August 5, 2011

On Shopping: Mantras

Via Bergdorf Princess

If she can’t afford it, she won’t buy it. If it doesn’t fit (or make her feel good, or flaunt what she’s got), she won’t wear it. If she can’t find it, she won’t compromise. If she loves it, she won’t toss it. She reuses it, rethinks it, lets it age.

When a French girl shops, it isn’t a solitary act of buying something new. It’s part of a lifelong process of editing her environment, making small but meaningful additions to her home, her closet, her life.

When you shop like a French girl, you buy only one of anything – and make sure it’s the best quality you can afford.

From Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl

A dear friend came across the above quotes while taking a reprieve from shopping at a bookstore. These quotes reminded her of my shopping mantras. Debra Ollivier's Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl is not a book that appeals to me, but I'm constantly amazed that there are books that describe this approach to shopping. This is the way I have always shopped. 

From a young age, I learned not to sacrifice quality for quantity. A love for beautiful fabrics was passed down from mother to daughter. I value garments that are made of sumptuous fabrics that you want to wrap yourself in. There's something refreshing about stepping into your closet and wanting to wear something you cherish. I've found that when you find the perfect silhouette, colors, and fit all anyone notices is that you look great. Regardless of  whether you are wearing the same cardigan or scarf that has become your signature.

I don't have a closet full of unworn clothes because I only purchase items that will add depth to what I already own. I believe in INVESTING in my wardrobe. I buy well-made items and take excellent care of them. I'm judicious when it comes to wardrobe building. It's about selecting this, but not selecting that. More importantly it's about editing. It sounds pretentious, however it's a matter of not consuming idly. Building a wardrobe is a art.

As for my friend, she was convinced that she needed something to wear for a breakfast we were invited to. Granted this is not just any breakfast, but a breakfast and discussion on the disparities of urban achievement with Mayor Bloomberg. My friend always looks flawless. After reading these quotes she quickly realized that it was silly to buy something in haste when she has a closet full of appropriate outfits. If that isn't refreshing then I don't know what is. 

PS- I disagree about buying only one of anything. When I find wonderful basics (a pair of black pants or a white button down) that fit I'm willing to purchase more than one.


  1. Lovely post! It truly is refreshing to not get caught up in the stream of consumerism and truly invest time and money in an article you are going to cherish for ever.
    You say "Entre Nous" doesn't appeal to you, are there any books about style you enjoy?

  2. I am totally with you - growing up in India, I have always believed that waste is terrible. That changed briefly when I lived in London, but after indulging in trendy, fast fashion for a while, I quickly reverted to my old ways! Frankly, given the fact that much of what I buy isn't inexpensive, I can't afford to think any other way.
    I also agree with you on the buying more than one item if suitable - when you buy something bespoke it makes no sense to buy just one anyway. That said I think it's worth holding off on buying multiples until you know your style and fit well.

  3. I think this is an excellent mantra :) I do try to buy things that will mix and match with what I already own and buy the best I can afford of staple pieces. As a teen however I had the more is more 'fever' which I do ultimately regret. But if you don't make mistake you will never learn from them :)

    Love, Vanilla

    a womans guide to finding her inner french girl

  4. It's very sensible advice, but certainly not unique to the French, haha. It doesn't matter whether I'm buying a Zara blouse or a YSL bag, it has to have good reason for being in my closet. I think taking a considered, curated approach to consumption - whether it's clothes, cars, electricity, food, whatever - it's one level a matter of taste, but at a deeper level, it's a moral thing. Waste is distasteful, and also immoral.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Florina- Thank you! I agree Fast Fashion definitely heightens the stream of consumerism. It makes it so easy to just buy another piece without thinking about it. I'm so picky that this doesn't work for me. I will always prefer items that are long lasting.

    Personal style books generally don't appeal to me. My issue with Entre Nous is that it attributes that level of taste to something uniquely French. I think there are women all over the world that have great style. One of my favorite style guides is the book "Cheap Chic" (the original, not the update) by Caterine Milinaire and Carol Troy. It's a smart book that has great interviews and talks about this idea of cost per wear. I was also really impressed by Amanda Brook's "I Love Your Style" When it came to me from her team before publication, I wasn't sure what to expect, but she tackles the basics really well, and has great images that you don't see everywhere. "I Love Your Style" also has useful tips on how to shop vintage and from Ebay. I think EVERYONE underestimated her.

    I find the most inspiration from coffee table books on my favorite designers (I collect them. I also love rare books like my Japanese copy of the original “Take Ivy.” I have taken the Lucky Magazine Style Manuals out of the library and I must say they are pretty good overviews too.

    Ammu- I can only imagine that growing up in India must have informed your views on waste. We’re all quality of being wasteful, but I really make effort to do better.

    It’s hard to resist trendy fast fashion in London- it’s so available. I agree with you, I buy few items that are inexpensive so I have to curate carefully. Otherwise it would be such a waste.

    I think buying multiples makes sense. You’re so right about purchasing multiples when you buy bespoke items. I do the same thing there. I have also taken to having items that are perfect (like my favorite pairs of black pants) copied. You have to know what suits you to buy more than one item otherwise it can become a waste.

    Vanilla - notes from my closet said- You are so right about making mistakes and learning from them. That’s so wise ;) I think it’s hard to break yourself from the more is more philosophy. I think you have to look at your wardrobe as a whole and really think about what pieces will accentuate what you have.

    I think it’s also important to remember that expense and quality don’t always correlate. You could buy a very expensive item that is made with poor materials, seams that don’t line up, etc etc. There are wonderful designers and brands making great products that don’t cost a fortune and there are designers who have high price points, but aren’t producing quality goods.

    lin- I agree with you. That’s exactly what turns me off to the book. Style/good taste isn’t unique to anyone and there certainly are a disproportionate amount of Fast Fashion stores that have cropped up and continue to crop up in Paris. I think you’re right- the way you consume goes beyond clothing and into how you live your life. That being said, I personally for a multitude of reasons don’t shop at Zara, H&M, Forever 21 or any Fast Fashion retailers.

  7. Love this mantra. I think I ended up learning my shopping habits from my brother rather than my mother - my mother tends to overshop while my brother is all about investing in his wardrobe by finding things that fit him and that he loves. My mom's wardrobe on the other hand is full of things that she doesn't wear and the sheer waste frustrates me (which is why I enjoy raiding her closet to put some use into them). Also, from reading your above response, you have an original Take Ivy? Oh, please take pictures and post!

  8. ess elsie.- Thank you! It's refreshing to hear that you learned your shopping habits from your brother. I envy the way men shop. It's a shame that stores don't approach women's clothing in the same way.

    That's great that you're putting your mom's clothing to good use- at least someone is getting use out of it;)

    Yes, I need to do a post on the original Take Ivy. Until a friend recently loaned me the new edition I had to use my imagination to put the story together. So funny! What I love most about Take Ivy is that it really goes beyond style and embodies a lifestyle.

  9. It is very refreshing to see that people still believe in mindful shopping and quality over quantity in today's society.

    I also build my wardrobe piece by piece and save money to purchase the perfect garment rather than buying many cheap ill-fitted clothes.

    However, being a French woman, I can tell you that this kind of book describes a sort of "ideal" French woman. Looking around me, I see more women buying tons of new clothes at H&M than women saving money for one nice garment to keep for years... I guess this is the effect of globalization.

  10. Kali- I think it's really important to be mindful of what you buy. That being said, I do have a closet full of clothing. For me it's really about having a very clear idea of what I like, what suits me (keeping in mind fit, proportion, etc). It's reassuring to know that when I invest in an item, I still love it years later. I've learned trust my taste.

    I'm a perfectionist when it comes to everything, so I can't settle. You are so right about paying attention to fit.

    Oh have you read the book? I think your right- it seems to be an ideal. Largely based on another time, when there wasn't fast fashion. In Paris I noticed that there are so many fast fashion stores now. I actually had to read case studies on this recently.

  11. I agree with you, I think it's very important to choose clothes according to one's taste and what fits well. It seems obvious to choose a garment according to one's personal style and morphology, when you hear it.
    I might be wrong, but I have the feeling that today, most women choose according to the season's trends and fashion, regardless of what really suits their taste and body shape.

    I haven't read that particular book about French women, just the quote in your post. I have read other ones though, such as "French women don't get fat" or "60 million frenchmen can't be wrong".
    Every time it feels like, in theory, it matches our culture, and what our mothers tell us when we are children. But in real life, I have the feeling that our behaviour tends more and more toward the description of american women in these very books. I also actually learned a lot about my country and culture in that kind of books :)

    (sorry for the long ramble...)

  12. This is so true! I think that why you're the most French american women I know :)
    I always shop in the same way!

    By the way, I love this illustration :)


  13. I am following, reading no, scrutinizing your blog for quite a long time but now I could not help leave a comment at last.
    Because I am so fed up with all those all too serious statements regarding this special french flair for fashion!!!
    I am french, an adult french woman and while I reckon french have a different style than, say, US women, I would like people to stop praising that so called french flair so much. That is a huge mistake. Do not misundertand me/ Of course some french women do have a flair with fashion but no as much as other women (as someone mentionned in one of the above comment). Also I do think that those so called fashion style guide are all of a guide and.. they are not so common in Europe hence quasi non existant in France. And how so?
    Because I read a book that really interested me I bought a guide regarding the french life style and to become like a french woman written by english woman and my... I have never read so much mistakes, stupid statements and caricatures regarding the french as I did in that "book". and I am afraid this kind of things are quite spread among others guide of the same kind. Brrr.
    As for fashion french style what is caracteristic first ir true we don not have so much colour, only mute or dull colours (grey, black, brown, dirty beige, which is called taupe) well unfortunately this is what you find a lot for quite a long time in France and more and more in others european countries. Does that mean that franch women are more elegant and refined because they are afraid of colours? Because they are not so very daring in what they wear? I do love colours (right before this stupid color blocking trend) which are the colours of Nature, of Life. Of course I also have mute colours in my wardrobe but only for a selection of clothes that are neat and fit very well (like some Thierry Mugler vintage jackets).
    And what most fashion director or other self described fashion gourous call french fashion flair mostly is what they saw in some very restricted area in Paris. None of them (but same thing for some french fashion designer of blogger) have never been in other places of Paris or the suburbs or even in other places in France.
    So I tell you to be very very careful about this french fashion flair... which exists of course (hey I am french do not forget) but you do have to have your own style, what you really are.
    My style is own of a french woman true but first it is MY style.
    And please do throw away those so called fashion guide, just trust some common rules: clothes of good quality and fit, with good fabric and do remember that an outfit should enhance your assets and your personality, not the other way around: you are not the one to put the clothes in the first place but YOU before. And yes, very often, too much is not what is best.
    Sorry for this very long post and my english very...french!

  14. Kali- Don't be sorry. I love reading everyone's thoughts.

    I think it's hard for people to be honest with themselves when it comes to choosing items that fit well and works best for their body type. It seems obvious, but I think it's really hard. I also think a lot of people aren't knowledgeable about how clothing should fit. Nothing opens your eyes to this more than the bespoke process.

    I'll always be more in favor of developing one's personal style over embracing trends.

    Very interesting that you have learned something from these types of books. I haven't read "French women don't get fat" or "60 million frenchmen can't be wrong" but I understand the premise.

  15. Camille S.- Sorry! I always end up responding to the comments and not realizing I have a new one;)

    I adore this illustration too. So many of my favorite things in one picture. I have such a soft spot for fashion illustrations.

    I can imagine that you shop similarly. The pieces you pick out are so well thought out that I knew there had to be a method to the madness.

  16. marigami- Thank you for commenting. I always encourage readers to share their thoughts. You have strong opinions on fashion and style. I would strongly urge you to blog. Why not throw your hat in the ring?

    I have a very sparse writing style and dislike when the obvious is stated. It goes without saying that the behaviors in the quote are not exclusive or unique to the French. Nor does saying one style or city is 'chic' mean that another's is not. I take inspiration from my travels, experiences, lifestyle, upbringing etc. Paris and New York are large parts of that. I blog about my life. My friend had never seen this book, flipped through, saw these quotes and emailed me because I tell her the same things all the time.

    As I mentioned in the post and the comments section I have not read this book. It doesn't appealed to me. I don't buy style guides.

    My blog is about elegance and grace, which is a large part of what I wear, how I conduct myself and ultimately my style. I do agree with you-good quality garments, fit and embracing your assets are of utmost importance.

  17. I believe in investing too! I can only be thankful that my dad thought me to favor quality over quantity. Sometimes I stray, I'd blame the influence of the way too many blogs I read. But all in all I think I'm pretty good at staying true to my personal style.
    And I can't resist a perfect white shirt too! ;)

  18. Ginta- Good for your dad teaching you to favor quality over quantity. It's funny how much blogs have become such influencers. From what I've seen, it looks like you do a pretty great job of staying true to your personal style:)

    Oh yes, I finally found the perfect white shirt. I was looking for a long time and had almost given up.

  19. I second buying multiples of something you like, not counting basics like tees, socks, or underwear. I do this for sweaters and shoes especially. I’ll get similar if not same exact thing in as many colors as I think I’ll wear. Though depending on one’s lifestyle, expensive isn’t always the best way to go. Cheap can be chic too ;)

    I really enjoy reading all the comments as well. I like Marigami’s honesty. I would curious to read an Italian woman’s style guide, since a “Made in Italy” tag is considered so prestigious—if they have this idea of a culture of craftsmanship and how it would influence their shopping attitudes.

  20. I agree with your style mantra, especially buying multiples of something you like. I have the same dress in two colors because the first one I purchased fit me so well. I like PPP enjoyed reading Marigami's comment. So often people talk about French style that it was nice reading the honest opinion of a French woman.

  21. Prêt à Porter P- Yes, I buy multiples of sweaters too. I found the perfect cashmere cardigan (I'm lucky they make the same one each year) and I have it in a multitude of colors.

    For me it isn't a question of expensive vs, cheap, but how the garment is made. Lifestyle is a very big factor in what you buy. For example a friend is leaving his job at one of the top law firms in the world to hike the Appalachian trail. Big life changes like that definitely impact what you buy. For my lifestyle and tastes/preferences it makes more sense for me to buy a garment that will last. Cheap can be chic and don't get me wrong there are some really great pieces that come from Fast Fashion stores.

    I enjoy reading all of the comments too. They are all so interesting.

    Austere- As much as I wear dresses- buying two in the same color makes sense. It's so hard to find garments that fit well.

    Yes, I enjoyed reading the comments too. It's one of my favorite things about blogging.

  22. such wise words to live and shop by. so many times i think people fetishize the idea of the shopping bargain that they can easily fall for marketing gimmicks.

    i love your blog btw!! :D

  23. It's a good philosophy. I really do hate fast fashion. The way these companies are operated and treat their employees is further reason to reconsider this trend. However, I think some people can't afford to shop elsewhere. Myself for example - in the past year I haven't been able to much on clothing although I buy a nice dress at a sample sale!

    I was actually at Bergdorf's this weekend and I was appalled by the quality of some of the so-called "fine clothing." I mean it was really astonishing to see a nine hundred dollar dress whose quality was no greater than one at Zara.

    In any case, that moment made me want to learn to sew.

    I'm not sure what my point is, but learning to have a good grasp about your style, isn't just about clothes, but about your life. It's amazing how one's philosophy on clothing seems to carry on to other aspects of life.

    Well keep blogging! Love your perspective!

  24. miss sophie- I agree. You are dead on about marketing gimmicks. I think you can only begin to shop smarter once you realize that how much of the shopping experience is a gimmick.

    A great example of marketing is what Anthropologie does. Stores know from case studies that the longer you stay in the store the more likely you are to purchase. After a while your resolve weakens. So creating a welcoming environment where people want to stay (piping in good music, create an interesting decor, lighting good smelling candles, etc, etc) yield sales. Once you understand what's going on, you can overcome it.

    Thank you for your sweet comment on my blog:)

    the line sheet- You raise a very interesting point. I think a lot of people feel that they can't afford to shop any other way. I do think there are stores that there are some mid-level stores that are making durable clothing at a reasonable price. Of course- it's all relative.

    I agree with you. I don't like the Fast Fashion business model. I think it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of operation and equity.

    The abundance of sample sales is definitely something to take advantage of in NYC:) Very interesting about your shopping trip. It just goes to show you that price is such a false indicator of quality. Did you find that there were specific brands that were lacking in quality? I feel the same way about sewing. I have all of these 'perfect' clothes in my head and sometimes I wish I could just make them myself.

    You are so right about grasping your own style. I think it definitely goes beyond clothing.

    Thank you for the encouragement!

  25. I love this post Lindsay, and I agree with everything. I don't have an extraordinary shopping budget, but I still try to pay attention the things like fabric quality and longevity whenever I buy something new. I recently bought a Mulberry Bayswater for myself (black buffalo leather, swoon) and although I gulped a little when I swiped my card, I know I'll love that bag forever.

  26. Maja Piraja- Thank you! These are great things to pay attention to when shopping- regardless of budget.

    The Mulberry Bayswater in black buffalo is BEAUTIFUL. Such a great investment. I like how versatile it is. It's hard not to feel a bit nervous when you make a big purchase. I think it's important to think it through.