London - A trip to Paris always brings out mixed feelings. While I love the architecture, the parks, the shops and the Marais district, whenever I board the Eurostar, the butterflies in my stomach return and I start to hate everything I’m wearing.
This trepidation mostly stems from the years when I was the editor of Marie Claire and had to travel to Paris four times a year to attend board meetings.
The female company directors wielded beautiful ink pens, and always had a scarf knotted effortlessly in a way I was never quite able to master.
They were pencil-slim, but always took hours over a three-course lunch washed down with red wine. They never dyed their hair or tried to look younger than they were. They made me feel terribly small and provincial.
Perhaps if, in those days, I had been armed with this brand-new style book, I would have stuck the job a little longer.
Ines de la Fressange, a former model and muse to the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent, has written the ultimate guide to getting dressed the French way.
Unlike most style books, which can be terribly vague, Parisian Chic scores because it is hugely, arrogantly (but in a helpful way) detailed and dictatorial, as well as containing all those secret Parisian addresses for the wonderful shops you can never find on your own.
But where Ines is really helpful is with her advice on how to look chic and timeless once you reach middle age. Unashamedly 53, she is super-useful on the thorny topic of what to wear once you pass that half-century milestone.
French women evolve their style as they get older, she says, rather than clinging desperately to what worked when they were 30. Her advice is to pay attention to trends, cherry-pick something that might suit, but never to be a slave to fashion: nothing ages a woman more than adopting every passing fad.
She says you should auction any crocodile bags on eBay and never wear top-to-toe luxury labels, but instead mix designer with lots of High Street.
Converse sneakers are great for the over-50s, rather than staggering around in platforms. A round-neck cashmere sweater is a must, too: it looks great for the evening with a pencil skirt, covering up your arms and decolletage.
But most important of all is to drop in the odd surprise. It is all very well adopting a uniform that suits, but this can become a little tired and boring.
Instead of always wearing a predictable crisp white shirt to work, try a bright fuchsia one instead. Ines is a big fan of floaty print scarves, too, which are a great way, even in summer, to cover a crepey neck.
However, I beg to differ on some points. Ines is a fan of flats at all times, and while they look wonderful on someone who is 5ft 9in-plus, the rest of us can look dachshund-like (long body, stumpy, chunky legs).
A good compromise are black biker boots with chunky heels or kitten heels with pointy toes.
I would add another don’t: if you are over 50, avoid vintage. Those retro bags, swing coats, Fifties prom dresses, twinsets, ropes of pearls and giant clip-on earrings will age you.
I’d sum up Ines’s take on French style as meaning it must look effortless. Make your clothes suit your lifestyle and personality, not the other way round.
French women seem to get better with age, and I think this is all about attitude. Never mind scarves and blazers, this is the book’s biggest lesson.
The most beautiful woman is the one who oozes confidence, happy in her own skin - which is Ines de la Fressange down to a crisp white T.
Parisian Chic by Ines de la Fressange (Flammarion).
PARISIAN STYLE COMMANDMENTS
* Never wear a necklace AND earrings.
* Matching bags and shoes after the age of 30 adds ten years.
* Backpacks and bumbags - no!
* Never wear jeans with trainers.
* Dont’t wear heels with a pencil skirt.
* Avoid anything nude, particularly if you are older as you will look washed out and even more invisible.
* Buy the best trench coat you can afford and scrunch up the sleeves. Never belt it properly or add anything military.
* Always wear a bra.
* Wear pearls with a rock ‘n roll T-shirt.
* Wear black with navy.
* Roll the sleeves of your cotton shirt over the sleeve of your sweater. Very Parisian!
* Wear a full skirt with a tight top; or a pillowy top with skinny trousers or a pencil skirt.
* Shop in the menswear departments, especially if you are not petite. You can find great blazers, knitwear, white shirts and scarves. - Daily Mail