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9 Dec 2008

French style, good and....

The French, of course, are famous for their sense of style, whether it is the haut-bourgeois with their designer clothes, or the teenage girls in the cafe. For many, the ability to choose stylish clothes, whatever their income, is utterly innate and unequalled.

Every year, when we go to the Reveillon de St Sylvestre, the grand New Year's Eve celebration, with nine course dinners, dancing until five a.m. and then onion soup, there will be ladies of a certain age, dressed and coiffed wonderfully. There is nothing finer that a French woman in her sixties, in full make up and a mini skirt, dancing sedately – or wildly – with her gentleman, ignoring all around her. How do they do it? It seems no-one knows. An Englishwoman of that age dressed like that would usually be a disaster, not so much mutton dressed as lamb as a faux pas dressed as an embarrassment.

Yet French women do it, almost without thinking. There was a silver haired lady at one event wearing a calf length dress with lots of pleats. When she danced, it was clear they were not pleats, but the dress was effectively ribbons, and they swung all around her as she danced, allowing her to display her splendid legs. I think she was around 70.

And young girls of eight or nine who have wonderfully sophisticated hairstyles, that are impossible to find for any age in England. Somehow, they make them look like sophisticated children, whereas non French girls would look like Lolitas or Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver. An example is the little girl in the Petit Filou yoghurt ads on UK television.

French women have a saying, 'visage ou faisse' which means 'face or bum'. You can preserve either as you age, but not both, and everyone has to choose.

The downside is when the French taste fails, it fails spectacularly. For example, Johnny Hallyday. The French cannot do rock; although I have heard a frighteningly decent rock accordion, incredibly. In general, French rock music is like your dad dancing: awful, wrong and embarrassing. Though, French rap music is more French than rap, and I think quite good.

The other squirmingly bad thing is the men who wear multicoloured trousers. Extraordinary combinations of colours and patterns. I have seen some that are clearly camouflage trousers for someone who has to hide in a barrel of Smarties, and others who want to be able to become invisible on the vomit-strewn pavement of a Cardiff street at 2.00 am on a Saturday night. Beyond bad.

But the young women, that is under 60, are all wonderful when they want to be, and even when they don't in many cases.....

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