Monday, June 4, 2012

Style Over 50: Dress Like a Parisian

Are you looking for an effortless way to look stylish and sophisticated? One of the simplest solutions may be to dress like an over 50 Parisians. That’s right—I’m talking about that French styling we’ve all been told is so elusive. Well, I just got back for 11 days in Paris and Amsterdam and I didn't find it elusive or difficult to define at all.

In a nutshell, French style seems to be about two things:
  • Simplicity
  • Quality 

I tried to take a few photos to illustrate French style, but wasn't too successful. By the time I got my digital camera turned on and the lens extended, the woman was out of sight. Also, the Paris buildings often made the pictures too dark. It gave me a whole new appreciation for NY Times' photographer Bill Cunningham. Hopefully, you'll get the idea from my less-than-perfect photo. Click “Read On” for details.

The weekend before my husband and I flew to Paris, we met a French couple at a birthday party for a mutual friend who was turning 50. Naturally, I asked them about their favorite Parisian haunts. I also sought advice on dressing for the nicer restaurants. We’d made a reservation at a restaurant rated #1 in France and #12 in the world and I was feeling a tad nervous. "Do I need to pack something very fancy for that?" I asked. The French wife said that Parisians dress like Americans and that whatever I would wear to a comparable New York City restaurant would be suitable for Paris dining.

Well, now that I’ve been to Paris, I must say I don’t agree that Parisians dress like Americans. In fact, it became a bit of a touring game to guess a woman’s nationality—French, American, or other country—based on her attire, before I heard her speak and her accent gave her away. It didn’t take long before I could correctly pick out the over 50 French women. (Perhaps, my French acquaintance was thinking of the younger Frenchwomen. I saw lots of 20-somethings in hot pants and 5-10” sandals and strappy heels—the New York must-have look for young women this spring.)

Neutral Colors and Natural Fibers

With very few exceptions, the over 50 French women I saw dressed in neutral-colored dresses and separates. The garments were well-made from natural fibers (lots of linen and silk for spring). Solid colors—cream, white, putty, olive, grey, black, brown, beige--were most popular. For example, I saw several olive-colored military-styled jackets with creamy slacks. Or maybe a black sheath, like the woman below. The military styling adds a little edge to a feminine v-neck dress or a pair of tailored slacks. I think garments with a little "edge" are great on women over 50.

Now and then, I saw separates in creamy blues and greens or rose. And sometimes, I would see a printed top or bottom. But again, the prints consisted of neutral-colors. Tops--sweaters, blouses, blazers--often had a simple accent that gave the outfit a one-of-a-kind look--another great styling goal for women over 50.

Silk Scarf Scene

For a bit of bolder color, French women add a silk scarf in a bright solid or print. Take, for instance, the tangerine scarf on the woman at the top of this post. (I also saw a lot of vests on over 50 Frenchwomen, which I'm a huge fan of.) Still, the most popular scarves were either solid white or cream scarves as well as beige-and-white or grey-and-white printed scarves. In lieu of a scarf, women wore a pretty necklace. The jewelry plus a smashing handbag and shoes made the neutral-based outfit "pop," as they say.

I took the snapshot at the top of this post at the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris last Thursday. I play tennis twice a week, so I was pretty excited when I realized our trip was going to coincide with the international tennis tournament--a Grand Slam, no less. As an aside, I had to laugh when I saw the young women welcoming spectators to the various tennis matches at the French Open. They were dressed like Parisians in beautifully-made cream dresses with tangerine accents (see below). I go to the US Open every year and I can tell you: the American tournament staff do not dress like that! By the by, what about the young man, a co-worker, next her? Now that's what I call jaunty.

I did see some Frenchwomen dressed in neutral-colored blouses, sweaters or blazers and blue jeans. And there was the occasional woman dressed in a navy blazers and slacks. But linen or light-weight cotton slacks or Capris outnumbered the blue jeans on over 50 women I saw.

 A Parisian Look: One Garment at a Time
At this point, you might be thinking there are two problems (at least?) with the idea of dressing like a Parisian woman over 50. First, the French style I've described requires an investment. Well-made clothing isn’t cheap. I also got the feeling that many of the pieces I loved most were from the lovely, eclectic (translation: expensive) boutiques in Paris. However, if you add a neutral-colored separate one at a time as pieces go on sale at department stores or boutiques, you can create a couple of mix-and-match sophisticated outfits for that important business meeting or dinner out, when you want to dress to impress. I've been told that that's what Parisians who don't have an unlimited clothing allowance do.

The other problem has to do with the color scheme--solids and neutral colors. If you’re anything like me, the idea of always wearing solid, neutral-colored separates might strike you as a bit boring. I couldn’t do it. But for those special times when I want to look sophisticated without a lot of fuss, dressing like a Parisian seems like an easy solution.