Vive La Différence

By Annabel Monaghan

Pullquote: “I’d left the hotel feeling like I’d nailed it. I’d been pleased to find a T-shirt in my suitcase that had only one hole at the bottom.”

I’ve just come back from a vacation in France, where I saw every sort of aspirational beauty. Everything is at least a little finer – the architecture, the cheese, and especially the women. I conducted an informal study of the French women, hoping to unlock the mystery of their allure. I made shockingly little progress.

Obviously, I wanted the difference to be genetic. That was my go-to theory as I watched their long legs take purposeful strides around the city. When genetics is to blame, we can consider ourselves off the hook and go back to making the best of what we’ve got. The laziest part of me pursued this theory with great hope.

Specifically, I suspected that the difference between them and me might be glandular. French women don’t get hot. Or, if they do, they give no evidence of it. On the first day of my vacation it was a warm 80 degrees. A French woman sat next to me at the café. She wore jeans, a long sleeved blouse, a blazer and a silk scarf around her neck. Naturally, she chose the seat in the sun and ordered a piping hot espresso. I scanned her face for any sign of discomfort. I scanned her brow for a bead of sweat. If this had been me, you would have been scanning my pupils for signs of dehydration.

The blazer was pure madness, but the scarf seemed worth it. The right scarf under a woman’s face is like a flattering light that she takes with her throughout her day. French women must be in the habit of grabbing a scarf along with their phones and wallets as they float out the door in the morning. For me, a scarf is for when the temperature has dipped below 40 degrees and I can feel a little cool air in the gap between my puffy coat (that I’ve thrown over my pajamas) and my neck.

On her feet were loafers. They were leather, narrow and chic with absolutely no ventilation. They were the kind of shoes that your feet would love on a cool fall day, and preferably with socks. Add this to the study — French women don’t get blisters.

I looked down to survey myself. I wore my coolest outfit – linen pants and le T-shirt. On my feet were sandals, open to airflow and rubber soled for walking comfort.

I’d left the hotel feeling like I’d nailed it. I’d been pleased to find a T-shirt in my suitcase that had only one hole at the bottom. Every single one of my T-shirts has at least one of these holes that form right where it rests on the closure of my jeans. When the holes amount to more than four, I relegate the T-shirt to exercise wear.

French women don’t have this problem, because French women go to the trouble of tucking in their shirts. That small fact might get the heart of the mystery. I’m afraid the difference comes down to standards rather than genetics. The French woman seems to have expectations for herself about how she is going to present herself to the world. For her “being dressed” means showing the world your best most together self. For me “being dressed” means not being naked.

There’s dignity in the way a French woman puts herself together, which probably explains why her shoulders are back and her head is held high. Next time the temperature dips below 70, I’m going to put on a scarf and see what happens.

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