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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Francophilia and French Fashion Frugality

My family is comprised of francophiles. Indeed, I think I was in part interested in Mr. FS when we met because he had lived in France not once, when his father had a teaching Fulbright in 1968, but twice, when he returned post-college for two years. Hence he is fluent in French, while I am not, a source of frustration and, I'm afraid, some jealousy (of our son, who is there now).

The myth of French frugality is widespread. We get a glimpse of it in Babette's Feast, when we see Babette wrangling with the fishmonger and then cooking so as to wring the most flavor out of humble ingredients. (Of course, at the end she blows her lottery windfall on a fabulous feast out of artistry and love for the women who took her in . . . well, you should see the film).

I'm talking about French shopping frugality. This involves having a few basic items of excellent fit to be varied with au courant accessories. Including, of course, the scarf. I have never really managed this. My family sport involved getting as much as possible for as little as possible. My mother always spoke of French fashion frugality as a goal. She called it New York City-No Closet shopping. But her closets reveal that she has never achieved this ideal, and, in fact, has strayed from it more and more over the years as money became less an issue.

I have a French friend here and, by and large, she exemplifies the cliche. She buys very little, spends more on individual items than I do, and doesn't think about it again. This last is key. Once you have what you need, you STOP LOOKING.

Well, it's hard to stop looking with the internet. But I am aiming for a more French way of doing things this year. I know my readers were fascinated (hope the irony is evident) by my tale of two Eileen Fisher pants, bought on sale, but still expensive for me, the princess of the $3.00 thrift find.

The EF pants were an acknowledgment of my misery at the waistband. Then, in a further journey to the Dark Side, I went to Chico's where I bought a pair of pants that look kind of like leggings. Other people must have my problem, because these pants are now sold out in many sizes including mine.

Anyway, I have 3 new pairs of pants. I am going to try to STOP LOOKING for a while. I am going to try to embrace the ethic of French fashion frugality. It's soooooo hard for a thrift store girl like me.


Shelley said...

I think we're on the same page re: thrift store shopping. I generally go with an idea in mind (ie need brown tops or grey slacks...) but if I find something lovely that fits, I buy it. And, I'm sorry to say, sometimes even when it didn't fit, thinking "I'll take it up". Yeah, right.

Add to this the hoarder's instinct of keeping all things hopelessly outgrown, out of style, inappropriate; also things that I once loved and wore to death, items having lots of good memories attached.

On top of this, and us, is a 400 sq ft attic with only one light bulb, until a couple of weeks ago when Bill finally got around to putting in more lights.

When I first went up I was delighted to be able to see...oh, no, all that stuff. I had forgotten I ever had so much of that. There is also a lot I wondered what happened to it: Bill put it in the attic, apparently. I was stunned. Once again I see it is no wonder I've ended up living with a psychiatric nurse.

We want to move back to the States one day and that clutter has got to be gone before we can accomplish that. I read the weblog Unclutter all the time. Putting it into practice is another thing...I've got some major changes to make in my character I think.

Duchesse said...

Frugal, I enjoy you, (or the you represented by your blogs) so much. Your remarkable thrifting luck/ability has given you a rarified approach to shopping.

I have about 4 French GFs. They buy some mightily expensive clothes, often paying full price. But they will wear a ten year old velvet jacket without the slightest thought and NEVER say "What, this old thing?" when you compliment it.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Shelley--I am trying to reform. Hence those expensive pants I keep writing about. Keep us posted on your decluttering progress!

@Duchesse--Thanks! the feeling is mutual. I am really trying to be more "French" in my shopping. I did have a slight breakdown today, however--just one thing.

Funny about Money said...

My mother used to buy that way: she would always think in terms of what would go with some purchase she was about to make. Thus in her mind, a pair of pants and a shirt (say) equaled not one outfit but several, since each item would fit with something else in her closet.

Over time, she must have thought she had hundreds of outfits, because at the end her closet was chuckablock full.

She also never bought things unless they were cut in a classic style that was unlikely to go out of fashion. I'm like her in that respect: though I don't have a lot of clothes (because I can't afford them and find shopping tedious), what I do have looks good for years and usually gets worn until it falls apart.

In my experience, Europeans will buy much as Americans do, given enough cash and space to store junk. My French friend in college had everything one would need. And my Polish goodness! There was a woman who could shop!

Interestingly, in Poland the SiL and her mother usually had things made. Even though in many ways they were much worse off than most Americans (when the parents divorced, for example, there was such a housing shortage they had to continue living together until the father died), socially I think they were part of the upper crust (he was a diplomat, said to be a spy in the Far East).

At any rate, they had tailors. They would subscribe to publications like Paris Match and Vogue, which they would peruse in search of fashion. When they saw something they wanted, they'd hand the picture to their tailor, who would copy it and see that it actually fit them.

I've often thought it would be nice to have tailors like that here!

We have such an embarrassment of riches in the clothing stores, but 99% of what you find on the racks looks like it was made for a teenaged girl, a streetwalker, or a resident of the nursing home. It's rare to find something that actually fits, and when you do, the price is through the roof.