In one of my first articles I briefly mentioned French lingerie. I remarked about the number of lingerie stores here in France, how they were always bustling with women or women and their men, and how I really must explore this further.
I put the idea off because, in fact, these stores scared the hell out of me. All the fancies in the windows are so beautiful, or sexy, or coy, or dainty, or all of the above rolled into one. And so completely out of my realm of understanding, that I delayed my research project. In fact, I was such a scaredy-cat that I actually ordered my bras and panties in the US and had a friend bring them over during a visit.
I have had several people ask me to finish the mission that I initiated early on, so this fall I decided it was time to put on my big-girl panties and attack the issue. I began by visiting almost every lingerie store along my daily routes to and fro. And in this town, that amounts to a lot of underwear enterprises.
First observation: this stuff is gorgeous! Captivating color, delicious design, and embellishment beyond compare! I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful it all is. I had to touch it, see how it was made and revel in the exquisite color combinations. It was completely overwhelming. How does one choose?
Second observation: This stuff is expensive! I visited numerous stores that carry lines of lingerie at all different prices, but even the cheap stores ain’t cheap! However, price point was obviously going to help me narrow down the choices.
But before I ventured any further I needed to find out who is buying this stuff and why? After a little on-line research, I discovered that French women spend more on lingerie than anyone in the world and they spend a much larger percentage of their clothing budgets on it. So back to that question…why? Okay, time to do a “man (make that woman) on the street” as we say in the news business.
So…. what’s the deal with the underwear? A French friend was a little incredulous when I asked her that question. She asked my why in the world I would bother to put on nice clothes if my underthings weren’t just as nice? She told me a woman is not dressed unless her underwear is looking as good as her outerwear. It just makes you feel good, she explained.
I brought it up with an American friend who has lived here for quite some time. What’s the deal with the underwear? She laughed and showed me her two lingerie drawers. One for her American underwear, one for her French lingerie. I laughed and asked her how she could afford it. Simple, she said. French men buy it for you. Okay, now I’m even more intrigued.
I persevered and interrogated another American friend who has lived here for almost 30 years and is married to a Frenchman. What’s the deal with the underwear? She laughed too. Apparently, this is a question that many have asked. She explained that French girls begin buying nice underwear at a very young age. It’s simply a French Fact. Like the preponderant use of conditional verbs. She too asked me a simple question. Why would you not buy something pretty when faced with a choice between utilitarian and lovely?
Well, I’ll tell you why! It’s uncomfortable, unnecessarily frilly, it shows through your clothes, it doesn’t give enough support, and…. who sees it anyway?
Well that attitude just flagged me as an imposter when what I really need to do is assimilate!
You see, the consensus is, that French women buy these beautiful underthings for themselves first and foremost. In fact, it is a part of their complete outfit. Bras always match panties and the entire ensemble should match or compliment your outfit. Because if a little bit peaks out, (which is okay) you need to be put together. And if you feel good under, it makes you feel good over.
And French women ARE put together. This is a subject that has been endlessly written about and is often a matter of controversy with American women. French woman seem to dress nicely all the time. Not necessarily dressed up, but dressed well. Well thought out and not necessarily trendy. Clothing is more form fitting and they are very comfortable with that. I have never, ever seen a French woman walking down the street in a pair of yoga pants and sneakers (as was often my custom at home). Or, heaven forbid, a sweatshirt.
The conversations I have had about French underwear have often evolved into conversations about French women in general and I think that topic is one on which I’m not ready to write…. yet. One friend says French women are more narcissistic. Another friend says they are simply more comfortable being female and enjoy accentuating the differences between men and women. I don’t know and since I have very few female French friends as yet, I haven’t uncovered their collective psyche. And I’m not saying their way is right and ours is wrong. I happen to like being able to go out in a big old fleece sweatshirt and my old white tennis shoes…. if I want.
But. …again…when in France. So back to the lingerie store; the only one I found on my previous fact-finding mission that I could even remotely afford. I perused my array of choices, passed by the inevitable section (always in the back of the store) that features American style underwear…. you know the flag words…. “comfortable”, “invisible”… and really kind of ugly!
With the aid of a most helpful saleswoman, I tried on, discarded, checked prices, and eventually passed by all the truly exquisite colors and patterns and settled on a little white bra with beige lace and an actual…bow! And of course, the matching panties. Yes, I know. I really haven’t moved very far along in my assimilation process. White and beige. One bow.
But it’s a bow, and the bra is little…and I match!
I obviously have a long way to go. But it’s a start. Perhaps I’ll try again in a few weeks and buy myself a gorgeous Christmas present…. the turquoise number in the window of the chic store down the street, beautifully cut, embellished with appliquéd flowers, in a multitude of rich colors…. and really expensive.
Which brings me to the last mystery. How do you accomplish the final feat of getting French men to buy the lingerie for you? I’ll venture to say that If I ever do figure that one out, I probably won’t write about it.
Addendum: One year later. I am proud to say that though I haven't got a drawer full (which means I must be doing something wrong), I am now the owner of a lovely red set...that I did not buy, and I am developing a relationship (strictly business mind you) with the guy at the market that sells last year's Charmel at a great price. He completely understands about pantyline. As he proudly told me as we were discussing correct sizes, "I am a man. I am an expert at watching women's behinds. That line is just not pretty". He PROMISED me he would be at the market Saturday with new stuff...and he wasn't. Ruined my whole weekend! And, I have now spotted a few women wearing tennis shoes...but still no sweatshirts.