Her style is simple and chic, and she has the same kind of je ne sais quoi that French women are so famous for. Meet Susan from Une Femme d’ un Certain Age.
This 57-year-old California blogger with a passion for Paris is famous for her signature style that’s rooted in clean lines, streamlined silhouettes, and the subtle use of color. Susan has mastered a look that so many mature women would love to call their own; that’s clear from her very loyal following.
I got the chance to chat with Susan recently about dressing at 40, 50, and beyond and what goes into creating her French-inspired style. Here’s my interview with this Fabulous After 40 Styleblazer.
Deb: When you started your blog, you mentioned that women over 40 weren’t addressing personal style. Why do you think that was and have attitudes changed?
Susan: I didn’t know many women in my day-to-day life who were much interested in a style beyond “can I wear a black bag with brown shoes?” And at that time (2007) all of the fashion and style blogs I found were geared toward much younger women. So I began blogging in hopes of having a conversation about style with other like-minded women in my age group. I don’t know if attitudes have changed or if blogs and websites have just given us more of a voice and presence, but I’m so happy that there’s such a great community of intelligent, vivacious women who are exploring and sharing their personal style at any age.
Deb: How would you describe your personal style?
Susan: What day is it? Just kidding, but I do find that my style tends to shift over time. I guess the best description I’ve come up with is “L.A. meets Left Bank.” I rely on a core wardrobe of very basic pieces in neutral colors and use the occasional accent piece or accessories to add variety or change the level of formality.
Deb: Has your style changed much over the years? Also, was there ever a time when you got off track with your style and lost your way (as many of us do). If so how did you get back on track?
Susan: Oh yes, it’s changed a lot. I think I’ve always associated “grown-up” style with a very tailored look. My earliest awareness of fashion and style was in the early 1960s (think the first season of Mad Men) which was my mother’s era. About the time I started blogging I was trying to put myself in very classic, crisp, and tailored looks but the effect was always a bit frumpy, and I never felt like myself.
I’ve always been drawn to simple clothing with some drama and movement, and it was really just a matter of giving myself permission over time to move from what I thought I “should” be wearing to what really felt more organic and an extension of myself.
Deb: Whose style inspires you these days?
Susan: Accidental Icon – I love the artistic sensibility she brings to her style. She incorporates interesting shapes and her outfits have an almost sculptural quality, but without looking stiff. There’s always a playful element.
Elin Kling – I’m always drawn to her very simple but striking looks and aesthetic.
Linda Rodin – she has a very playful style, and I covet her eyewear collection!
Sophia Coppola – unfussy elegance at its best. She’s very chic and always looks comfortable.
Emmanuelle Alt and Virginie Mouzat – both have a very simple look and each tends to stick to a specific silhouette, yet always looks current and fresh.
Deb: Black is a big part of your wardrobe as well as other neutrals. What is comforting to you about these colors? Do you have any tips for readers on how to wear neutrals, so you don’t look boring or washed out?
Susan: It’s hard to explain, but I always feel very grounded when I wear black. It’s also much easier to build a wardrobe with a base of two or three neutrals; especially with my rushed mornings, it makes putting outfits together a breeze. I know a lot of people think most women shouldn’t wear black, that it’s aging or makes them look tired, but I think if you feel good in what you’re wearing that’s going to come through too and be part of how you are perceived.
When I’m wearing a lot of blacks, I’ll also add a few elements like a nude shoe, a lighter-colored bag, and especially scarves and jewelry to add some lightness near the face. A white or ivory top underneath a black jacket can also work. There are certain neutrals that I do think wash me out (blush and some beiges and grays), but bone and ivory work and have become strong players in my wardrobe.
Deb: On the off-times that you choose to wear a bright color, what color do you turn to most? Why?
Susan: I’ve been tending to wear a lot of bright or light blue lately. It seems to be an easy color to pair with others, and there’s a particular cerulean blue scarf that I get compliments on every time I wear it.
Deb: Scarves seem to be your favorite way to accessorize. What is it you love about scarves?
Susan: They’re such an easy and often inexpensive way to change the look of a simple outfit. And from a practical standpoint, they keep the chill off my neck. (I have a bit of arthritis in my neck, and it gets stiff when cold.)
Deb: How important is the right bag to you. What do you like in a bag?
Susan: I’ve always loved bags, and believe a good bag can elevate the entire outfit. I need bags that are practical too: some interior organization, structured but not too stiff or boxy, and not too much extraneous detail that doesn’t add any functionality. The ability for a bag to be carried or worn cross-body is a big plus. I’m usually not keen on logos. And lately, I’ve been on a mission to find bags that aren’t so darn heavy!
Deb: Tell us about your lifestyle and how that affects the way you dress. Also, I’m curious, you wear a lot of pants, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in a dress on the blog?
Susan: I work full-time in an office environment and have a teenage son with special needs at home. I need a wardrobe that is cohesive, where most of the pieces work with most of the others. Some days at the office are more casual, and sometimes I need to look a bit more polished. We also like to travel once or twice a year, so clothing that will travel well is always a plus.
I’ve worn dresses occasionally, but you’re right, I’m just not a dress person. I’m usually more comfortable in pants and skirts. And I think it can be hard to find dresses that are chic, comfortable, AND flattering.
Deb: It’s no secret that you are Paris-obsessed! Can you share some tips for what to pack and how to dress when visiting Paris, one of the most fashionable cities in the world?
Susan: The MOST important thing to pack for Paris are shoes that you can walk in all day! You’ll be walking over cobblestones, and gravel, standing in lines…if your feet are hurting you won’t fully enjoy this beautiful city. For clothing, stick with simple shapes in neutral colors. Leave the neon at home, and don’t bring a lot of jewelry. Lightweight layers are best, as the weather can be changeable.
Don’t be intimidated; yes people tend to be well put-together there, but don’t mistake “street style” during fashion week with what people actually wear. You’ll see a lot of sensible shoes and practical clothing. Unless you’re going to the Opera or a formal event, leave the very dressy clothes at home. “Smart casual” will take you just about anywhere. You can pack a scarf or two, but you’ll want to shop for some once you get there. They are excellent souvenirs!
Deb: After spending so much time in Paris, what do you think American women can learn from French women?
Susan: I think we can learn from each other. French women often have a put-together-but-not-too-“done” look that I really admire. But there can be certain conformity too, and I think American women often have more individuality when it comes to style. French people in general have a gift for attention to detail, appreciation of the little things, and stopping, noticing, and savoring the moment, even if it’s just a few minutes on a park bench on a sunny day.
Deb: How do you feel about age-appropriate dressing? Do you think there comes a time when a woman should hang up certain things and move on?
Susan: I no longer believe in a single standard of age-appropriate dressing. I think personality and lifestyle are far more important, and each woman needs to trust her own inner voice when it comes to style. Not everyone may agree with your choices, but that will be true no matter what you choose.
Deb: Favorite outfit in your closet and why?
Susan: Slim dark wash jeans, a white tee, and a black jacket. Ankle boots. It just feels like a perennial classic, and appropriate for most occasions in my life.
Deb: Biggest fashion challenge and how you deal with it?
Susan: Dressy events, definitely! They are so few and far between in our lives these days that I don’t keep a lot of clothes that are by definition “dressy.” Right now my solution is a black silk tunic with an asymmetric sheer hem worn over a black pencil skirt. Looks like an LBD!
Deb: Complete the sentence – I feel most chic when____________________.
Susan: I feel most chic when my inner and outer selves are aligned.
Deb: Thanks Susan for sharing your chic style and fashion insights with us! Ladies, be sure to visit Susan’s fabulous blog, une femme d’un certain âge.