Lessons From Madame Chic: How to Live la Vie Parisienne

The guide is part tribute to the effortlessly glamorous way of life and part tutorial for suburban women in America on how to emulate the French je ne sais quoi.

If you wish to exude the allure of French women from Gigi to Jeanne Moreau to Charlotte Gainsbourg, you must learn to conduct yourself as if you were being surveilled by a critical Parisian matron — the sort of woman who would arch an eyebrow in horror if she caught you rooting in a can of Pringles, or sauntering to the mailbox in leggings and a T-shirt. Yes, the author admits, you must suffer to be French. If you do, you may discover, as she did, that it’s worth it. In her words: “you do not have to be on vacation in a romantic, foreign city to live a life of rapture.”

As a college student, Jennifer Scott was a laid back typical Californian girl, fond of sugary, greasy treats like “drug store candy” and “potato chips out of the bag.”

But when she embarked on a year abroad in Paris a decade ago, the petite brunette was exposed to a lifestyle that changed the way she approached her own life forever and now she has a book about her experience.
Jennifer spent time between two French host families and was initially shocked by their formality. Nicknaming the matriarchs of the two households in which she lodged “Madame Chic” and “Madame Bohémienne.”

She determined that her skin would glow healthily if she ate proper multicourse meals “with a knife and fork” instead of scarfing down carbs on the run; and that she would look more polished if she threw out “70 percent” of the vast supply of disposable clothing she had amassed since her teens and winnowed her core wardrobe to 10 good-quality items each season.

Back in America in 2008, Jennifer created the blog “The Daily Connoisseur – Explore the Fine Art of Living” which has received over a quarter of a million visits. Jennifer impart advice on how to achieve an elegant routine on home turf. Last year, she folded together many of the blog entries into her self-published book — now fluttering high on Amazon’s Paris Top 10 list — as a guide for women who, like herself, yearn to channel Audrey Tautou in the American suburbs.

Despite its success and her soon-to-be released first novel, the Francophile still posts videos and offers tips on how to live in what she believes to be a sophisticated and refined manner. This week she teaches her fans how to retain an air of mystery by accepting a compliment graciously and explains why a neutral manicure is a versatile and ladylike option.

In the chapter “Look Presentable Always,” Jennifer notes with awe that her aristocratic hostess, Madame Chic, was faultlessly attired even at 5:30 in the morning, when she rose to prepare her daily tartine (with homemade preserves). Early in Jennifer’s stay, when she strolled into the kitchen in old white sweatpants with a hole in the knee (her favorite sleepwear), Madame Chic, scandalized, asked, “Why would you keep them?” Jennifer promptly threw them out and bought proper pajamas. “This was the first time I respected myself enough to realize I deserved to wear beautiful and feminine articles of clothing — at all times — not just during the day or on special occasions,” she writes.

Quickly, she concluded that “California Casual” was “way too casual”; and that letting it all hang out had deprived her American life of joie de vivre.

Even in the more relaxed household of “Madame Bohémienne,” certain standards were non-negotiable. The lady of the house cultivated “Le No Makeup Look,” which her American house guest instantly adopted. Jennifer provides a thorough how-to section in the book, explaining that French women manage the look, “polished but not in an overt, contrived way” by using subtle-unto-invisible foundation and a neutral lip color, and discreetly bumping it up a notch either with a “defined eye” or with a “defined lip,” but rarely with both.

The Parisian men Jennifer met were similarly “well groomed, well shod and well mannered.” Monsieur Chic once apologized to his guest, when she caught him smoking a pipe and watching television news with his shirt untucked. Retucking his shirt, he apologized “profusely.” It never happened again. Jennifer adds, “They weren’t putting on airs for me”; this was their “normal.” Like her hostess, Jennifer learned to choose baguette over bagel and to shun the Doritos.

Ditch the potato chips on-the-go and sit down for a satisfying three-course meal
Throw away the sweatpants and invest in chic sleepwear
Curate your wardrobe and keep only ten key pieces for a season
Opt for a versatile and ladylike neutral-colored manicure
Accept a compliment graciously to retain an air of mystery
Keep make-up simple with emphasis on eyes or lips but not both

Lessons From Madame Chic: The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris” By Jennifer L. Scott. 212 pages. Published by Jennifer L. Scott, $12.99

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