Becoming Madame: The secret to French allure
French beauty is about optimising a woman's allure in an imperfect and seemingly effortless way. Embody French seductiveness with these top styling tips from Parisian locals.
So we hear French women are infamous for their elegant sophistication, their self-confidence, and their Chanel-inspired chic femininity. I know, I've heard it too, but the thing is, it's all true: Parisian women are chic, French woman are seductive (in every sense).
French woman have some sort of genetic or ingrained sense of themselves. Even if they are not traditionally pretty in an American sense, they are alluring, so much so, that we don't even notice they aren't Grace Kelly's spitting image.
I've learned so much from being an inside-observer here in Paris. Over the last six years, my own clothing style, makeup habits and grooming routines have all been greatly influenced by my close observations of French women. Since becoming part of my belle-famille, however, the lessons have exponentially increased.
My mother-in-law, two sisters-in-law and thirty-odd female cousins-in-law have all taken me under their wing to acquaint me with the secrets of French femininity. Some of the rituals they tell me date from a great-great-great-grandmother who used her own cream concoction on her skin and lived well into her nineties with not a wrinkle on her face. Such secrets I am going to share with you in this piece on 'French Beauty 101'.
But I must start at the beginning...
The first lesson I learned when I came to Paris was that in order to not stick out like the obvious tourist I was, and yet was desperately trying not to be, I needed to wear less makeup, or more specifically, to not be so made-up. For those of you who know me, you will realise that this is a pretty remarkable suggestion since I never thought I wore much makeup to start with. Certainly compared to many of the Southern Belles I grew up around, I hardly indulged.
But it's not really about all makeup. It's about foundation. And it's about application. Thick, cakey foundation is a no-brainer for the French. The men hate it, makes them think – according to my husband and his friends – of a clown or a girl you'd take out to a club but would never bring home to meet Mum. I started to look around and noticed that French women, for the most part, don't wear foundation. Or, if they do, they apply it so sparingly that you cannot tell they have any on.
If you need a foundation to cover spots or blemishes, I'm with you. And there are some tricks as to how to make it look like you have that French perfect skin without the cake face.
I use, for instance, a cream foundation stick (by Terry) well matched to my skin tone and just dot it on the spots that need camouflage with my index finger. This works really well. The trick is finding the perfect colour for your skin tone and blending!
Here's another guide: I recently discovered a wonderful make artist who does a terrific job in her videos explaining how to achieve flawless coverup. Although she is British and we're talking about French beauty tips, she is excessively talented (and her videos are in English). So for a fabulously French, perfect complexion, take a peek; it's worth your next 10 minutes.
The second thing I noticed when I first arrived in France was that Parisian woman are not thoroughly put together like some of us Americans. Save for the rather aristocratic ladies who wear matching Chanel suits, scarves, bags and shoes, most French women mix and match to achieve an effortless look. This advice, ironically enough, comes straight from Chanel herself. She once said, "Before you leave the house, take one accessory off your body."
This is a fine line. Simplistic elegance is the key. But so is accessorising. For those of you who never put on a necklace or a belt, or have worn the same studs in your ears everyday for the last few years, think about introducing a long strand of pearls with a navy blazer, tee and jeans. For those of you who align yourselves more with Elizabeth Taylor, try focusing on one main eye-attracting accessory at a time. If you've got gorgeous earrings, leave the necklace at home. If you have a busy patterned dress, forgo other accessories except for perhaps a few bangles. Less is more.
The same rule applies to your makeup: If you are going for a red lip, lay off of the blusher and smokey eyes. If you want a dramatic eye for the evening, think of going for a pale lip.
For daily wear, the goal is to look like you don't have makeup on – that you got up, brushed your teeth and hair and vavoom, you're gorgeous. That's what the French do.
French ladies actually spend a great deal of time on their grooming, they just don't tell. That's the way it's supposed to be. People just think that your nails are naturally perfectly manicured and fabulous, that you have beautiful skin (and you didn't use the Eldridge tricks in the video above), and you just threw on the first thing you saw in your closet because – and here's the key to French women's confidence – you are so much more than what meets the eye.
French women are so confident, I should say appear so confident, that it's almost alarming. The truth is they are just as neurotic as you and me. True, they are taught certain truths about femininity from birth which make them more intriguing (we'll get to those, courtesy of my sisters-in-law), more open to male attention, and more at ease with themselves. They don't want to look perfect, for instance. Perfection is boring and the French are easily bored. Where the American is constantly searching for some objective level of perfected beauty, a French woman is optimising her own level of attractiveness – which in the end is not perfect at all. It's alluring. It's captivating.
It's true that French women are callously competitive, but aren't we all? Can we rightly single out the French women as any worse than the rest of us? I don't agree with those who say French women are obsessed about their weight. But that is a whole different subject for a whole new post.
So the first few beauty tips I learned from the French include:
- go for fabulously flawless skin, not piles of makeup;
- in the day, makeup should look non-existent;
- accessorise well, not too much, think of one eye-catching piece at a time;
- go for the effortless look (even if it isn't at all effortless); and
- be confident, or fake it till you are!
Born south of the Mason Dixon line, Becoming Madame is a North American attorney, writer and professor living in Paris with her French husband. Since moving to France six years ago, she has learnt fluent French and now teaches law at the Université Paris Dauphine to French students. She writes and runs the blog Becoming Madame, which provides an inside peek into real life in the French capital – les marchés, Soldes, boulangeries, cafés, French cooking, traditions and living as an expat.
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