Alors, have you made your guesses and tabulated your results on the French/Not French quiz? Thanks for playing, and I look forward to your feedback on our assessments.
1) Madame T-shirt and Fannypack:
Not Francais. French women might wear such a T-shirt to do their housecleaning, but never in public. Although, come to think of it, this suggests they actually bought such a T-shirt in the first place, which is doubtful. And a fanny pack? S’il… vous… plait….
2) Madame Lime Green and Rose
Did the French language newspaper give you pause? Me too. But je pense que reading ability was the only part of this woman that was French. Quiet characterizes the well-dressed French woman’s wardrobe, and this outfit screamed. The matchy-matchyness of the jewellry was a giveaway as well.
3) Mademoiselle at the Matisse Museum:
French, absolutement. Women of all ages in France are much more likely than North American women to wear dresses and skirts, not body-hugging, but well-tailored. Younger women more often wear their hair long, rather than in the Jennifer Aniston, shoulder-length layers still so popular in North America.
4) Madame at the next table
This woman, the adored Grandmaman de petite Jeannette of Le Vieil Hopital in Caromb, gave me baseline data for norming “French/Not French”. We were introduced in the residence courtyard as Jeannette was showing off the contents of her first day of school backpack. My first thought when I looked at her grandmother was “What makes this woman so stylish?” I had the opportunity to answer my question when, by chance, we ended up at the same restaurant that evening. She wasn’t expensively dressed, but again, her clothing fit her well, and her posture emphasized the slim lines of her shirt and jeans. A North American woman may have completed the outfit with black sandals and a silver chain. But the red wedges and the wool felt beads added a little French twist to Grandmere’s outfit. French women’s general style and their voices in restaurants may be quiet, but their conversations and their accessories are spirited..
5. Signora in the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild gardens
We were able to verify her Italianness when we heard her arguing with her husband. But even before that, I doubted she was Francaise. The spirit of her accessories was more Ferrari than Peugeot. Although she still had the legs of a racehorse as she rounded the 40 year old bend, showing them off with a little cheek in pink Daisy Dukes tipped the balance away from her being French.
6. La vieille dame in the Caromb bakeshop
One morning when I came in for baguette, I noticed 3 or 4 people standing at the back of the shop, well away from the counter. Unusual, since French people know exactly what they want in the boulangerie and try to get out with it as quickly as possible. But that morning, no one seemed to be in a hurry as one of Caromb’s elders made her purchases and chatted to the salesclerk. This little slice of life characterizes French style of a different quality.
7. The woman with the blue dress and matching arms
I noticed the dress blowing in the hot wind outside a store called La Cotonnerie in Villefranche’s inner harbor – and fell in love with its detailed stitchery and half-moon, hemline cutouts. I saved it for Sunday when I knew we’d be going to an art show among many well-dressed French women. And then the heat disappeared, and the locals were arriving for lunch in sweaters, jackets and long pants, looking at me and muttering under their breath, “Une touriste. Pas Francaise.” .
8. The man in the Abercrombie and Fitch T and shorts
I’m sure when you were working your way through the people portraits, you were wondering when you’d get to the male descriptions. Weren’t men also subject to our evaluation? Since I developed the game because I was interested in French women’s style, I only played it in my head at first. Then, I engaged Lorne as a participant. Then, one evening, I asked him to develop criteria for the male version of French/Not French. He scanned the men as they walked by, both accompanied and unaccompanied. Finally, just before dessert, he shrugged. “I can’t tell,” he said. “Most of them are dressed like schlubs, even the ones who are walking with the obviously French women.” At first, I scoffed, and then I looked, and then I agreed. No baseline data was available to further develop the game.
I want to leave you with one last portrait. I just saw her today, and I’m still stumped. We were touring the Villa Kerylos, a Greek-style mansion commissioned by a wealthy Frenchman in the early 20th century. She was 20 or 21, by herself, listening to an audioguide. Hair twisted into a casually messy topknot. Sunglasses on top of her head. A black and white, Balinese-style animal printed blouse, and orange and white, bib-style shorts in a Balinese geometric print. Black painted fingernails with white tips. And a shoulder bag adorned with Audrey Hepburn’s face and the words, “Style can’t just be picked up at the market.” What do you think?