Economic downturn is the tedious and frightening mantra of our waking life – every newspaper and newscast bears another report of financial collapse or failure or closure, and personal portfolios are in tatters. 

Books and articles are resurfacing to describe how to “make due and mend” or other such dreary advice first heard in dire periods of the Depression and war. Television talk shows are demonstrating how a family can live for a week without spending a cent, or how to make a meal stretch til it squeaks. But surely there must be a way to maintain some level of, well, the way we’re used to living? 

There is indeed a way to do it. Think French.
French women are notoriously stylish and yet are also known, paradoxically it seems, also for tiny capsule wardrobes that leave room to spare in their small, antique armoires. They live in small but smart apartments among furniture handed down for generations. They eat well and never gain an ounce. They live well, seemingly with very little. How? 

“Conspicuous consumption is not a French trait,” says Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don’t Get Fat and an expert on the mysteries of the French psyche. When it comes to fashion, she says “French women have always practiced recession dressing”, carefully and thoughtfully choosing one or two perfect pieces rather than taking the scatter-shop method many of the rest of us do. 

“A French woman has a good classic jacket that she might wear with perfect pants and on Saturday with leggings she found for $29.99. She is savvy, her eye is trained to see how things will work in her wardrobe and how she can change the look with a scarf or a belt or a necklace.” 

But in all things, from eating to consuming goods, Guiliano maintains it’s all about thinking it through, carefully selecting what is best physically and spiritually. And, adhering to the rule of “simplicity in all things.” 

“Most of us make life too complicated…. The more stuff you have the more stressful it is,” says Guiliano.

 American by birth and French by marriage and passion, Debra Ollivier, author of Entre Nous – A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl says the French have an innate way of living stylishly, gracefully and relatively inexpensively because she lives from the inside out, nurturing an intellectual life as strenuously as others might work on gathering the latest gilded gizmo or shiny status item.

In terms of fashion, “their philosophy is all about finding a look that reflects who they are, rather than going for whatever “look” is being hawked by fashionistas.” When it comes to entertaining, a French woman might choose one delicious dish made of seasonal (and therefore less expensive) ingredients rather than a lavish spread; no multitudes of appetizers but rather a simple bowl of olives. She might stay in with a good book rather than go out for bottle service at the latest hot spot. 

“I think a lot of it has to do, believe it or not, with cultivating an inner life. French women are not only very self-possessed, but they have an entirely different concept of sexuality/sensuality than we Americans do,” says Ollivier. 

While the French are the way they are by dint of generations of sturdy example, training and osmosis, the essential theory isn’t so hard to embrace. Think of it as a detox of sorts. Think before you buy, think before you eat, take pleasure in small but perfect things, like a few pretty flowers or a glass of decent wine. Slow down. The economy is out of your control, but living well is the best revenge.
— Tracy Nesdoly

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