If you ate up French Women Don't Get Fat, you'll gobble down The Price of Illusion, a new memoir by Joan Juliet Buck, the former editor-in-chief of the French edition of Vogue. Buck, 68, is American but moved with her parents to France when she was only 4 years old, so she speaks fluent French.
Buck's ease with the language came in handy in 1994, when she set out to rebrand the bible of Paris fashion with an edgier, American attitude and newsier reporting.
Last week the opinionated Francophile and I had a long talk about beauty, style and aging. As Buck sees it, here's what we stand to learn from our French sisters.
Adjust your style speed. "I think many American women tend to get locked in a sort of 'time rut,'" Buck told me during her recent book tour. "They hang on to how they looked, and what they wore, when they were at their most fashionable.
"Frenchwomen, by contrast, acknowledge that your body, your hair and your face all change after age 50 — especially your face, and especially between 50 and 60. Rather than trying to look young, they simply play up the good, camouflage the bad and emphasize the here and now with a consistent, signature look that expresses their taste. Carolina Herrera. 78, and Charlotte Rampling, 71, are perfect examples of this approach."
Ditch what doesn't work. "Frenchwomen pare down their accessories, their clothes and their makeup to only the items that flatter them. They don't hoard. In my own case, for example, wearing earrings, printed scarves, jackets, high heels and smoky eye makeup makes me look and feel older now, so they're off the list.
"I prefer very simple clothes — almost like a soldier's uniform — in shades of navy blue rather than black (which is draining to mature skin). Tunics, pants and sweaters (in navy, of course!) are my staples. So are long-sleeve T-shirts from Uniqlo, a classic trench coat and my bold black or tortoiseshell eyeglasses. Some might call the look androgynous, but it suits me now.
"What I can't ever seem to find are size 7 shoes wide enough for my feet, which have gotten broader and bonier with age. That's why I'm never without good insole pads."
Compensate with a coif. Frenchwomen find a perfect haircut, according to Buck, then tweak it for a contemporary edge. "After a certain age," she observed, "long hair thins out, or it requires being wrestled into submission as its texture changes. I gradually cropped mine short, and now it feels modern, sexy and powerful."
Get serious about skin care. Unlike American women, Buck said, the French do not feel compelled to share their beauty secrets. But her job at Vogue made her aware that many of them rely on a mix of pharmaceutical, botanical and homeopathic remedies.
As for her own regimen, Buck reported using "a goat's-milk facial soap, a special botanical serum of horsetail and devil's claw (for my joints) and lavender spray — I mist it around me 24/7, especially if anyone sneezes, and it's good for your skin and mood, too."
Though Buck said she doesn't like the idea of dramatically altering one's face with a surgical face-lift, she does endorse "microcurrent treatments," which use low levels of electricity to stimulate facial muscles "for a tighter, smoother look." Popular in Paris, according to Buck, this particular skin therapy is now catching on in New York as well.
Make over your makeup. "Red lipstick is not for everyone," noted Buck (who no longer wears the shade herself). "Frenchwomen sometimes wear more makeup than we do, but they apply it with a lighter touch, so the effect is subtle."
Pressed to divulge a few beauty secrets, Buck allowed that "Lauren Hutton taught me always to put concealer under my nostrils — that instantly gives your face a fresh look. Oh, and no more smoky eyes, be they black or brown; I've switched to a mauvey-gray powder shadow blended above and below my eyes, with a neutral lip."
We'd been on the phone a good two hours by now, and Buck concluded the back-and-forth on an upbeat note: "It's funny how when you're 50, you think life ends at 65," she told me. "But then you just keep adapting to the here and now. Today's women in their 50s, 60s and 70s don't want to look like someone's mother; they're dating, they're working, they're highly visible on social media. The goal is to spark a connection or delight other people, and I think we're doing that."
For more beauty and style tips for women age 50-plus, check out The Woman's Wakeup: How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life, and Love after 50, as well as AARP's new Beauty & Style special edition for tablets.