Few of us are immune to sartorial dry spells—those periods when nothing in our closets excite us, the prospect of hunting down new items is far from enticing, and dressing in the morning feels more like a thoughtless routine than savored ritual.
During my pregnancy and for the first several months of new motherhood, my main priority when getting dressed was functionality, followed by is it clean? Stretch tops may have been replaced by nursing tops, but something immaterial was missing from my style—I was just too busy with everything else to notice. And that’s okay; sometimes personal style has to take a back seat to more immediate concerns, of course, but rehabilitating one’s fashion sense can be something to look forward to after challenging and busy periods have quieted down.
It wasn’t until my daughter was about seven months old that it occurred to me that I should edit my closet, revive forgotten pieces, and enjoy the art of dressing. The process of reconnecting to and refining my style was ultimately about remembering how I loved to dress—more so than which brands or individual pieces I favored. In other words, this mini style makeover was largely internal and didn’t need to involve that much closet shuffling or purchase of new items.
Dressing to leave the house is now about choosing what I love, what brings me joy—regardless of what the unwritten dress code may be. (When I dress for myself, I tend to “overdress” for the places I go, but at this point, I’m not bothered if I’m the only one in heels!)
This subtle but meaningful shift in my approach to clothing echoed a style philosophy I’ve come across before, espoused by the French (bien sûr). In college, I’d picked up a large book worthy of the chicest coffee tables, My French Life by Vicki Archer. With its sumptuous photography by Carla Coulson, the book chronicles Archer’s time in Saint-Remy-de-Provence while she and her family restored a 17th-century farmhouse—truly the stuff of my Francophile fantasies. Archer, an Australian, details her experience adapting to French culture and even dedicates one chapter to the style, beauty practices, and attitudes of French women.
Ah, The French Women. At least since the dawn of cinema, American women’s magazines and style guides have perpetuated the elusive allure of ces femmes, and we non-French Westerners (myself included), have voraciously read dozens of articles about the je ne sais quoi of this ever-magnetic archetype. While the French women I’ve met have all been distinct individuals impossible to stereotype, I remain unshakably fascinated with the idea of a classic French beauty—and fortunately for anyone who reads My French Life, so was Archer.
Praising her French companion Valérie, Archer says she “glides” wherever she goes (thanks to a background in dance) and never leaves the house without beautifully applied lip. Most notably, however, Valérie imparts some style advice that’s simple but wide-reaching: “In her opinion,” Archer explains, “there is no such thing as thrown together or luck. Her advice is to begin with what you are in no doubt of and what makes you happy. Take the time to feel secure in your choices and the rest will follow…the most important thing for her was to wear what pleased her. She did not dress to fit in with fads or to impress girlfriends. Valérie selected what she genuinely loved.”
Prioritizing textures and colors that suited her and unique combinations that she enjoyed, Valéire projected a quiet confidence embodied by her enviable style. “For Valérie, her mystique, her je ne sais quoi, is confidence and contentment. There is no greater magnetism than a woman who’s is self-assured. This is the ultimate beauty secret and one that French women truly understand.”
From my own experience of dressing truly for myself, I can say that it’s the manifestation of something that’s felt and intuited rather than studied—which means it’s also about forgetting certain style advice or perhaps even what’s trendy so that your own preferences have a voice. Once you start letting go of rules and start listening to what you want, getting dressed and planning outfits becomes quite fun—and even addicting.
While there are several days that find me dressing more for function than anything else (as mostly I am home with my toddler who loves stroller rides and playing in the grass), I know that when I want to have a stylish moment, I need open my closet and begin with what I am in no doubt of…
Has your approach to style changed over the years? Let us know in the comments below?
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