When I was a girl I loved to get those little booklets they sold by the cash register at the supermarket. I’d read and re-read all the “1,000 Baby Names” books. Even now, decades later, I know dozens of useful facts like Ellen means light, Thurston (as in Howell) means Thor’s stone, and that Sally is a diminutive of Sarah which in turn means princess. I never tired of naming my dozens of unborn future children; Clementine, Eudora (well-born), Tristan (Old Welsh for sad) and Tallulah (Native American for fabulous throaty bisexual) were serious contenders. Now of course the joke’s on me since I don’t even have one child to tar with one of my many monikers.
But my all-time favorite 39 cent booklet was the wee “What Real-Life French Women Wear”. (That may not have been the actual name but that was the theme.) Being in third grade and all I couldn’t implement the advice right away, but one thing has stuck with me all these years. Stuck with me, but sadly eluded me.
It said the typical French woman had only about 5 things in her closet. The point was that French women are smart and sophisticated enough to just buy a few really good things and wear them every day in various permutations. I pictured a pristine closet with a few paltry hangers bearing only a black pencil skirt, a crisp white shirt, a good-quality black turtleneck, an LBD of course, one pair of always well-pressed pants, and one of those stripe-y sailor-y shirts Jean-Paul Gaultier is always wearing. The lesson was quality over quantity, and that sorting out some sort of uniform was the easiest, quickest and best way to dress.
When I was a teen a book called “Cheap Chic” basically reiterated this strategy. Later as a young woman I bought a book called “French Chic” which once again advocated a few staples as the ticket to sartorial sophistication. Again and again I was taken with this idea. I envied men who can have a few things in rotation. How simplifying and freeing it would be to have just a few good things not cluttering up my closet. How stylish, how elegant, how French I’d be. How non-me I’d be.
Despite my firm conviction that this was indeed the way to go, over the years I have just been constitutionally incapable of not acquiring more and more clothes — clothes that are not staples, not of good quality, and clothes that are generally 2 sizes too small.What the hell is wrong with moi? Now that I am a femme d’un certain age (am I ever) I am determined to get bullish on my wardrobe and get my closet as bare as I can bear. A few black and white staples, a black or camel trench, some comfortable shoes, a pair of heels, a pair or three of jeans, c’est tout.
But what to do with my heaps of DVF wraps, Betsey Jonson Lycra numbers and 40’s rayon dresses? And all those sarongs – where do they go to die? Surely I can’t be expected to jettison these reliable wraps and one-of-a-kind antique frocks? <devil-may-care shrug>