I've always been quite envious of the Gallic way of life and my childhood French exchange is definitely to blame.
You see, we spent almost every summer together during our early teens, oscillating between England and France. When she came to me she'd be treated to the crushing boredom of rural Essex (with the odd foray into the metropolis that was Bishop's Stortford, lucky girl) while travelling over to France was a heady endeavour- roaming idyllic Parisian streets, tripping through Burgundy farmland or splishing in the sea in Arcachon. (I think we know who got the better deal).
Her fabulous family were impeccable hosts, although they insisted on no English being spoken which was mildly horrifying, and I barked hilariously up the wrong tree by harbouring a passionate crush on her older brother, who is now a monk.
They were all terrifyingly chic, but my exchange Clémence had the style clout of a laminated Vogue September edition, even at the tender age of 11. She accessorised like a seasoned fashion editor, wore skinny jeans before they were 'a thing', and laughed at me when I copied her order of Steak Tartare and then stared aghast and dismayed when confronted with a glistering mound of raw meat and capers (I'd gauchely assumed it was going to be steak with a tartare sauce, bless my little parochial socks).
We spent a lot of time shopping together as we got older (those summer holidays weren't going to spend themselves), and it's funny that I sometimes still have her voice in my head when I pick things out or try things on. ('C'est MAUVAIS' was a particularity repetitive catch-phrase of hers as we waded through the early Noughties offerings of the Great British High Street. 'Tres mignon' on the other hand, meant it had passed muster).
Her inside track give me an insight français-style into choosing between a necklace or earrings, investing heavily in outerwear and forgoing a bra given half a chance, and I was grateful (mostly) for the guidance. And while I've since cultivated my own personal style and sometimes choose to deviate from, or downright ignore the strict fashion codes instilled in me by my french friend, I often find myself returning to the classics she favoured then, and still favour now.
Black trousers, for example, and culottes, and layer-able blouses, and fine-knits, and stripes. Oh yes, stripes, for ever and ever, amen.
The best thing about stripes is that they come in all shape and sizes and are the ultimate conversationalists. They can scream 'BeetleJuice', or whisper 'Coco', depending on your mood. Wide stripes, narrow stripes, horizontal, vertical, zebras, liquorice- I never draw the line. Go ahead and clash them up with another print, or pare them down, the answer is always simple (it's written in black and white).
This Breton top is the ultimate though, the French classic that was introduced to me all those years ago after the traumatic experience with the other French (raw beef) classic. It's a Topshop Boutique number who often do 'with a twist' very well, just like your favourite barman, and there's no uncooked meat or capers involved either, which is a definite bonus.
Meanwhile I'm calling my other outfit 'Madeline goes to a sex dungeon', as it's playing contrasts fast-and-loose with a school-ish shirt and leather mini-skirt. Ooh-la-la.
My Parisian counterparts might fragrantly emanate 'Je ne sais quoi' while I'm giving off more of a 'I just don't know' whiff, but I'm chanelling what's across the channel, and ça marche pour moi!