Last Fall Looks

IMG_3861Before everybody bundles up in winter gear, here are a few final fashionable moments from this fall.

The woman at the top has it all: Mustard. Orange. Leopard. Rolled cuffs. Great glasses. Great hair. You can’t really make it out, but her bag was orange with a narrow turquoise-green strap, picking up on the turquoise in her shirt. IMG_3859This one is the opposite: monochrome from head to toe. I cut off her also awesome hair (simple bob) but even her graying blonde color went with her clothes and looked good.IMG_3878More mustard. Two examples of what to wear for Saturday shopping. I like to think their choices reflect their personalities. I love the flowing duster but I’m not much of a flowing kind of person. Much more of a blazer type. How about you?IMG_3881Speaking of flowing, lots of long dresses worn with sneakers. Love it. IMG_3883Same day, not that long ago! It was warm! I love that she went for bold color. You can’t really tell but she had great posture and moved fast through the crowd.IMG_3894Another long dress, this one with impractical boots. The skirt was tiered and very big when the wind took it, but otherwise made of a material that hung straight down. Interesting.IMG_3899I love the straight business skirt worn with sneakers.IMG_3980This is a lousy photo but it was to show the little details: a canvas bag with a cool rope handle, the shirt cuffs folded over the sweater.

One thing I’m seeing in shop windows but not so much on the street are high-waisted pants, especially dressy wool pants. Shown with shirts or sweaters tucked in. I like it.

The fashion sightings are getting harder as we move into the rainy season. Folks are covered up and it’s hard to take pictures while holding an umbrella. Although I have to say that even if it’s raining, don’t forget your sunglasses. Sometimes you need them AND the umbrella at the same time. Crazy. When I lived in Brussels it was the opposite: even if the sun was out, it would be only momentary and you’d better have an umbrella ready.

Are you colorful or neutral? Bohemian or business?

Purging

IMG_1690I recently Marie Kondo-ed my wardrobe. (New life goal: have my name become a verb; this might be even better than having my name become a dessert or a cheese.) I haven’t read the book nor seen the show, but I had the assistance of a knowledgeable friend. In fact, a second opinion is invaluable when sorting one’s stuff. Perhaps MK herself suggests it.

I Marie Kondo-ed other parts of the house, too. Books. DVDs. Kitchen stuff. The discard pile grew. I made many trips to the déchetterie, or dump.

Next step was selling the good stuff: a vide-grenier. Individual garage or yard sales aren’t allowed here; one must go to a communal flea market. Usually the space is €1 or €2 per meter, with those proceeds going to the organizing group–usually a club or a school. Participants have to fill out a form, so as to separate the twice-a-year purgers from the every-weekend vendors that are supposed to pay tax. As all-day outdoor events, vide-greniers pause during winter, but the season is gearing up again. It was the first weekend with several–a good thing, because folks like to make a day of it, hitting several on a circuit.

The first time I did a vide-grenier, it was cut short–by noon the blazing sun had disappeared behind roiling black clouds, and everybody packed up fast as fat raindrops pelted down. I didn’t care–I had sold almost everything and had made nearly €500.

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Not crowded.

We loaded the cars the day before and got up at 5 in order to set up. Vide-greniers start early. I got in plenty of steps before sunrise.

Then we waited. A few people came by, but attendance was thin. We figured that selling for low prices was better than taking the stuff to the déchetterie. But even so, people haggled mercilessly. Some haggling is normal–you have something you bought for €30, used once and haven’t touched since. It seems like €15 would be reasonable, or even €10. We would start at €5 and end up at €2. If we were lucky. One guy wanted a DVD. Figuring I’d never get €2, I said €1. He insisted on 50 centimes. I accepted, half kicking myself. Then he pushed further: 40 centimes. I said, forget it. He threw the 50-centime piece at me.

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The other outfit (it has matching pants) from the same shop as the suit I showed the other day, la Bonne Renomée. Nobody even gave it a glance.
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Not fast fashion.

Other people looked carefully, then reassessed and put back a few things, as if to stay on budget. If they were polite, I gave them a crazy low price, then also handed them the things they wanted but had put back. Times are tough.

A little girl bought a stuffed animal. She was maybe four years old–she still had her front baby teeth. She had a little bag from which she primly pulled out a big polka-dot change purse. She examined her money and frowned. “I only have €2,” she told her father. The toy was €1. He explained that I would give her back €1, that €1 plus €1 makes €2. You could see it soaking into her four-year-old brain. It was too cute. She beamed and did a little jumping dance. I gave her a bonus of some colorful shoelaces, still in their package.

During one of the many lulls, I left my kid, aka The Closer, in charge and walked around. Everybody was selling the same things: Old clothes, old toys, old electronic gadgets of dubious reliability. I saw two dozen child car seats; no wonder nobody gave ours a glance. IMG_1689But it was the clothes that got me. Piles and piles and piles. I looked it up: clothing production has doubled in the past 15 years, and we wear each item a third less than we did in 2000. People throw away–not including recycling–an average of 70 pounds of clothes and shoes per person each year.

We have bins around here to collect clothes and shoes. It’s sorted–decent stuff is resold at places like la Croix Rouge, damaged stuff is made into rags, and the dregs are ground up into insulation. It’s where our leftovers are headed.

We packed up at 5 p.m., having earned a whopping €45. I don’t know what kind of economic indicator it is–does it reflect a widespread fast-fashion hangover? Is it that even €2 is too much for some people to spend? Was it a one-off, a date when people had other things to do, and the vide-grenier season will boom later?

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She doesn’t look like a vampire.

Separately, this photo was too good not to share. The window says: “Frequent Stops/Blood Samples.” I bet nobody tailgates!

Hello Lovely!

Toward fireplaceOur AirBnB, l’Ancienne Tannerie, is featured on Hello Lovely, where Michele provides a steady stream of inspiration, mostly for interiors but also gifts and fashion. Despite many challenges in life, she maintains an optimistic, gentle attitude that is a treasure to find online.

Speaking of l’Ancienne Tannerie, I have been trying out different furniture arrangements. The kitchen and bedrooms are set–the kitchen table can only go in the middle of the huge room; the bed is where you can walk around it.

From entry toward TV chairs straight
Chairs straight or angled?

From entry toward TV chairs angledBut the living room….it’s huge, but smaller than in our other apartment, la Suite Barbès, across the landing. The living room in l’Ancienne Tannerie has a gorgeous fireplace and an enormous chandelier. It overlooks the interior courtyard. It has a huge window so it’s always bright, yet it stays cool in summer because it faces north (the two-foot-thick stone walls also help insulate).

The sofa is a Louis XVI reproduction that folds out into a double bed. The coffee table is hand-carved and was brought back in my luggage from Lamu, Kenya. All the upholstery is like new, plus the colors are uncanny–the green stripe on the sofa matches the green in the carpet; the peach of the chairs is exactly the same as the tomette tile floor though it show in  photos because the velvet catches the light differently than the tiles do, and the same peach also is picked up in the carpet. And I really like that it’s all unique–nothing you will find anywhere else. Certainly not Ikea. When you are here, you know you are in France.

There’s nothing like crowdsourcing opinions! So tell me in the comments which arrangement you prefer. Suggestions welcome!

Arrangement #1: Sofa facing the fireplace. This is best for watching TV from the sofa. But who goes to the south of France to watch TV? It also gives a view of the courtyard from everywhere you sit.SONY DSC

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I hate that the stereo is on top of the piano, but we had to have one in order to get our Ministry of Tourism stars.

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Arrangement #2: Sofa facing window. The advantage of this one is that from the sofa one can see both the courtyard and the TV. It also creates a kind of corridor from the entrance to the kitchen, which seems good in principle, but which I didn’t really like in reality.From corner armchair verticalFrom TVPiano from fireplaceFrom kitchen door verticalFrom entry to TV horizontalFrom corner armchair

Toward kitchen straight
The “corridor” effect.
Straight from window
I tried to center the sofa, but then it was too close to the piano…

From entry to TVArrangement #3: Armchairs facing the window. This is where I have left things. It feels open and welcoming when you walk in. The disadvantage is that you don’t see the TV or out the window from the sofa. It also puts the sofa next to the matching armchair, which is in the corner because I wanted to separate them. What do you think?From corner armchair

From entry to TV chairs angled with molding
Chairs angled here. Same shot, chairs straight, below.

From entry toward TV chairs straightFrom kitchen with bit of chandelierFrom TV

From kitchen to entry straight
The “corridor” is more open with chairs here. Angled (here) or straight (below)?
From entry to kitchen chairs angled
Angled.

From entry to TV chairs straight less exposurefrom corner armchair 2From entry toward tv with chandelierFrom kitchenLet’s not forget the “before” photos:From entrytoward entryWhere armoire with faces now standstoward windowwhere TV now isWhere piano now isFor Easter, we were invited to the neighbors’ for an asparagus omelette. And this tiramisu for dessert:IMG_1621Was your Easter good? Easter Monday is a holiday here, and we spent it Marie Kondo-ing my closet. This suit got a thank-you and adieu because it doesn’t fit anymore. But look at the details! It was from a boutique in the Marais in Paris. La Bonne Renommée. Sadly, it has closed. I also had a kind of vest/bustier from the same shop, made completely of strips of fabric and ribbon. Gorgeous. May it find a happy new owner.

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Even the buttonhole shows the quality.

IMG_1649When you shop at little boutiques, you don’t see yourself coming and going.

Fashion Sightings in the South of France

IMG_0783Before the weather changes too much, I want to share the street-style photos I’ve been collecting. Usually I am doing something else–I’m no Bill Cunningham, who spent hours at the corner of 57th and Fifth, snapping fashionable Manhattanites on their way to work and inventing street-style photography. So my hands are full, my phone in my bag, and I have to fish it out, open the camera (a feat in itself with bifocals) and try to catch up with my prey, often while pulling a shopping caddy and navigating market throngs.

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This tumeric color is everywhere. It has more orange than mustard.

So it takes me a while to get a collection of photos. These have been collected since January, which accounts for the climatic range.

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Her cape was a gorgeous blue and swung so elegantly when she walked. I liked that it had a hood.

What catches my eye are people with flair. Or personality. It’s a high bar here, because nearly everybody dresses up to go to the market or to go shopping in town. Carcassonne is far from France’s fashion epicenter, yet I appreciate that people make an effort. I’m not interested in fashionistas wearing the latest off the runway. Or young models or those who could be, who look good no matter what they put on. I like seeing real people with style.

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Great haircuts everywhere. Styles that move–not perfect blowouts. I saw her again on Saturday–I recognized her bag first–and she had on a similar outfit, pants with a blazer, this time with leather patches on the elbows. 

My visiting cousin remarked on it–the contrast with farmers markets in a big U.S. city, where everybody looks like they just took a break from weeding the tomatoes to pop by the market and sell or buy some produce. It’s beyond casual to the borderline of grungy. My cousin was surprised to see a vegetable vendor here with perfectly manicured, painted nails.

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Between downpours. Her raincoat was beautiful, with unusual gathers all over. Do you see how her gloves match her shopping trolley? And her scarf goes with the roses. She is carrying a slim cross-body bag. Also, note the people giving the “bise” in the background. And the guy with his beautiful straw basket. 

This lady seemed to part the crowds as she walked through the market. She had perfect posture and walked with purpose. I asked to take her photo and she agreed, saying that often happens. We chatted a while and she told me her age–78!!!!! I have seen her since at the market, recognizing her sans chapeau thanks to her shopping caddy. She is always striding like Shelley Hack in the Charlie perfume ads (speaking of which, OMG somebody has a blog just about that!). I was with a friend once when I saw her–too far to catch up. She had a great haircut (of course) and was wearing jeans with boots and a fur vest.  My friend sniffed and said something about another 40-something woman trying to look like she’s 30. I informed her that this woman was nearly double that age. That changed everything. Goals.IMG_1414I don’t know how old this lady is, but her hair also was impeccable. And despite walking with a cane, she had rod-ram-straight posture. Also, you can’t really see it, but she was wearing a cleverly tied scarf.

Note the couple on the left in the same photo, with matching sweaters. I should do a post on couples’ style. I very often see couples with coordinating outfits. Do they plan it, or does one see the other putting on, say, a mustard-colored sweater and then decide, hey, I’ll wear my mustard-colored jeans, to cite an example I spied on Saturday.

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This is from a few months ago. I saw them again on Saturday and they were both in red, head to toe.

IMG_1415So much to note here. Cute straw bag. Both have sharp haircuts. Both wearing scarves–cotton for spring–and hers matches his shirt. She has on patterned tights. IMG_1011That leads me to another tangent: tights. Especially now that the weather is mild, but bare legs would be too much, colorful and/or patterned tights are everywhere.

 

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Mustard tights, mustard sweater and a black-and-mustard scarf.
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Not tights but leather (pleather?) leggings with lace cut-outs at the knees. And she had two different-colored socks.

Let’s go back to my favorite demographic: the older women who will not be invisible. Women get either ogled or ignored when they’re young, and then just ignored. I love seeing the ones who make staff spring to attention to serve them. It doesn’t depend on beauty or being tall or thin. It does seem to depend on walking into everyplace as if you owned it, like the woman below.IMG_1278This lady was so straight, considering she had a walker. She wore leather gloves, and when she sat down for a coffee on the terrace near me, I saw her perfectly manicured nails matched her hat. A friend of hers walked by and greeted her with the bise. Both wore dangling earrings.

This woman has my admiration for going to the market on a bike! While wearing a skirt! Note that in the photo on the right, her coat and bag match. And on the day on the right, it was raining. I want to get to know her.

 

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Pop of color. 

 

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Goth student? The skirt was very frilly. Not my thing, but she was clearly all-in. You go, girl!

Some colors are clearly trending. Red is big. Red with black. Red with gray. Red with red.

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Her coat, which I suspect is from Spanish brand Desigual, very popular here, has red accents, and her skirt has a red and an orange stripe.
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Red coat, red boots, red scarf, red bag. And, you can’t see it, but bold red lip.

Olive, sage, hedge green, whatever you want to call it, is big. I saw three women–and three men (not with the women)–in three days completely dressed in olive.

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Olive shirt, jeans and jacket with mustard scarf, bag and shoes.

And camel is still going strong, a good color to bridge winter to spring to summer.IMG_1416Did any of these strike your fancy? Are you seeing similar trends?

Flat Footed

img_0776How I love the fashion trend of flat shoes. And they are everywhere, on women of all ages. I started really paying attention, and I spotted some trends, at least among the fashionable women around here in the south of France.

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Seen in a waiting room…patent leather lace-ups with a studded detail around the sole. Worn with an ankle bracelet and leather (pleather?) pants. She was well over 65 and pulled it off with panache.

Lace-up oxfords are popular. My podiatrist told me that lace-up shoes are good because they hold your foot and adjust to the width, whereas slip-ons can slide around. (The fact that I had a podiatrist explains my enthusiasm for flat shoes, eh?) Don’t you love the ones in the top photo? Not loud but not quiet either. Interesting. The woman told me they were extremely comfortable and advised looking for the handstitching around the sole as a sign of quality.img_0793That said, simple low Chelsea boots were ubiquitous. Also, note the cuffs. Slim pants or jeans, either cropped or cuffed.

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Another waiting room shot, which doesn’t really capture how well-shined the boots were. I have to say the striped socks make me think of the Wicked Witch of the West, but I also like the fact that it’s a little rebellion mostly hidden.

Shoes should shine. No scuffs! When I lived in Africa, my students would shine their shoes daily; in fact they were always impeccable in their uniforms. People today are so sloppy. They have so much and take care of so little. I like how so many French iron their clothes and shine their shoes.img_0769Shiny shoes can mean patent leather. Not just for summer anymore. You can even wear them in the rain.

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Note the little buttons at the bottom of her pants. Typically French detail–something small and discreet but not completely plain. And yes, we have marble sidewalks. Carcassonne has class!

Otherwise, black shoes don’t have to be plain Janes. I loved the black-on-black paisley on these.

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Black-on-black with different textures, plus thick soles.

img_0777I spotted bows, especially at the back of the ankle, on several women. And lots of stud details.img_0786img_0789The athleisure look is everywhere, too. Plenty of women were wearing outright running shoes, but there were also lots of comfortable-but-not-great-for-sports Chuck Taylors and Stan Smiths. On the main pedestrian shopping street, a shoe store that used to sell dressy heels (escarpins) now is called La Toile (the Canvas–like canvas tennis shoes) and sells athleisure shoes for men and women. Not a heel in sight.

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Almost sporty, but not really. Bet they’re comfy.

Even the models in the windows of dress shops are sporting flats.img_0802img_0799There also were lots of flat-heeled high boots, but I didn’t get good shots. img_0787I think I saw two women in all in relatively high heels, similar to the ones above. Certainly no stilettos. And as for heels, make them count.img_0788All that said, not everybody here is making an effort to live up to the French stereotype of high fashion. It’s quite typical to spy retirees going out to the boulangerie for their daily baguette wearing plaid flannel bedroom slippers. And sometimes they wear them other places, too.img_0639Are heels finally dead? I hope so.

 

 

 

 

 

South of France Fashion

P1100781 2What to wear? If the photos of Parisian fashions seem too crazy, take some cues from the more laid-back south of France. On some outings to Toulouse and Montpellier, a few trends were evident.

While I usually use only my own photos, it was next to impossible. Either I photograph or I shop. As I was with a very chic friend who wanted to shop, there was a limit to how much I could stop for photos, especially since I have an ancient point-and-shoot camera whose shutter works when it decides to. (New phone with decent camera on order!)

However, please note in the top photo, taken in Montpellier, the color. An orange coat, a red coat, and a woman in a bright yellow coat with yellow tights.

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I’m disappointed I didn’t get her two-tone shoes–black and beige.

I did stop a woman at the market. I was with the same friend, who told me, “THAT’S how you should dress,” pointing to an extremely elegant woman buying vegetables. She really was stunning. I went up and asked to take her picture. She demurred, then agreed as long as I cropped off her face. I showed her the photo afterward to make sure she was OK with it.

We got to talking, and it turned out she was 82!!!! I would have guessed 60-something, and maybe less from farther away. She walked like a dancer, with perfect posture. Tall, slim, with a great haircut and just-right makeup–enough to not look faded, not so much as to look painted. I have seen her from time to time since, and she is unfailingly elegant.

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I liked the pink shoes. Her socks matched her sweater. I wouldn’t have thought to pair pink with this burnt-orange/brown.

As I don’t always have time to talk for 15 minutes for every photo, I sometimes snap from behind, to get the idea of the outfit without someone’s face. But too often people cross in front, and it’s hard to focus….

So I took some photos from a few popular retailers that one sees around French cities. I link to their sites as a thank you for using the photos. I don’t get anything from it and they aren’t advertising. Any advertisers you see here are thrown in automatically by WordPress to make up for me using the free version and I don’t get anything from them nor even know who they are.

We must admit a picture is sometimes worth a thousand words. So here are the main trends I saw:

The fanny pack as bandolier.

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Here.

Mostly spotted on men, but I did see it on a few women. It was far more common in Montpellier, where everybody seems to be under age 25, than in Toulouse. I have seen it only once in Carcassonne, which someone once described to me as “une ville mémère”–granny town. In Montpellier, I saw a woman whose fanny pack/bandolier had a metal chain strap like a Chanel bag. Go figure.

Bershka fanny pack
Similar metal strap. Here.

Tucked in.

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With not-incredibly-tight jeans. Cut off the doo-dads. Here.

Untucked is over. Men and women alike wore their tops tucked in–all the way around. Not the fake tucked-in-front, out-in-back move. That is so 2015, Jenna Lyons.

Bershka paperbag sweater
Here. That paperbag-waist.

Again and again I saw young women with enormous, chunky sweaters tucked into their trousers or jeans. The sweaters weren’t cropped–that would have been a boxy shape on top. The trend was to create billows of material just above the waist.

Bershka silhouette
Loose jeans. But with the sweater tucked all around. Here.

My fashionable friend explained that it was about the silhouette–you can’t have a big top and looser bottoms without defining the waist, otherwise it just looks sloppy.

High waists are back.

bershka paperbag
Corduroy is everywhere, too. Pants, skirts, jackets. It’s the ’70s! This is the infamous “carrot” cut, with a very voluminous tucked top. Like Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally.”

I have heard this routinely ever since waistlines started to descend in the late 1990s. It seems to be true this time. Those big sweaters are tucked into high-waist pants or jeans, and cinched tightly with belts. Self-belts that match trousers are OK, but with jeans you need a brown leather belt that’s way too long and you loop the extra end around artfully.

Also, the jeans can be oversize mom/boyfriend cut, preferably large enough to create a paperbag effect when you cinch that belt.

You don’t have to wear jeans.

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Here.

Lots of very young women and teens were wearing pinstripe and plaid (glen or tattersall) trousers. If the pants had wide legs, they were cropped. Otherwise, the “carrot” shape with tapered ankles was common.

(No idea why this photo is so small!)

 

The ugly shoe has arrived.

bershka bandolier jeans shoes
This hits so many trends (minus the oversize sweater): loose jeans, bandolier fanny pack–in CORDUROY–and ugly shoes. Here.

However, the uglier the shoe, the prettier the person, otherwise it backfires (which we also saw). That rules out ugly shoes for me.

Wool coats.

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Also: smooth hair. Neither straightened nor “beach waves” nor messy. Very pretty hair–like Ariana Grande’s but shorter.

Lots of camel, with men and women alike wearing a very simple, classic beltless model. Also bathrobe versions in gray and olive green.

Have you seen any of these trends where you live? Would you wear them?

Also: check out this great video from Oui in France of what goes on in a French bakery. Good thing we can’t smell it. I would eat all the bread.

Back to Black

dyeHave you ever dyed anything to revive or change its color? I’ve done it a couple of times and am mostly pleased with the results.

The first time was last summer. We had gotten out the summer tables and chairs. The seat cushions are nice and thick, with a sturdy cotton cover. But the bright sun had faded their color to a ghost of the original deep blue. Rather than throw away and replace two dozen identical cushions (we often entertain a crowd in the summer), I tried dyeing them.

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Before.
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After. Control on the right: a new top.

It worked like a charm. The only hitch was that I didn’t find enough boxes of dye at one store, and the competing supermarket had the same brand but in a different size. Sigh. So they didn’t all get the same amount of dye. You can tell if you hold them side by side in the sun, otherwise the difference is negligible.

Emboldened by this, I decided to do all my black clothes that were no longer a rich noir. A number of items were in perfectly good shape–no pilling or stains or tears–but they just looked faded. My inner environmentalist cringed at tossing them, yet my inner fashionista felt they weren’t up to snuff.

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Before.
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After. It looks better than the photo would indicate because of the shine. It is hard to photograph black!

I followed the dye directions carefully. They called for washing the clothes on a long cotton cycle with hot water. Some planning is required–I made sure to have a couple of loads of dirty dark clothes to do afterward. It would be risky to run a load of whites after doing a black dye job.

The more clothes you put in a load, the less dye they get. I sorted them by how faded they were, and put the worst cases in the smallest load. I had three loads.

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Before. Bleach stains! Worn while cleaning.
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After. It’s the one on the left; the right is the control.

First you wash the clothes with the dye, then you do the long cycle again, with a little detergent, to take out excess dye. I did all the dye cycles, then all the rinse cycles.

Result: mostly good but not perfect. Everything came out noticeably blacker. A couple of bleach stains became almost imperceptible, but didn’t completely disappear. The cotton pieces were more faded than the synthetics to begin with, but the cotton absorbed the dye better.

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Before.
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After.

An article about throwaway fashion says Americans throw away 80 pounds of clothes per person per year, double the amount 20 years ago.

When our clothes are beyond hope, I cut them up into rags for cleaning. Eventually they will end up in a landfill, but after having had many lives. And they often replace paper towels.

I have to admit I hadn’t shopped for dye before, but I was surprised that when I was looking at the section in the supermarket, there were other shoppers doing the same. What are the chances of that? I guess it’s way more mainstream than I had imagined. After all, the drogueries had their origins in peddling textile dye. And the word for dry cleaner, teinturier, comes from the word teindre, or to dye, which makes me think it’s all part of just taking care of one’s clothes.

Have you dyed clothes? How did it go?

 

French Fashion Sightings

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Some random examples of women I think looked great here in the deepest depths of the south of France. I don’t look for fancy brands nor for naturally beautiful humans, especially those who are young and thin and who would look great no matter what they wore. I like normal folks who have some flair, even when their choices are extremely simple.P1070842Dresses are on trend. I have seen so many women wearing dresses like the one above, especially when it was really hot in summer. This dress has it all–sleeves for sun protection, loose fit that isn’t too hot….I’ve seen variations on it in all white but also in blue and white stripes.IMG_8982Colors, too. I love how this woman has a matching shopping caddy. And red toenails!

And the women below chose green…notice that the green skirt matches not just the espadrilles but also the green of the straps of her shopping bag. Coincidence? I doubt it.P1100596IMG_8755The woman above was far from young but her hair was just a perfect shade of red, and of course she looked great in green. It was a hot evening, and her dress also is nice and loose without being a bag.IMG_8754Another really cute dress. More stripes below. She isn’t young but is put together and classy.P1070843The one below IS young, but she stood out as being even more chic than the others at a brocante. And appropriately dressed for lots of walking.P1070588 2A pair of friends with extreme lengths and very different proportions–one with a long, billowy top over billowy pants and the other with a cropped jacket and slim jeans. P1070105A gutsy haircut. Part shaved and part purple. WHY NOT!!!! You go, girl!P1100422And a closeup of the shirt at the top. Did you notice the zebras?P1070395Do you dress up to go out?

Sweater Weather Packing

IMG_5929Blizzards and storms hit parts of the U.S. last weekend. Here, we’ve been  getting plenty of rain…and sun.

When you’re packing, it can be hard to imagine being somewhere much warmer or colder. Plus, northern France–Paris–has quite different weather than here in the south.

It was upon moving to Belgium that I learned the concept of the summer sweater. It’s the sweater to wear when you are sick to death of candles, hot chocolate and curling up by a fire. When you’ve had it with hygge, but it isn’t yet warm enough to bask bare-armed in the sun.

(Don’t these make you want to cringe after March 20? The one on the right is yak hair, from Katmandu. I get around….and come home with something to wear. It is VERY warm.)

I remember being dumbstruck early in my European séjour, by a movie on TV in which Catherine Deneuve walked a pebbly Atlantic beach, dressed in white capris and a loose turquoise sweater. I forgot the movie, but I remember that sweater. A sweater! On the beach! (And pebbles on the beach!!!! So many new concepts at once.)

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My first summer sweater, like Catherine Deneuve’s but not turquoise.

I soon learned that yes, you might need a sweater on the beach, even in summer. A bunch of colleagues and I went to the (sandy) beach at Ostende one weekend. The wind was wicked. I bought a windbreak (not a windbreaker but a long strip of plastic with posts and a rubber mallet for pounding the posts into the sand) and we all huddled behind it. At work the next Monday, other co-workers ridiculed our claim that we had been to the beach–where were our tans? In fact, the only skin we could bear to bare was on our faces and hands. We froze. In mid-summer.

The summer sweater is is cotton or silk, not wool, unless it’s the finest, thinnest cashmere. It has a smooth, flat weave, or else a loose, open weave. It isn’t chunky.

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Navy and white stripes….so French.

The best ones can be worn with a shirt underneath, or alone. Options, layers. Perfect for travel. Lots of shirts, which are light and pack small, and just two sweaters.

Even better is to have a matching or coordinating cardigan, so you can have yet another layer, or wear it open instead of a jacket on warmer days. And if it’s really warm and you never wear your sweater or cardigan (I bet you’ll wear them at least in the evening), you won’t kick yourself for having loaded up your suitcase for nothing.P1090872Also, take a scarf. Always! The pashmina still is worn around here and is always good against a chill. The large square silk scarf is a classic.

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Chèche, pashmina, winter go away.

What’s very popular among both men and women is the chèchea very long cotton scarf that you wrap a million times around your neck or that you leave hanging long. But don’t be like Isadora Duncan. The value of chèche is that it can be surprisingly warm when it’s all wound around you and it can be no more heavy than a necklace when it’s worn hanging long. I have a gorgeous 9-foot-long dark purple one I bought in Timbuktu…and in true Berber fashion it turns my skin bluish-purple when I wear it.

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Fashion tip for French nonchalance: Tie the belt, don’t use the buckle. 

Favorite French coats for this time of year are the perennials: the leather moto jacket and the trench. My trench has a zip-in lining–if I were traveling in early spring, I would take it and be almost as warm as with a winter coat (because I don’t want to wear anything with furry trim come March). In late spring, I’d leave the lining at home.

Either option is good for dealing with the possibility (probability…higher as you head north) of rain. The tips for winter travel hold for spring’s tempestuous days, but you know what they say: there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. I’d rather have a rain hat than an umbrella, but better yet is a hood, and best of all is a hidden hood.

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Option 1: waterproof hat.
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Option 2: Hood….
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…that rolls up and is held by velcro…
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…in the collar of this very light windbreaker. I also love the pockets on this thing.

What are your astuces for packing for uncertain spring weather?

French Laundry

P1070271There’s a divide between France and the U.S., and it has to do with how people take care of their clothes.

Let’s start with washing. Front-load washers have gained popularity in the U.S., but they have long been typical in Europe. They are easier on your clothes than top-load agitators, which really tear them up. However, washing times are longer. Mine has a 15-minute freshen-up cycle, but the shortest real wash cycle takes over an hour and the longest is three hours. That’s in part because the machines heat the water themselves, rather than take it from a hot-water heater.

The models sold here are getting bigger, but they are still a lot smaller than in the U.S. Our old washer held a maximum of four kilos–just under nine pounds. Our new one has a maximum capacity of twice that. According to Consumer Reports, capacities in the U.S. are as high as 28 pounds. (French vocabulary lesson: a laundry room is une buanderie, a laundromat is une laverie and the old-fashioned outdoor laundries are lavoirsDry cleaning is nettoyage à sec, and the place that does it is un pressing or une teinturerie.)

P1070742Another difference is drying. Plenty of people don’t even have electric dryers. I put towels in the dryer to keep them soft and fluffy but try to hang everything else outside–again, it’s better for your clothes, better for the environment and it’s free. Sheets definitely go outside. It makes them smell so good!

Related to that: walking around in the mornings, you see windows open, even in the dead of winter, and duvets hanging over the window sills to air out for at least 15 minutes. Bedrooms tend to be minimally heated (and back in the day weren’t heated at all), and we don’t have bitter temperatures, so it isn’t very wasteful.

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A lot going on here: the bed linens getting aired in the open windows in winter–you can see the photo was taken at Christmas time. The drying rack is set on the sidewalk to get the job done faster. Carcassonne is still the kind of small city where you can leave your stuff outside safely.

One reason my friends cite for avoiding dryers, besides making clothes last longer, is the cost of electricity. Looking at my bill, we pay between 6.38 centimes and 10.43 centimes (about 7 cents to 11 cents) per kWh before tax (which is 20%). The tariff varies by time of day, with heures creuses, or off-peak, discounted. I set the timers on the washing machine and dishwasher to run during off peak. Surprisingly, residential rates in the U.S. are higher–an average of 12.90 cents per kWh.

One reason many Americans I know do use dryers: to avoid ironing. Some don’t even own an iron or ironing board. When we briefly lived in the U.S., the Carnivore was delighted to discover a setting on our apartment’s dryer called “fluff,” which he adorably pronounced “floof” the first time. He was so excited about how things came out with only minor wrinkles.

By contrast, Europeans tend to be not just wrinkle-free but to have knife-edge creases. Even jeans get ironed. The Carnivore is very talented with a steam iron (see the ads below). Personally, I hate to iron but have been doing a lot of it lately, pressing the sheets for our rental apartments. We want them to be impeccable.

While I iron my own clothes, I don’t do my kid’s. Some of the local mothers would iron their children’s clothes even for toddlers–who wear things for about two minutes before getting dirty. An extremely scientific survey of my gym class showed most spend two to three hours a week ironing.

Ironing isn’t limited to France. I remember being impressed by the teen boys in Rome, perched on their Vespas, wearing immaculate white shirts with crisply creased sleeves. Nothing slovenly about them.

When I lived in Brussels, my apartment faced a lovely row of hidden gardens, “Rear Window” style. In a window across the way, a woman (housekeeper, I think), would iron for hours, including the tiniest flouncy baby dresses. And sheets and sheets and sheets.

Another time, I was at the big department store El Corte Inglès in Barcelona. The household appliance department was animated by many demonstrations. There was a woman carving candles. All kinds of shoppers, including families, watched her work. Some of the candles sported the typical curls, while others represented couples in a sexual act. This was something I never saw in the U.S.

And there was a guy ironing. This was no simple steam iron but what the French call a centre de repassage–an ironing center. A big water tank was fixed to the base of the ironing board “so you can iron all day!” my friend marveled. A dozen people–men and women–watched the demo intently.

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This baby goes for a cool €700.

Do you hang laundry outside? Do you iron? Do you pamper your clothing?