I’ve been learning how to be chic from a French lady on YouTube.
Marie-Anne Lecoeur is a study in charm and elegance and her short videos spill the haricots on how French women always seem to look so effortlessly wonderful.
She gives simple advice to women of a certain age (ahem, moi) about what should and shouldn’t be in our wardrobes if we want to dress well for our age and shape. Hint: it’s not logos, ripped jeans, busy prints, scuffed shoes, slavish trends, fast fashion or shapeless lines.
From what I’ve learned so far, it’s all about having a few quality basics which work well with each other and with the shape of your body or, as Marie-Anne calls it, your silhouette.
Obviously, her tips are not compulsory. You may, by all means, cry: “Mais, non, Marie -Anne! Je suis my own woman and I will dress how I please!” But, personally, I love getting help in the clothes department, so I have shrugged Frenchly and dived in.
How to edit your wardrobe and liberate yourself
First step was to declutter my wardrobe. Ugh. “Declutter”. One of those ditzy, infantilising words like “juggle” and “pamper” that seems only to apply to women. Let’s rephrase. First step was to carry out an extensive wardrobe edit.
I “edited” over half of my clothes and shoes. Two bin bags went to the clothing bank; the nicer, unspoiled things to a charity shop. I don’t have much wardrobe space but suddenly there is room in there for the survivors to breathe. It’s awesome.
From a distance my wardrobe looks like a high-end store where you shop according to colour, which sounds restrictive but, in fact, I’ve never felt more liberated
The different thing about this edit is that I didn’t just get rid of shabby old stuff – the knackered jeans, holy shirts, saggy underthings and moth-eaten jumpers. This time, I took the plunge and divested myself of things I wore a lot but which just weren’t very nice on.
My cowboy boots, for instance, re-heeled, re-zipped and lovingly polished as they were, were simply done. They’d had their last rodeo. A double-breasted reefer jacket, greedily wheeched off a Cos sale rail a couple of years ago, too big for me but too much of a bargain to ignore, gives me a silhouette like Spongebob. My big, silky tangerine T-shirt, worn on cheerful sunny days, brought all the wrong colour to my face. Think satsuma. Off they all went.
My depleted wardrobe is now organised from left to right as follows: frocks, skirts (I only have two), trousers, shirts, tops, cardigans. Each category is further colour-coded from dark to light. From a distance it looks like a high-end store where you shop according to colour, as long as your colours are navy, black and white, which sounds restrictive but, in fact, I’ve never felt more liberated.
I feel a comfy sense of control over what’s in my closet and finding something to wear in the mornings is infinitely easier than before. I think Marie-Anne would approve.
The horrors of clothes shopping
There may well be future bright, daring, even outrageous purchases and there will definitely be future mistakes but these can wait. Apart from anything else, they will involve going clothes shopping and one of the underrated bonuses of lockdown, I believe, was that we weren’t allowed to do it for over a year.
Who are these people who spread fake news about how we women love it? It’s not like it’s fun or anything. The faff, oh the faff, of undressing in a microscopic fitting room, stuffing perspiring body parts into some garment that promised, on the rail, to put some va-va-voom into our autumn style and then discovering, once it’s on, that it lied.
Then there are the mirrors. Perhaps shops source them from funfairs because nine times out of 10, I will barely recognise the miserable human staring back at me, illuminated by cruel lighting and bitter disappointment.
She can’t possibly be the determined woman who sallied forth to the fitting rooms moments before, laden with “garments” and high on optimism, can she? Yes, she is. Yes, I am. I feel deflated and embarrassed by the hubris that brought me to this point.
So, it’s hardly surprising people like me appreciate the help of expert strangers like Marie-Anne. It may seem like a small thing – I’m not going to change the world just because my tops and bottoms match – but in editing my clothes, I’ve decluttered my head, shown my “silhouette” a bit of respect, donated to charity and gained time and space to focus on the things I’m good at.
It’s on with the navy jumper and on with the day. Magnifique!
Erica Munro is a novelist, playwright, screenwriter and freelance editor