Saturday, March 26, 2011
Fifi and her French alter-ego Sabine the chic Paris girl have gone on holiday. We would like to be going to Paris and will certainly be there in our minds, but the reality is quite the opposite (however almost as French).
To preserve my serenity I am taking some time to get 'everything' in control. I feel pulled in too many directions at the moment. I look forward to seeing you in about a month, maybe sooner if I get through my long to-do list.
Atlas says hi - he is still going strong, and was pleased to see Audrey Hepburn as Sabrina, above, elevating her look with a poodle.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
I recently finished watching a tv series I had recorded - The Ladies of Hedsor Hall. A group of rowdy young American women are sent to Hedsor Hall Finishing School in England. Aside from the inevitable cat fights, I really enjoyed the programme.
I would have loved attending something like that myself, although these girls could have eaten me alive. And it's only now that I'm older that I can appreciate the lessons.
Hedsor Hall has a crest which stands for everything that defines a true lady - 'dignity, discipline and grace'.
The girls had a few rules when they first moved in:
- No swearing
- No excess drinking
- Lights out at 10pm
- Act like ladies at all times
They sound like not unreasonable rules to live life by in general.
Each girl was given a set of pearls to wear while they attended finishing school. The headmistress told them 'pearls become brighter and shinier with wear over time. Wear them to remind yourself you are a lady'.
Tidying up their appearance, the teachers asked them to aim for 'neat and tidy' and wear their hair off their face, with hair styled 'like a lady, not a 12 year old girl'. A smooth ponytail is ladylike for example, whereas pigtails are not.
They were given classes in various areas and I had to take notes. It's never too late to refine oneself, I feel.
Deportment. Sit up straight. The girls were taught to walk with a book on their head, and even tried walking with a book and a glass of water on their head. The book-walking was more successful and looked more natural than the book- and glass-walking.
Falconry, pheasant shooting. Just the usual everyday pursuits you might follow in the English countryside.
Art class, flower arranging. They actually created really pretty and professional looking flower arrangements (in oasis on a dish, rather than in a vase).
Fine wines. Some of the girls refused to spit the wine out, not wanting to waste it. I'm afraid I might be like that, but if I was in esteemed company I'd hope I would follow the lead of the others.
Social etiquette. Making conversation is about making people feel comfortable. It is bad manners to interrupt someone when they are speaking. A lady drinks on certain occasions and not to excess.
Anger management. Learning how to be a lady is learning how to manage your anger and control your emotions. Find an outlet for your anger (in their case they went fencing. As you do).
Dancing. In the elegant world of a lady, mastering dances such as the waltz can demonstrate grace and refinement.
Table etiquette. To honour your host, try any food that is put in front of you. Try to finish 2/3. Of course they chose the foods which would challenge the girls most - haggis, lamb testicles are the few I remember. I doubt I would ever come across a dinner party where delights such as these are served, but I would give it a good go and not complain and retch. I don't eat pork products but have had a couple of occasions where I have because I am somewhere as a guest. Of course if you are vegetarian or vegan for ethical reasons it is different, but if, like me, you don't eat something just because you don't care for it, it can't hurt to be polite to your host or hostess.
Sexual etiquette. Men are hunters. Men love the chase. You have to be that prize. The prize that that person will want to come home to. Naturally their former behaviour of hooking up with guys they'd met in a bar that night was frowned upon.
Appearance makeovers. Hair is taken back close to the natural colour and is styled to be 'neat and prim'. All facial piercings are removed and makeup is applied in neutral colours. 'Looks aren't everything but they are important. First impressions are made as soon as you walk into a room'.
The Disciplinarian (one of the teachers had this title - isn't it wonderful?) said of her class: 'The trouble with these girls is that they all live in their little boxes, filled with alcohol, men and a complete lack of ambition. In order to be really successful in life, you've got to experience new things... expand your horizons'.
I feel lucky that I had rather a better influence in life than a lot of these girls. There were some very sad stories. I have never felt the need to start a bar brawl, or to have my eyebrow pierced (at the tamer end of the scale). I have my mum to thank for trying her best to mold me into a lady from a young age.
Some of her words I can still recall: 'Speak properly', 'at least try something once before you say you don't like it', 'horses sweat, men perspire, ladies glow' and 'airports have lounges, Fiona, homes have living rooms'. My sister and I were taken complainingly to the theatre. But thankfully some of her lessons have rubbed off on me.
So won't we all put our pearls on today and head out into the world to 'be a lady'?
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Have you noticed that the top fashion designers and editors wear their own uniform of sorts?
No matter what's happening on the runway, there sits Michael Kors in his black top and aviators. In The September Issue I couldn't help but notice Anna Wintour dressed in basically the same silhouette each day - fitted bodice, little skirt, cardy and chunky beads.
Giorgio Armani is famous for wearing a black or navy t-shirt and black pants. The new French Vogue editor Emmanuelle Alt (above) apparently wears her uniform all the time too - skinny leg trousers with blazer and heels.
If you care to google image just about anyone high up in the fashion world, you'll notice a lot of their photos look very similar. Of course there will be those who wear something cutting edge and very different each day, but I believe they are the exception rather than the rule.
They are obviously onto something, and they're doing it without telling us.
What they're telling us is to look to the trends each season, but what they're doing is wearing classic shapes that suit their body and feel comfortable, and make them feel like them.
Rather than look to the models for inspiration, I actually prefer to take note of what the tastemakers are wearing. This observation makes me feel better about choosing to have a small wardrobe of simple classics, and looking to refine it over time.
There is a great article here which talks about what to wear as you get older, and has a fabulous quote from Mr Armani:
"At every age, what makes you have a great sense of style is the ability to listen to your own instincts and to choose what makes you feel comfortable and confident. Being elegant is not a matter of age but of attitude."
Saturday, March 12, 2011
You know how sometimes you meet someone who has an impact on you? I’m talking about the little impacts here, not meeting the love of your life or your new best friend. In French Chic world they are known chic sightings.
I’ve started a Word file called Chic Mentors where I note down all the women (and men) that I’ve known (and continue to know) that have had a chic impact on me. Sometimes it might just be a few words they’ve said, what they were wearing or the impression they always give me when I see them (favourable).
An example is one I jotted down yesterday. I was working in the shop and in came a tv newsreader who I’ve seen a couple of times shopping with us (she lives in the area). She was walking past with her beautiful border collie and tied him to the door to come in for a browse.
I believe she is around 42-43 in age. Other times she has come into the shop I’ve thought how pretty and young she looked, and she was unassuming and quiet too, with a touch of standoffishness (in a self-preservation way rather than a ‘I’m a star’ way).
Yesterday she had exercise clothes on – knee length tights in navy and a navy t-shirt. Compared to other women I see who don’t eat anything and have Rachel Zoe withered skin over breast-implant skeletons, she was still curvy despite being very slender and petite and her skin had a lovely golden glow (she is blonde). She had a look around and then continued on with her walk.
I make little notes in my Chic Mentors file and enjoy reading back on them when I’m feeling less than motivated.
For the lady above I simply wrote:
X from tv who walks past with her dog – slender, healthy and golden-skinned with navy t-shirt and navy below-the-knee leggings.
Naturally this brief description means more to me than it does to you, because it triggers my memory and I can remember the impression she gave me. It helps me pick up my chic sticks again and carry on.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
In honour of our wedding anniversary today I am here to remind you to
Clean your jewels. The ones I’m talking about are any rings you wear on a regular basis. My wedding and engagement ring and anything I might wear on my right hand get washed in different soaps many times a day and just as often doused in handcream. I try to work around them with the handcream but it will still slosh around my gems. I don’t take them off to wash or moisturise as I’ve heard too many horror stories of them being left behind or falling down the plughole (a big fear of mine).
When we purchased my rings three years ago, I bought a pot of jewellery cleaning solution. I used it once and then put it in the cupboard. Does this sound like you? Every so often when I came across it I would pull out the pot and clean my jewels, exclaim how lovely they looked and not do it again for another six months. Now I have decided that if I put the pot in a place where I’m likely to come across it often, I can aim for clean jewellery once a week. It’s working so far and I feel sparklier as a result.
Another jewellery cleaning solution I have been told about is gin. I haven’t tried it myself but my information comes from reliable sources (my father-in-law and also Anthea Turner, ‘Perfect Housewife’). To save wastage on gin (which naturally you will not want to do, you don’t want to be left short for g&ts at 5), may I suggest finding a small container which you can leave the gin in, and label it as a jewellery cleaning solution.
The photo above is us out last night after champagne in a swanky hotel lobby bar before dinner at the rustic Italian place we were married.