American women always talk about French women as if they are mythical, but the more I think about what differentiates us, the more I feel like the American pursuit is born entirely out of a frustration with our own relationship to beauty and style. It seems like we are much harder on ourselves about that which constitutes being beautiful than the French are. We seek effortlessness but make a big deal out of finding it. We almost always want to appear casual, like we’ve just thrown ourselves together, but are profoundly formal about constructing this persona. Jeanne Damas — French actress, prolific Instagram poster and newly-minted fashion designer — agrees. When I asked her why she thinks American girls are always trying to emulate French girls, she quipped quickly, “It’s due to the beauty of Paris and our natural Parisian style.”
There really is an air of unaffected instinct (she calls espadrilles her foolproof styling trick — espadrilles!) about the way she dresses.
She knows exactly what suits her and does not deviate from that. Her clothing line, Rouje, seems to reflect this ethos with a limited supply of silhouettes (do you really need more than a single dress, top or pant style if you know they look good on you?) rendered in manifold prints. “I wanted to create my perfect wardrobe every season,” she said of launching last summer, citing the Gabin dress and all of the denim as her favorite pieces from the collection.
But a perfect wardrobe does not distinguish day clothes from night clothes; on the key difference between how Americans dress and the way the French do, “The American girl is casual during the day and sophisticated at night. The French girl dresses for both, day and night.” The three key things she thinks every woman should own are a wrap dress, a men’s cashmere sweater and a pair of boots.
But what does this mean for a woman’s beauty routine? “I only wear red lipstick, every day nothing else,” Damas said. “MAC’s Russian Red or Ruby Woo.” When prodded about the other products she uses (Nuxe moisturizer and Leonor Greyl shampoo exclusively), she pointed towards the bags under my eyes and said, “I love those,” as if they were genuinely designer. “It is so cute, the blue patches under the eye, I wish I had them.” I told her I’d be happy to give them to her and she seemed eager to take them, which is when I realized I’ve had it wrong all this time.
The mythical beauty of being French has very little to do with the effort you put in, or the casual outcome you put out — what makes us (me?) so different is resistance. Resisting what is natural — the bags under my eyes, the lines on my forehead — and trying to eradicate it.
Which leads me to this question: Is it possible that all it takes to be more French is to stop giving a fuck? It’s worth a try.
Photos by Edith Young.