Caroline de Maigret on What French Girls Can Learn from American Style
When my friend Laura Brown, aka the new editor in chief of this magazine, first asked me to write about what French girls can learn from American style, I laughed because I thought it was going to be easy. I figured I’d pen a couple of quick sentences about wearing tight clothes to appear sexier (although that’s the last thing I want to do, as I like to eat and I’m not planning to live in Spandex) or applying extra makeup (my face needs more help than it used to, but I’m wary of waking up any earlier) and be done with it. That’s mainly because we Frenchwomen like to pretend we know it all. I’m certainly no exception: My book is titled How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are.
But it turns out I’d been tricked. When I took a moment to really consider the key pieces of my wardrobe—a white shirt, jeans, a moto jacket, and white sneakers—I realized, for the first time, that my uniform was quintessentially American. How was this possible? Had I been fooling everyone all this time? I had been aware that certain elements, mainly gleaned from rock and roll—such as Patti Smith’s androgynous-cool blazers or the oversize, slouchy fit of Kurt Cobain’s shirts—had played a part in my look, but now it dawned on me that there was much more to it. If style is about personality—about conveying the very essence of who you are through your clothes (and I truly believe it is)—then I owe more to the U.S. than I knew.
Growing up, I’d devoured work by so many American writers, artists, activists, and the like, each of whom shaped me and in turn left an impression, conscious or not, of what I wanted in my closet. I fell in love with Joan Didion’s talent and courage, but also, maybe in the back of my mind, with the way she wore her long dresses, which were so simple and chic.
Then there was Angela Davis’s fierce command of language and her commitment to speaking out, and also, hmm, those fantastic slim turtlenecks. And Ava Gardner’s brand of femininity—so powerful because of her will to do whatever she wanted—had a huge impact on my own. The list goes on: Nina Simone, Lauren Bacall, John Cassavetes, William Burroughs, Georgia O’Keefe … there are too many to name.
Years, and many trips abroad, later, a few more things resonate. I see girls on the streets of New York and admire how fearless they are when it comes to getting dressed, taking risks for the fun of it while I stick to my same old uniform. And I envy the women in Los Angeles, who have no shame about how much time they spend on looking so perfectly put together—with their hair done, strong makeup, and flawless manicures.
But however you choose to present yourself to the world, the most important thing is to make that look your own. That’s the Parisian in me talking—if there’s one thing we’re really good at, it’s sticking to what we feel is authentic and making it a signature. So I guess in the end you could say my style is American, but I wear it like a French girl.