.
    i have so many scarves but, when it comes to wearing them i put them on…and then nix the idea…don’t know why. just me perhaps.

    have a wonderful day.

  4. LOVE the dress. I’d prefer a different neckline–v works better on me–but it’s gorgeous. I’d love it in other colors, too.

  5. Excuse me while I call the EMTs to re-start my heart! While a number of us blog-gfs are about pattern-mixing with cute prints, I’m not well-served by that approach, though enjoy it on others.

    If, like some commenters, you love colour, you can work it into ‘strict’ but not likely as an entire dress. The clours of the strict French look also tend to be subtle and a bit odd; like bluey green or foggy lavendar… the kind of colours that make you say, “What is that colour?”

  6. Wendy, it does not. You will not be. But there are other ways to look alluring, and you do!

    Regarding the plunging neckline: “Il fait chaud en balcone” as they say.

  7. It comes back to what I always try to ask mayself….”Would Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly have worn it?” If not, I probably shouldn’t either! Great dress, and great score on the price! So the WW plan is going well? Good for you!

  8. I like this dress and what a price. Hoorah for you! I think this strict form of dressing is great as it lends to a smaller wardrobe with more accessories. My small closet would appreciate this.

  9. Of course you can put anything with a dress as simple as this one, but then you lose the ‘strict’ appeal of it. My guess is that once you fit into your new dress you won’t want to clutter it with the accessories you suggest. It will show off your new figure beautifully without the need for oversized bag nor clunky heels. Somehow I feel their proportions are wrong for the simplicity of the look. Years ago when I was 14lbs lighter I used to wear mine with my Ferragamo Varas (a la grand-mere). Imagine how Catherine Deneuve would wear this dress – with a black lightweight trenchcoat and flat Roger Vevier pumps. What more do you need?

  10. Strict … what an interesting way to describe style. But it really is concise, and I can envision just the type of style it encompasses.

    Do you feel like you’re “going back” to this style because you love it? It’s natural? Or is it just familiar? (Not trying to be cheeky, just curious.)

  11. Nancy – thanks! I was teetering on the brink and then when I checked the elux website last night, seeing the extra 40% off pushed me right over.

    Sher – thanks, I really hope so!

    StyleSpy – based on what you showed us today, you’ve got the streamlined-yet-colorful look nailed.

  12. materfamilias – thanks! what I’m hoping though, is that this dress will work with my more playful mixes too…

    dana – thanks! I think the universe was making up for the jacket that didn’t work out. Apparently I was right to jump on the dress, as they’re now all sold out of the larger sizes!

    erin – did you see it with the second pair of shoes? You need to *wear* those scarves! It takes some getting used to seeing yourself in a scarf (and practice tying) but don’t let those beauties languish in a drawer!

  13. La Belette – love your new profile pic! I will share some ensembles with the dress if it works out.

    Narya – thanks, I’d prefer a V neck as well, but I’ve learned that you can use scarves or a necklace to create the same effect. Hey, at least it has *sleeves!*

    Wendy – you’re having too much fun to be strict! You have such a fabulous style that works for you. Not many women could work the butt flowers like you do.

  14. Duchesse – those “non-color colors” are one reason I’m not aiming for the pure Parisian strict. Neither am I going for primary or neon brights. Somewhere in between…

    Modest Mom – yes! I’ve referred to my style in the past as “classic with a twist.”

    Sal – actually I ask myself that question pretty regularly. There might be some “comfort zone” playing, but I’ve always gravitated toward those simple, clean styles (at least for myself). When someone mentions “style icon” that picture of Audrey I posted above is always the first image that flashes in my brain.

  15. maravonda – ah, your style icons are classic too? WW is going better than I’d expected, at least as far as being able to live with it. I’ll have an update in a few days.

    Bonjour Madame – one thing I am always striving for is paring down my wardrobe. I think this may be a good start.

    greying pixie – you may be right, and I’ll certainly experiment in that direction. I’m not necessarily aiming for the very finely honed “strict” that Duchesse describes, as I don’t think I can pull that off. But it’s certainly something to keep in mind with the goal of paring down the look.

  16. Deja, I was intrigued when Duchesse made that post about ‘strict,” and I’m so glad you took it further. I love this concept. I think I’ve been inadvertently using some of the ideas since I was young, but lately…I don’t know, I have to re-examine this. Very interesting and thought-provoking.

    p.s. Your accessorizing that great dress really works.

  17. OK, I’m going to be the ‘party pooper’ here on that dress, at least from a personal standpoint. If I put on that dress, being the shape and size I am, I would look like my own Ukranian great-grandma. All I’d need is a babushka around my head to complete the look. The only thing that would stop it is the fact that I still have all my teeth. Why does that dress ‘work’ in the pictures(and for that matter why does the same look ‘work’ for Audrey Hepburn, et al.?). I think if one is tall, young and/or thin, that look would work – it does have the ‘young gamine French girl’ look to it. But I know it would do horrific things to me. At my age, I need some color, some interest near my face and something ‘uplifting’, which that outfit with its matching dark hose is, IMHO, not. Don’t get me wrong; the dress shape is really good – I’d buy or make it in a second in a nice dark blue or forest green, but not charcoal or black unless I could jazz it up a whole lot. Just not.

  18. Sallymandy – thanks!

    Imogen – I’ll have a report up tomorrow…stay tuned.

    Toby – I’m with you about needing some color and interest around the face, which is why I go with scarves so often. I think the hemline of the dress would also make a difference. Too long would definitely lean toward “eastern European grand-mere” territory.