This past week as Paris shuttered Fashion Month I was greeted with a barrage of French girl-related headlines from nearly every sartorial news outlet. Said headlines ranged from inane (“French Girls Do Everything Better, Even Instagram (And It’s Because They Don’t Care)”) to absolutely eye-roll inducing (“Confirmed: French Girls Love the Underwear You Hate”). Vogue even went as far as to publish an article titled “Are French Girls the Only Ones We Should Look to for Style Advice?” on their Snapchat, which quoted this sage insight from fashion writer Elizabeth Hawes: “There is no word in English for chic. Why should there be? Everything chic is by legend French. Perhaps everything chic is in reality French.”
This is, of course, blatantly false. The French do not hold claim on chicness, and they most definitely are not the only ones with a word for it. Just because the word “chic” is French in origin does not mean it is not also very much part of the English lexicon. Analogously, the word “restaurant” is likewise French, but no one would ever assert that we do not have a word for it in English. Factual inaccuracies aside, I find this deification of the French woman and her style irksome.
French style stereotypically diverges from American’s primarily in the application of effort. The French girl mindlessly tousles her hair, her skin both unblemished by makeup and stunningly clear. Her outfit is marked by its simplicity, perhaps just a sweater, trousers and heels — everything tailored impeccably. Conversely, the American girl twirls a loose strand of her blowout, her words framed by an undaunted shade of lipstick. Her body is wrapped in layered garments. These tropes both look perfect — but only the American seems to have tried.
I have nothing against French style. I find their minimalism elegant, and, despite advice from friends, I have been on the hunt for a good beret for some time. Not to mention, there is something undeniably alluring about the idea that you can look great while “undone.” What I find bothersome is the vilification of effort. The recurring motif in all these articles is that French women are superior to American counterparts because they do not try.
Perhaps my annoyance is a pervasion of my own personal insecurities. I was first introduced to the term “try-hard” when I was 13-years-old by an identically-aged boy. He used the term frequently, each time with disgust. I was not entirely sure what a try-hard was, but I knew it was the absolute worst thing to be. Thankfully, I was spared the awareness that the loser who he was describing was, in fact, me. I have been the Hermione in Snape’s inaugural potions class (me: Hand eagerly erect, teacher: Anyone? Anyone?) multiple times. Granted, the aforementioned scene is the apex of my try-hard-ness — usually I am much more mellow. Still, my accolades are almost invariably coupled with effort.
So, yes, I am bugged by lazy journalism that propagates the superiority of French style. French women are gloriously chic, and there’s nothing wrong with modeling your style after them, but they are not the sun upon which the sartorial solar system rotates. If you love fashion the fun is often in the effort. I enjoy the sometimes 30 minutes it takes me to get dressed, “outfit testing” as I dance about to pop music. And after I’ve finally settled on an outfit, I want to look perfect; I want you to take note of my outfit and know that I tried.
The idea that your outfit would be improved with less effort is offensive — your trouble merits appreciation. It shows you care and it’s indicative of prowess. What’s more: Don’t believe for a second those French women don’t apply themselves. Of course they do, they just double their effort simply to make it seem as if they didn’t. Don’t fall for the farce. You’re pretty cool, too; don’t let anyone tell you any different.