Fautes de goût

Bad taste or literally, ‘mistakes in taste’ is the phrase most often used by the French fashion police. Mostly they are undercover. Outside of a few people magazines and reality TV shows, French style rules for what to wear are largely unspoken. But believe me, you know they’re there.

On the street you will observe a certain uniformity in the way people dress, what could even be described as a uniform. Skinny legs, close-fitting waists and nary a panty line. Belts and buckles and laces and earrings. It’s all standard issue.

Brigitte Macron, France’s best-dressed first lady, has the unanimous admiration of her compatriots for rising to every occasion sans faute de goût.

At the office, creativity in putting together an outfit tends to be limited to a small detail, an accessory or an unusual cut. To avoid fashion blunders, flashy colours are a no-no, heels are de rigueur, no mixing of patterns and stripes! It is like an army in military drab.

Quintessentially Parisian style maven Ines de la Fressange advises people to dare to make fashion faux pas. Yet she herself is impeccably classic in her uniform below.

Brazilian-born Cristina Cordula is queen of les Reines du Shopping, a French reality TV show in which the female candidates compete to buy a new outfit on a set budget and model it for each other to see who will qualify as shopping queen. Wrongly pairing neckline with jacket, heels to hem height or mixing too many colours and textures will earn the dreaded ‘faute de goût!’

The way I look at it, the only real mistake you can make in what you wear is to forget who you are. Be true to your own style. Wear what feels good for you, be that in ‘good’ taste or not.

Sometimes I will try to dress to fit an idea that is not mine, say with a few more accessories than usual. Because I’ve seen it on someone else and thought it looked good. So I try it on, check in the mirror and it looks okay. Then I walk around for two minutes and change. Because it’s not me.

Ultimately I opt for what makes me feel good. Which means comfortable and confident. Although I avoid going out in track pants or leggings unless I’m actually running. Exercising is one thing; going to the shops is another, even though styles have loosened up a lot in recent years and the line between street wear and exercise gear has blurred. Even in France.

As Gore Vidal said: “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”

What’s your style? Or do you not give a damn?