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Chic at any age

An American in Paris shares Frenchwomen’s style secrets

Created date

September 24th, 2013
Forever Chic: Frenchwomen s Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style and Substance

Frenchwomen are renowned for their innate sense of style. Like the vintage wine France is known for, Frenchwomen appear to get better with age. From their beauty regimens to their seemingly magical ability to consume rich sauces and flaky croissants without gaining a pound, women everywhere wonder, “How in the world do the French do it?”

American fashion journalist Tish Jett uncovers the secrets of French style and beauty in her new book (for sale on October 15, 2013) Forever Chic: Frenchwomen’s Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style and Substance (Rizzoli). Calling herself “a lab rat in pearls,” Jett visited French dermatologists, hairdressers, style experts, diet doctors, and the like. She took the supplements, applied the miracle creams, and underwent the special massages, and her book is teaming with tips and practical advice gained from those experiences.

When Jett moved to Paris to pursue her “dream job” as style editor of the International Herald Tribune, her plan was to stay for two years, but a dashing Frenchman turned those plans around. Twenty-five years later, Jett and her dashing Frenchman are happily married and still living in Paris.

Living, loving, and growing older in Paris has given Jett a unique view of Parisian style, beauty, and health—particularly with regard to aging as she went from a thirty-something to what she calls a femme d’un certain age, or a woman of a certain age. Jett recently shared some of her expertise with us (the Tribune is not affiliated with the International Herald Tribune).

Tribune: Are there any particular styles older women should avoid?

Jett: When I watch Frenchwomen, which I do constantly, I see that basically there are few rules after a certain age. Women with great legs wear their skirts from slightly above their knees to just below. Their clothes fit well, not as snuggly as they did when they were younger, but one sees tailoring which marks the waist, adjusts the shoulders, corrects the break on trousers.

I think leather need not be rejected, but it mustn’t be tough. The same thing for denim. Long, flowy summer skirts can be pretty on some women, but the top should be somewhat tailored, a crisp shirt, tucked in, belted.

One can never emphasize enough the importance of every woman’s best friend—her full-length mirror.

Tribune: Our bodies change with age. How do we deal with those changes?

Jett: Proper foundations are important at every age. The wrong bra can make a woman look older. The right bra can make her look younger.

In my interviews, I met one of the most famous creators of French underpinnings. She “constructs”—and truly that is the correct word—made-to-measure foundations. They are an enormous luxury and most definitely not in the budget of the vast majority of the planet; however, when she described the details of her handiwork, she gave me an unforgettable lesson that we can all apply.

She lamented the trends in vast lingerie departments without professionally trained personnel. She maintained that a woman cannot buy foundations without assistance. I believe she is correct. Therefore the first rule for all of us is to find a store which employs a woman who will lead us to the foundation garments we should be wearing.

A few tricks she told me: the only elastic on the shoulder strap of a bra should be a tiny bit at the back; otherwise, there is no support. The back of the bra should sit low on the back, if it rides up, there goes the support.

Tribune: Every season we are presented with new trends. Are Frenchwomen as tied to such trends as American women seem to be?

Jett: The Frenchwomen who are the most fun to watch are those who create their own style, which they’ve developed through the years. It’s all about them, not the latest and the greatest.

Elegance is never about being “on trend”; it’s about smart, well-fitting, crisp, flattering clothes. As Yves Saint Laurent said: “Fashions fade, style is eternal.”

Tribune: Are there aspects of American style that intrigue French women?

Jett: During my interviews, I discovered that the French admire Americans’ shiny, healthy hair and beautiful teeth.

Although we didn’t discuss the subject, it’s true that Americans and American designers are largely responsible for what the fashion business has come to call “sportswear.” You know I’m not referring to sweats and anything related to jogging outfits worn outside of exercise situations.

Coco Chanel understood the notion of sportswear when she paired a sailor’s marinière t-shirt with trousers. But, when one thinks of crisp, clean, fresh sportswear, one thinks American. It’s a look that has no expiration date.

For more style tips and advice, visit Tish Jett’s blog (

Tish Jett’s tips on style

Keep it simple.

Build a workable wardrobe. That is to say, have a base color—you know I must say a neutral—and make sure it accommodates one’s lifestyle. If a woman goes to her closet and can’t quickly pull out something she feels comfortable and stylish in, something is wrong.

Make absolutely certain that nothing ever returns to the closet that needs repair or cleaning. Everything hanging in a closet should be pressed and ready-to-wear. This is a non-negotiable detail.

If a woman has found a style, a jacket, for example, that works for her figure and her lifestyle, then she can re-buy that jacket over and over again. Frenchwomen do that. No one knows it’s the same jacket—it can be in linen, wool, cotton, denim, velvet—it can have details and embellishments, but it is always the same shape, the shape that a woman knows flatters her and makes her feel she looks chic.

After a certain age, let’s forget about plunging necklines. In my opinion, no one wants to see crinkly cleavage. So that I’m not offending anyone, let me say that I no longer do the plunge.

A wardrobe is basically flawed if a woman owns too many bottoms. A few solid, flattering standby basics are all we need. It’s tops that add style and flair.