Monday, November 8, 2010

French Dressing

It's Monday! I really need to write an article about my trip to the Dordogne but...I'm too tired and I have too much homework. So, as usual, I'm posting a Monday Memory....written a year ago before I cracked the mystery. I won't even attempt to try to get you to believe this photo is of me. But man, what I wouldn't give to own this little ensemble!

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.                                           


  1. You didn't buy it????? So, you must be doing something right!
    I had looked over the lingerie at BHV in Paris, and yes, wow. everything was so expensive. and gorgeous. and sexy. and oh the colors and details!

  2. Well, well, well, Delana! I haven't been reading your posts for quite some time for a number of reasons. (none which have to do with you and your terrific writing!) Why I started back today, I'll never know why! But, I sure picked a good day to reconnect, didn't I!!!

  3. No LibbY, I didn't buy it! I drooled, cleaned myself up, and then used the money to buy an airplane ticket!

    Anonymous-Well, well, well...whoever you are! I'm glad you're back and I hope all is well. Whoever you are. And it certainly is a good day to connect....whoever you are.
    So are you going to let me in on this little secret?

  4. Thank you Delana for your great post, i have always wondered why French women have such an obsession with their underwear. Maybe now i will look again with a new attitude and eyes!!!

  5. Bonjour Delana ~ I've loved reading this post & I asked myself the question why don't I wear pretty little matching lingerie sets. The plain truth being that stores in my town, have little choice of underwear!! I mean mostly those ghastly flesh coloured bras with no style what-so-ever. Also I think that the French women are generally slimmer & more petite, which lends itself to prettier undergarments ~ they don't have so much to hold up!! hold in!!
    I'm sure that they feel better about themselves ~ more feminine, in their exquisite little lingerie sets.
    Viva La France!!


  6. I used to buy pretty underwear and save it for special occasions. It may be partly because of the comfort factor, but I can't help but think it isn't programmed into us for our roots as a Puritan colony.

    Give me cotton hi-leg briefs or give me death!

  7. What an entertaining post, Delana! I think your choice of lingerie is just right...a little bit of beauty with a little bit of practicality.

    I like a bit of lace myself, but nothing stiff or scratchy. I must admit my bras and panties rarely actually match! I'm sort of in awe of French women now.

  8. I would love to wear beautiful frilly things everyday, but truthfully, they almost always get passed over by something more comfortable (and nice as opposed to sexy).
    I've rarely been comfortable in a bra made mostly of lace and also, I'm a huge fan of not being able to see my lingerie under my clothes... panty lines of course are a no, and I don't like how my petite ta-tas can look a tad lumpy under a shirt from too much lace and bows. So it's usually nude colored and seamless for me. Not very exciting I know.
    But we'll see after another year in France...

  9. It would take a whole new mindset to change my bras and panties. Also a whole new budget. I walk by our lingerie stores and still have not wandered in, they seem forbidden. I do know younger women and girls who think nothing of buying these fancy, silky beautiful colored items.

    I am, though, getting closer to at least stepping in the door. Not yet, though. A great post!

  10. LOL!

    I've not dared to enter a lingerie store in France. Geez, I'm still trying to get over buying shoes in this country. (I wear a size 10 in North America. The horror!)

    That said, I did buy some lovely underwear when we were in Toronto: all lace and delicate. Not the bras though; I just can't imagine wearing a lacy bra under a form fitting top. Maybe under a blouse or something where it wouldn't show.

    I loved the post too!

  11. As an American, I haven't fully made the shift, either. But there has been an evolution toward a more French notion of prettiness. I've gone from the cute sexy lingerie of university days to the sporty, invisible stuff of motherhood. I'm very much still in motherhood, but now it's also the cute sexy pj's/sleepsets. I feel pretty AND budget-conscious!

  12. Hello Delana, I'm over from Sara Louise's blog.

    I'm a Brit over in Montpellier. I can reassure you that the mums standing outside the school gates look every bit as scruffy and comfortably dressed as your average Brit mum.

    I've no idea what they've got on underneath, natch, but on top is nothing special.

    As for lingerie, I can't afford those boutique prices, so buy them at online vente privé such as BrandAlley although my last purchases were in M&S summer 2009!

    I'm in desperate need of undies now and am going to hint to my dearly beloved to get his credit card out for Christmas. Wish me luck!

  13. What a fabulous post! I am going to enjoy discovering all your adventures in previous posts... You are my hero, adventure-woman!



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