Je ne sais quoi -- literally, I know not what
The French phrase, je ne sais quoi, refers to a quality, a certain something about a person, that you can't quite put your finger on. It's indefinable, an air of mystery. It results from being comfortable in one's own skin, in being authentic and liking oneself. Je ne sais quoi is confident but not arrogant. I think of the woman of repose, who is quietly self-assured, who is irresistibly magnetic, because she is not focused on herself. Her light is beamed upon the person to whom she is giving her attention, drawing one into the sanctuary of her being. She is, in a word, alluring.
The alluring woman also radiates style. And style is not the same thing as fashion. Your personal style encompasses all that you are, and the woman with that je ne sais quoi knows who she is and dresses to best reflect her personality, values, interests, and lifestyle. In France, this usually means that women don't adhere to trends. They are not fashion's slave. There is an understated aesthetic at work. The French woman doesn't look like she is trying too hard, and that's because she isn't. She knows what looks good on her body and for her age, and she doesn't overdo it. She is not dressed like a department store mannequin. She is not coiffed to perfection. In fact, a certain quirkiness or undone essence is often present. This woman knows in her bones that style cannot be bought, only cultivated.
The trouble for many women is in defining their personal style. I know that once I had a child, it became difficult for me. Vintage clothing is generally not conducive to breast feeding. When that phase was finished, I thought, now what? I am not the same dress size as I was when much of my clothing was purchased from vintage boutiques. My lifestyle changed, and my personal style has had to evolve with it. Some of the things that once looked good on me no longer do. In her book, Lessons from Madame Chic, Jennifer L. Scott suggests finding a creative label for your signature style. Women with great style stick with their signature look. Julia Roberts, for instance. She has always worn her hair in long layers and loose curls, and her style might be called "casual bohemian." Julia is not likely to suddenly cut her hair in a short, pixie style and start dressing in conservative suits.
I would describe my personal style as a classic-bohemian mix. I like floral prints, pattern mixing, flowing skirts and dresses, soft fabrics, and ethnic touches, ruffles, and lace. I also favor classic shapes, clean lines, cardigan sweaters, capris, and 3/4 length sleeves. Though a free-spirited bohemian type in many ways, I do not dress as if I were on my way to a Renaissance festival, unless, of course, I really am! I value high quality, tradition, simplicity, beauty, and meaningful ritual. I enjoy a touch of whimsy and the unexpected. My style combines classic, retro, and bohemian chic pieces. Today I am wearing an abstract printed peasant blouse handed down to me by my mom, Lei knee-length cargo shorts, and gladiator sandals. My hair is in a top not, which is a trendy style but one I have worn at various times for years. My earrings are vintage drop pearls. "Casual elegance" might be another moniker for my style, a combination of Anthropologie and Ann Taylor Loft.
Be creative in coming up with your personal label. This is not to box you in, but to pull focus so that your authentic brand of je ne sais quoi can shine! The next article will suggest ways of cultivating your signature style. In the meantime, get started--pare down your wardrobe to the essentials if you haven't already done so, and choose your outfits with intention and verve. I can already see your Mona Lisa smile...