Is style inherited or learnt? This is the subject I would like to discuss today.
My passion for fashion started early. I remember climbing into our loft at the age of about 5 to try on my mother’s wedding dress. The image above shows my mother wearing her wedding dress in 1936. Her wardrobe was a veritable treasure trove of 1950s delights. I recall spending hours rummaging through her clothes and playing dress up. I hobbled round in her high heeled shoes and tried on her stylish hats. The rustle of silk taffeta and the delectable smell of her perfume wafts back to me from an age of elegance.
My mother was an inspiring role model. She had classic good taste and was always well groomed even when she was taking the dog for a walk.
Her example instilled in me a lifelong interest in clothes and the way women dress. Luckily I was able to follow my passion for fashion. For many years I worked in the fashion industry, first in PR and then as an Image Consultant.
This brings me to the question – Style – Inherited or learnt?
Maybe it is a national characteristic? Do all French women have style as is widely presumed?
As I spend about three months of the year in the South of France and visit Paris at least twice a year I have plenty of opportunities to observe French women in their natural habitat.
Do French women have innate style?
The conclusion I have come to is both yes and no. I would surmise that French women are more disciplined in the way they present themselves. You would never see a French woman going to the boulangerie in track pants, they would always be respectably dressed. Yet they do not all conform to the “stylish French look” so often depicted in the media. The women of a certain age that I encounter are often conservatively dressed. A French woman will choose quality over quantity and will always be well groomed.
How do you recognise a woman with style?
Discipline and confidence are qualities that come to mind when I think of stylish women. They know what suites their character, lifestyle, colour and figure shape and consequently are very selective in their purchases. One thing they have in common is that they are comfortable in their own skin and choose to wear what they love. They unashamedly wear their outfits on repeat. Accessories play an important part in their wardrobes which allows them to individualise their outfits.
Can these skills be learnt? Yes absolutely, but like most skills, it takes desire, application, determination and work.
Here are some guidelines:-
Choose your role models wisely. Get inspiration from stylish friends, images from Pinterest or characters in films. Instagram is another option but the images there are not always authentic.
Buy the right clothes for your body, we are all different and not every style suits every woman. Learn to edit out what does not suit you.
A good fit is everything. French women are on first name terms with their seamstress. If you buy cheap clothes it is not always worth the cost of having them altered. Whereas a good quality garment well tailored will last for years.
Stay away from fashion fads. Now, this does not mean you should not come out of our comfort zone from time to time and try something new. You never know it might work and you don’t want to get stuck in a rut.
Confidence is key. Respect yourself and dress for nobody else but yourself. Stylish women are not always conventionally beautiful. yet they are comfortable in their own skin. Learn to accept yourself imperfections and all.
Style has nothing to do with age or size and everything to do with believing in yourself. What you wear tells the world a bit of your story. The good news is that you can edit that story if you choose to.
COLOUR – Do you know your colour type?
STYLE – Do you know what body features you would like to emphasis/play down
A very nice article and timely with fall to start coming soon. I love your style and find some pieces, such as accessories you feature, tend to work well for me too because I think my skin tone is similar. Your blog has been helping me to think more about my style choices and be more confident in what I choose for myself. Thank you!
Hello Josephine, a thoughtful post and one that we, at Maggie Semple would endorse. We often debate with our clients what is inherited and what is learned. Maggie
I see so many different ways to dress. Some are obviously tacky—like wearing flannel pajama pants and a floppy t-shirt to the grocery store. (Yes, literally. Don’t know if you see similar in the UK?) I find it difficult to understand exactly what it means to appear stylish. Up-to-date? Designer fashion? Guess I definitely didn’t inherit the gene. Btw, your mother looks lovely in her wedding dress.
Have you not seen those French women dressed in floral pinnies, or those who are seem to be in a dressing grown. I lived in SW France for 13 years and find this image of stylish French women a total myth.
As I say in my post I don’t agree with the way the media and many bloggers portray french women as so chic and that they wear a sort of uniform, except maybe in the smarter parts of Paris. As we have spent time in a small village in the Var for the last 10 years, and yes it is a fairly upmarket area, the dress is casual and in summer relaxed due to the hot weather but I have not seen any women wearing floral pinnies or dressing gowns.
Bonjour, I spend 2-3 months in central France every year and I agree with Wanda…very little sign of the style you mention … and I would never buy clothes there..so old fashioned and frumpy. As as for the notion that French women don’t get fat..what a joke that phrase is..they are just like the rest of the western world.
I am not familiar with central France so can’t comment. The only other area I used to know quite well is Beaune and the surrounding wine growing areas. That was a few years ago. However, I remember the women there being conservatively (I would not say fashionably dressed) but still quite smart.
Thanks for your answer. It is great to read your blog..thank you for the trouble you go to.
I agree with Wanda and Dee. I have family in France, in Savoie near the Swiss border. We visit often, and I just got back from there a month ago. French women dress like all women everywhere; some are stylish and some look like they just rolled out of bed. There are also plenty of chubby French women everywhere I have been in France. The myth of the perfectly chic and slender French woman is a tool to sell books to Americans, in my opinion.
I agree that French women come in all shapes and sizes like the rest of us, however even though they may not be thin as generally depicted in the media I don’t think there is a culture for ready meals and junk food as perhaps we have in the UK. In the South many shops close for at least an hour at luchtine. Yes there are supermarkets yet I find the local village markets with fresh food are very popular.
it’s interesting that your mother’s hairstyle really looks like a 1936 do but her dress and pose could be of today. Absolutely gorgeous.
What a lovely lady your mother was, I can see your resemblance to her.
The picture of your Mother is absolutely charming. Oh so lovely. What a perfect, and perfectly simple, wedding dress. I wish brides today would take note! (I think the strapless idea is and always has been terrible for a wedding dress..imho.) My Mother was married during the War so had very little to choose from and the day they were married was unbearably hot and there are not many pictures.
Anyway, my Mother too had a very certain style. She cared about clothes and how she looked. And so have I, always. But on the other hand, my sister does not really have that “trait”: she cares, in a way, but is not always quite appropriate. It’s a subtle thing, isn’t it? So I’m not sure: inherited or learnt. A little of both?
I agree it is a very subtle thing and you have to be interested in clothes in order to create your own style and some women just have other priorities.
Thank you for this article. I found your blog a few months ago as I started to prepare for a trip to France with my teenage daughter. I continue to read your blog because I am a woman that struggles with fashion and I have loved reading and seeing your ideas on what to wear and how to put it all together.
Welcome to my blog Denise and I am glad you are finding it useful.
I’m not sure if I would be so bold as to say I have style, but I have a strong interest in style, fashion and accessories along with beauty products and make up.
I most definitely did not inherit this from my beloved late mother.
In fact it was a family joke, as to where I got this interest in “clothes” from.
I guess you followed your instinct and created the style that works for you.
What a beautiful photo of your mother! I love her dress. I have a lovely photo of my parents on their wedding day in the mid-1940s and my mother’s wearing a very stylish suit with square shoulders and a (borrowed) fox fur around her neck. My mother was always interested in clothes and I am too but neither of us have managed to achieve that artless style that some women seem to achieve. I’m 63 now and still trying.
I am sure you look good and at what ever age we are we should never stop improving
I would have to say inherited in my case but also still learning, mainly as a result of now following blogs. The most influential inherited trait from my late mother is always wearing lipstick. In particular, the strongest memory is refreshing her lipstick and tidying her hair before my father came home from work. The next would be shopping trips from Surrey to London in the 1950’s. Always white gloves for both of us in the summer. She would wear court shoes for travel and keep a pair of low heels in her bag for very long days around all the department stores, starting in Regents St and then to Oxford St. Even with retirement I still wear makeup every day and take time to put my daily outfit together whether for home, popping to the local shops or a day in town. I have lived principally in New Zealand for the last 40+ years where fashion can be much more relaxed, but my English upbringing comes to the fore.
I agree with the lipstick it makes such a difference. I too grew up in Surrey and remember shopping trips to London in the early 1960’s. We didn’t wear white gloves but always did the department stores in Regent and Oxford street.
If you learn the art of being well presented at an early age I don’t think it ever leaves you. I also wear makeup every day and pay attention to the outfit I wear every day even though I mostly work from home.
I too had a very classically styled, beautiful mother. She taught me well and though she’s been gone 9 years there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t think about how timeless her ideas on fashion were. Most people just thought she was stunning…even her granddaughters wanted to borrow her clothes. The older I get, the more I appreciate how well dressed and groomed she always was.
Hi Cheryl Ann
Thank you for sharing your mother sounds as though she was very elegant.
Interesting post Josephine. I wonder if sometimes it matters whether or not you are comfortable being seen/noticed or if you are trying to blend in to the background or into a specific social group. I have a very definite style (plain high quality fabrics that depend on a good cut, no frills or flounces, black, navy with pops of strong colour and always a little edgy) but I notice that many women like me in their late 50s early 60s dress to disappear and appear almost apologetic about taking up space. Their style can sometimes be an outward manifestation of their lack of confidence about their place in the world and so a very bland uniform whether it’s the unflattering floral comfy trousers that have swept the middle aged nation this summer or upmarket acres of beige linen.
Hi Maureen C
Yes, I do think that being stylish (whatever that means for the individual) is connected to confidence and being willing to wear what you love no matter what others might think. Not sure about the floral trousers if they suit you wear them, they can be quite a statement if well coordinated. Beige does not look good on me so I don’t wear it however if well accessorised it can work (think chic Italian women in well-cut linen). It is probably the shape and bad fit that causes an outfit to look drab.
Entirely learnt on my own which was not an easy thing at all. Most of the time it was an uphill battle to put in the time and effort to learn how to dress well and what suited my body and lifestyle.
I would just like to say to other women who think it’s impossible to learn to be stylish/elegant/ etc, don’t give up! It’s worth it in the end as looking good and feeling good create a sort of feedback loop that increases your confidence and enjoyment of life.
Thank you Ariss for your very inspiring comment I hope it will encourage others. As I said in my post discovering your own style takes discipline and determination. I totally agree about the feedback loop.
I SEE YOU IN YOUR MAMA!!!!!!!!
I always enjoy your posts, but I’m especially charmed by the photograph of your lovely mother. There certainly is a resemblance, and her style seems timeless. I’m wondering what perfume she wore.
Thank you for your comment. A good question From memory I think she wore as classic Channel. I don’t think she had a strong perfume, in those days the scents used more natural ingredients and were more subtle. I remember my first perfumes was L’Air du temps.