Boiling Down That French Sense of Je Ne Sais Quoi

Of all the beauty ideals in the world, this one continues to inspire. Is it something in the water?

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I'M A FRENCH WOMAN. This can be an intimidating idea—to me. You know, so many things are said about us: that we're stylish, beautiful, skinny, and great mothers. There is a whole category of books about French women. I've even bought a few of them. I wouldn't want to disappoint.

The truth is, we come in every color, shape, and size. But we do follow certain rules that are so ingrained in us by our French mothers that perhaps we don't even realize that others don't live by them. And our rules are simple! For us, being chic and looking beautiful should appear—and I hate the word as much as you do—effortless. This is achieved with bon sens (common sense). For example, our mothers teach us to dress according to our figures: Clothes are here to make us look beautiful, not the other way around. We're pretty resistant to trends.

The same goes with beauty. Minimal makeup lets one's natural beauty shine. A red lipstick is here for fun, but we learn early on that it's either the lips or the eyes. Never overdo it! It's basic: Clean your face, brush your teeth, use a good hydrating cream, and protect yourself from the sun. Fad products don't really affect us. We stick to our Créaline and our Nivea Creme. One exception? A touch of perfume. We learned from our mothers, who learned from their mothers … Oh, how traditional are these French women! you may think. Not so fast. There is one more thing we know how to do better than anyone else. Subtle allure—that cocktail of intellect and appearance that makes one beautiful—is something we cultivate throughout our lives.

This pursuit begins in our 20s, a time to experiment. It's that age when you can dance all night without worrying too much about the bags under your eyes the morning after. Maybe we travel the world with a backpack, or pursue long, unnecessary studies without a care. In our 30s, we find balance and go from being a fille to a femme. We still love to party, but, really, what's better than a few friends at home and a great bottle of wine? We start taking better care of ourselves. Running once a week at the Tuileries, maybe. Striking that balance.

The 40s are when we grow into our real beauty, which is what we've earned by allowing ourselves to not worry too much about our appearance. In fact, I would say knowing herself is the biggest strength of the French woman. These are also the years when we become more precise with our beauty routines—perhaps a richer lotion, a visit to the dermatologist, a few Pilates classes or brisk walks. Next come the decades of being fully yourself, and your most desirable.

And maybe that's the ultimate French beauty secret: We don't freak out too much about age. Wrinkles and little shadows under our eyes don't really count. Of course, if anything bothers us, we'll take care of it, but never within the fantasy of getting back to an age of innocence and naïveté—we just enjoy what we have without questioning it too much. As long as each day is lived to the fullest, we have nothing to regret—only to be thankful for the beautiful women we've become, inside and out.

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Ooh la la! This month, check out the stationery, journals, iPhone cases, and more in Garance Doré's new Rifle Paper Co. collaboration.