Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Shopping "Les Soldes" A La Française

Once again, no one does it better. 

If you've been searching for the precise meaning of "there is a method to her madness," here follows a case study on the subject:

Frenchwomen shopping during the two major State mandated markdown periods in France -- summer and winter (never mind those other two seasons) -- when the frenzy of hysterical bargain hunting is in full tilt are the very definition of the concept.

To an outsider, a casual observer, the scene appears to be madness. It is not. Frenchwomen are not riffling through the boxes, bins and sales racks to walk out the door with armloads of items marked down 50 to 60 percent they will ultimately never wear. They do not compromise their style principles at the alter of "half price!" 

If an item didn't work for one reason or another before the markdown-- shabby finish; too short; shoulders not perfect; color won't work with anything; jacket doesn't cover (fill-in-the-blank) properly; great piece, but chartreuse makes me look chartreuse; sleeves are an awkward length, it's tight through the bust (or hips or waist), but I'll re-start with Dr. Dukan tomorrow -- it won't work any better with the markdown.

Granted, in their infinite style wisdom, Frenchwomen know how to re-purpose pieces. Maybe that sweater dress could be a tunic; the gorgeous fuchsia sleeveless (yikes!) pleated charmeuse
shell would be a lifesaver under a cardigan or a jacket; what if my seamstress could add a band of contrasting black in another material to the LBD I've been looking for all my life, but this one is too short, and so on.

Forget about out of kilter shoulders, yes a superb tailor could re-make a jacket or a coat, but trust me, it's not worth it and might not work. And, it's expensive. Keep looking.

There is no such thing as mindless shopping. Compromises end up unworn and therefore the most expensive clothes a woman owns. 

Frenchwomen are frugal by nature. This mindset has nothing to do with their wherewithal. They think before they spend. 

1.) What does this go with that I already own?

2.) Does this give me several possibilities?

3.) Will I regret the color?

4.) Should I stay with a neutral and hit the accessories later?

5.) If I can't wear it with at least X-number of pieces I already own, is it really a bargain?

6.) Will I really wear it?

7.) She will have already tried, at regular price, a new seasonal shape, i.e. the long, full Mad Men inspired skirts for example. She will ask herself, "Is this me or not? Does it make me look silly or stunning?" If she likes it, but thinks it's too expensive, she may wait, ruminate and buy one during the sales. 

(After all, she has the tops to go with it. It's not that much of a deviation. . .)

8.) If, theoretically, she would not have purchased something at regular price, she will not buy it on markdown. Either you like something or you don't. It's simple.

This is what Frenchwomen know:

1.) At this point in their lives they are more than aware of what works on their bodies.

2.) They buy the same items over and over. Now wait, that means for example, if they have found the perfect jacket for their figures, they buy it in the same cut in different fabrics and colors. It's always the same, but it's never the same. See?

3.) Rarely do they buy a "one off" unless it is so brazenly spectacular that they know they must have it. Then they make it their own and wear it over and over. A friend of mine found a red, white and blue sequined bustier featuring a star-spangled motif at the bottom of a huge dusty box in a boutique in the Marais. She loves it. She wears it. We all think it's fun, funny and fabulous. And it comes with a great story. Who could ask for anything more?

I found a black sequined pencil skirt a few years ago, yet to be worn, but waiting for that perfect event. I envision it with a black cashmere turtleneck sweater and my black satin Chanel shoes with the gold platforms. Where there's life, there's hope. And, it cost nothing! Almost.

4.) When possible, as unglamorous as it may seem in the heat of the moment, sales are a good time to replace favorite basics -- if they can be found. Out go the old t-shirts, in come the new. It's unthinkable to wear iffy white tees. What about your black cashmere turtleneck or v-neck, maybe back-up is in order. You'll be glad you did, later.

With a little luck the blazer of one's dreams could be out there, a pencil skirt, a pair of gray trousers that really fit, another white shirt -- you know you can never own too many. Frenchwomen think long term. What's more chic than jeans, a white shirt and a blazer cut with razor sharp precision? 

What about a luscious jewel-toned velvet blazer a la Audrey Tautou? It's an investment.

5.) Now may be the time to add a dash of color, but in so doing it's wise to stay true to the fits that flatter.

But that's not all. . .

1.) If a season's fad is synonymous with fabulous for a woman and she is lucid in this realization, she will indulge now. She will spend the least amount possible on it and wear it immediately. She'll then pack it away and keep it until it magically turns into vintage!

2.) Rejoice and replenish. Frenchwomen love their lingerie and this is their time to splurge. And splurge, they do. In this category they can be wildly frivolous, but the dividend is a heady mood enhancer. Priceless.

3.) Bijoux de fantaisie, costume jewelry, can be found at giveaway prices and who can resist? Not Frenchwomen. Baubles and beads, frankly fake, are so much fun and add zest to the rest.

4.) Scarves. The rule is simple: scoop 'em up and run. Polka dots were big this winter, they're big this spring. There is no better time to stock up. Think gifts as well. 

Frenchwomen do. So do I.

5.) A pair of ballerines? Absolutely. A girl can never have too many. And, maybe in a wild, wow color. Pourquoi pas?

6.) Belts, grab 'em.

7.) Leather gloves. Color, color, color.

8.) Super pricey bags, worth a look and serious consideration. Le sac cartable continues through the year, FYI. 

9.) Floral prints carry on. A blouse might be a reasonable option, if one wears flowers. There is always the scarf option which gets my vote.

Now, let me offer a Franco-American tactic for shopping the sales. My method keeps my ditzy brain on message and has in the past prevented me from literally buying the same things. (I've mentioned to you on several occasions how many pairs of black pants I own. Enough said.)

I keep, at all times, a notebook the size of a paperback book, tucked in my purse which by category lists all the major pieces I own. Another page (or two) is dedicated to items I would like to one day find. Occasionally I see something in a magazine -- it can be a look, i.e. the way the bits were put together or something specific I like -- I rip out the page and slip it into the notebook. 

This method helps me buy less and buy better. It also gives me a fresh, inspired overview of what I have and what I don't need.

Et voila, end of story.


hostess of the humble bungalow said...

Tish this post speaks to me...on every level.
Your brilliance is showing...and now I am feeling more French than ever, merci beaucoup!

Pearl said...

During last summer's sale sin Paris I bought my first pair of Repettos, choosing ONLY from the on-sale styles in my size. They won't be my last--need I say more?

Rebecca said...

Great reminders and TIPS! I have a bit of work to do, but feel affirmed in several areas.

Keep it coming! It's SO inspiring.

Jennifer-Adventuresome Kitchen said...

Great Advice! Wherever you live!

LPC said...

I do this too - not because I am French but because I am overwhelmed often by shopping. But I am craving a velvet jacket. Quite a lot.

Northmoon said...

I think your notebook idea could be the best shopping tip for me in this post. I want my wardrobe to be smaller and more of my own style. In the manner of a French woman's frugality, I want to only shop to fill in gaps or replace items.

Sandy aka Doris the Great said...

I use the same method. Although I do believe in shopping in those other 2 seasons.

Deja Pseu said...

These are great tips to study and remember!

I've worked to apply the "if I wouldn't have paid full price, I won't buy it on sale" mentality to my shopping. I've also begun carrying a list with me, though I like your notebook-with-clippings idea and may adopt that.

BigLittleWolf said...

This post is a gem! Un bijou !

There is so much wisdom here that makes for smart decisions and smart looks that are tireless.

(And I always adore the look of a black pencil skirt with almost anything - dressed up or down. Not to mention, a classic with a white shirt.)

Now, as for that "madness," it made me recall another life - the original Filene's basement, and very un-Frenchwoman-like behaviors.

Now if only we would leave Sandra Bullock to style her hair any way she pleases. And remember that we all know we need to look good, but obsessing and picking at each other over it is pointless.

A-Dubs said...

Oh! I am bookmarking this post for future reference. (And in order to justify my own recent January sales shopathon.)

Alice Olive said...

I have my basics and I do make sure I know that so I don't deviate. I also try everything I like the look of at full price. You're right, if it didn't work at full price, it won't work at half-off. Sale times have allowed me to invest in some amazing shoes, in particular. (At home in Australia, sales just don't exist on this sale. The discounts are never as significant and the choices are never as diverse.)

Duchesse said...

Just bought a Bompard cashmere mariniere at 40% off- les soldes are online, too! I too keep an notebook and include notes on what NOT to buy, e.g., "Black t-shirts"- then I do not replace to the point never wearing the thing, which I can do.

Are you aware of the practice of boutique owners 'holding' certain sale items for very good customers whom they know want them? I have seen it.

Marsi said...

Ingenious, Tish.


The Fashionable Traveler said...

Such great advice. I once read in a book, that French women always look fabulous, because they only allow fabulous things in their closets. I do have been trying to resist getting sucked into the "bargains" that I never wear...thank God for consignment stores and eBay.

By the way love the photo of the necklace!


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Sydney said...

Ah just got back to Paris and so excited for the Soldes. I'm dying anything Carven, some cute flats-repettos don't fit me :( and a great bag!


Linda C. said...

Wonderful advice!

la fourchette said...

Okay. You pretty much had me at the Chloe camel coat...and then, when I hit the black pencil skirts and white shirts - I knew I was in for the long haul.

Add me to your long list of followers. Salut from Aix.

la fourchette said...

ps: love the notebook in your sac idea!

elise said...

Wonderful Post ! Repettos...oh bliss

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