Thursday, January 30, 2014

Books and Culture with Laura

An American Schlump Tries Parisian Chic On For Size
by Laura Scanlon

Encouraged by Lessons From Madame Chic, I recently picked up Parisian Chic: A Style Guide by Ines de la Fressange. The author - France’s self-proclaimed icon of chic - promises, “You don’t need to be born in Paris to have Parisian style.”

When I was growing up in the 1990s in the Deep South, style was simple: shoes match purse; fingernail polish matches toenail polish matches lipstick; earrings match necklace; necklace matches dress, dress matches eyeshadow.

So this idea of Parisian chic intrigues me but is more than a little foreign.

The author insists, “Don’t go for the head-to-toe! . . . We are all just steps from a fashion faux pas but the true Parisian will find a way to snatch a triomphe de style from the jaws of disaster.”

But how? Often enough, my outfits approach the jaws of disaster and then jump right in.

I read on, hoping for enlightening details:

• “Effortless style’ often takes, as it says, relatively little effort. All you really need is loads of self-confidence and a smile.”

So far so good. But . . .

• “Appearing to try too hard is very uncool: everyone knows the Parisian buys truckloads of fashion magazines to keep abreast of current trends, but she never lets it show!

I don’t know, that sounds like effort to me!

• One basic is a “man’s blazer.” “Belt it,” the author says, and wear with jeans.

Like this:


I think I’m missing something.

The photos in this book make one lesson very clear: To look Parisian, try to be tall, thin, sixteen, with great hair, and high cheekbones.

Well, I’ll work on it. In the mean time, the author says to wear . . .

• “A parka over a little chiffon dress,”
• “Knee-high cashmere socks in all colors (khaki, raspberry, turquoise),”
• “Military medals and badges in place of a brooch,”
• “Your teenage son’s shirt with a push-up bra underneath,” but not
cropped t-shirts,” or “too-tight shirts that gape,”
• Penny loafers, which are “absolutely essential” to the Parisian’s shoe
collection. “Team with chunky socks and jeans just short of your ankle.” 

Check! I’ve done that last one!

Kind of:

• Another staple is a navy sweater. “Understated, but more sophisticated than a plain black sweater. (Admit it: sometimes black sweaters are just too easy!)

So . . . “effortless” is good, but “too easy” is bad. I’m confused.

• Navy blue is “risk free.”

Phew! I’m glad something is . . . .

• “Unless you wear it with yellow (in which case you are sailing dangerously close to the band colors of a certain Swedish furniture store).”

Well, drat, there goes my favorite outfit. Ikea, here I come.

Perhaps I should stop poring over the text and simply use the illustrations for guidance. 


Hmm. Not so chic.

I give up, Ms. Fressange! I think you Frenchwomen really do have a certain je ne sais quoi that we Americans can never attain.

And perhaps that’s the whole point?

Laura is a Catholic Christian, a mother, a part-time lawyer, and a recovering overthinker. She writes monthly here at Atelier on books and culture, and blogs regularly at This Felicitous Life


  1. Oh Laura I am DYING! Trying not to wake up the sleeping baby because I'm laughing so hard! Love it. And remember when you used to dress me up and have me model? ...

    1. Oh yes,even then I knew I was not cut out for elegance, but I could live vicariously through you. So healthy.

  2. This post is hilarious. Love, love.

  3. Great stuff, Laura. Loved this!

  4. Laura, I'd follow you to the edges of blog land to read your stuff. Erudite and hilarious.
    PS - my laughing woke the sleeping baby

  5. Great article ~ and yes probably the one thing I've picked up from my Belgian cousins is that for casual elegance nothing beats a navy sweater. Well done!!

  6. Ha, amazing :) I think the key to all of it must be attaining the ideal weight of approximately 7 pounds. I'm just never gonna get there :P

  7. You know, the more I look at JCrew and other continental-inspired magazines/catalogs, the more I realize the clothes and outfits actually are ridiculous and unflattering. The people who can get away with it are those with good hair and makeup. A face really is the central feature. If I look sick and tired, nothing I wear is going to help.

    1. PS And by good I mean professionally done and airbrushed.


Please leave me a comment. If you don't blog, you may not realize that comments to a blogger are like sunshine to the whole of the photosynthesizing world. What I'm saying is, each comment means a lot! P.S. If you have an email connected to your profile, I'll most likely respond there.