Thursday, August 28, 2014

Questions about the raison d'etre of The Vivienne Files

Vivienne's work wardrobe, from this post, 3 years ago

A lot of questions recently have revolved around the origins of The Vivienne Files, and what it is that drives me to write it, and what I hope to have accomplished by all of this work. Good questions, and well worthwhile for me to consider from time to time.

I don't have any contact with Vivienne any more, but I will always remember her as the first person that I met who really made it clear to me that looking gorgeous and well-dressed was in no way related to having a big pile of clothes, or to shopping incessantly.  She would never have gone into debt to buy clothing.  She only bought things for which she had saved the money; she only bought things for which she had planned carefully; she only bought things that worked meticulously well with what she already owned.

Was she a typical French woman? or a typical Parisienne?  I have no idea - I don't know all of the women in Paris, or in France.  I know that in Paris, one sees more well-dressed women than one sees in Chicago - certainly a highly percentage of the women look creative, interesting, and attractive in a way that's seldom seen in Chicago.

But moreover, Vivienne's way of dressing and shopping was financially responsible, which enabled her to be self-sufficient - an ultimately feminist and independent strategy.  And her avoidance of excess, of "cheap and cheerful", and of buying for the sake of buying, was very environmentally responsible.  Not only did she look good - she was DOING good by planning her wardrobe the way she did.

And I really wanted to share that with other women.  I, myself, really want to be like that, and I still have to work at it.  


  • It's been brought to my attention that maybe Uniqlo isn't the best source of clothing for us to support, because of labor, or environmental considerations.  I've only been able to find really conflicting information about the company, so I'm reserving a firm decision; if you have any fact that weight in on either side of the issue, I'd love to know.  Thanks!

25 comments:

  1. Hallo again from UK. I would like to say that I have learned - and am still learning - a lot from you and your interpretation of Vivienne's mode of dressing. Thank you for this and the time and effort you so generously donate to your readers.

    I should like to make two comments please. When we spent a few days in Chicago not long ago, I and my daughter were actually well impressed by the dress sense of women we encountered. True our time was spent in and around tourist and main shopping areas but given that the first few days were hot and necessitated summer clothes whereas it suddenly snowed and so much snow fell that internal US flights were suspended and the airport turned into a shelter for snow-bound travellers, in both weathers everyone was appropriately, and smartly, dressed. This says a lot for a city whose way of dressing you don't rate highly :)

    My other point is that I live in a city which is the main port for cruise liners in the UK. Unfortunately American women visitors off these cruise liners stand out for being most inappropriately dressed, often seeming more suitably dressed for a night out at the opera than an afternoon's shopping in a city where everyone is dressed as though it is dress-down Friday! There could be a compromise - us Brits could dress up a bit more (and with the assistance of your blog, I am really trying hard) but the American visitors to our city should learn to dress down rather than dress up when they come ashore to see the sights and for casual shopping. Faults tend to be that they are over made-up, wearing tops that are more suitable for evening than sunny daytime wear, and they should ditch the jewellery - one peice (earings or a bracelet maybe?) is probably enough for an excursion off an ocean liner.

    Well, I hope you and your readers don't take this unfavourably because I am a fan and am adapting my wardrobe to the way you suggest. I'd just ask you to consider that in Europe we always know the Americans because they are overdressed compared to European style. Too many accessories maybe?

    Thanks for your blog and keep up the good work.

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    1. Hehe, I live in Sweden and my impression of American tourists in Europe is that even on a day of city sightseeing, they are dressed and equipped like they were going on a week-long hike in some very remote area. Sturdy shoes, practical clothing, sun hat, back pack, fanny pack, big camera bag AND the mandatory 1,5 liter water bottle. But maybe cruise tourists are a different breed.

      Isn't stereotyping fun?! :-D

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    2. With bad feet I require sturdy shoes, but do try to avoid dressing like a tourist as much as possible. So interesting to read about your observations vs. those of the original poster saying people are overdressed. What always amuses & amazes me are the tourists hoofing it around cities in high-heels. I can't imagine that being remotely comfortable for a day of sight-seeing.

      Using Janice's advice here, I'll be off to France in a few weeks (hopefully) looking like anything but an American tourist!

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    3. We always used to say in London that you could tell the American tourists by the white shoes..... but there were also all the other giveaways that the original poster describes. It was also a fact that some very good friends of mine could never have avoided being known as American by the sheer size (height-wise - not "fat") of the husband - I think that British people of similar generation were just not built as big, maybe - at least in part - because of the restricted diet arising from rationing.

      As for the high heels.... well, I agree when it is obviously a planned sightseer; but I have done it myself due to lack of choice: the "day off" I managed to squeeze in the first time I went to Rome ended with me walking all the way through the forum and up to the Spanish steps in high heels because I didn't have anything else. I had planned to take the open top bus, but after standing in the hot sun for an hour (in October) and having the buses not take on any passesngers, I gave up, demanded my money back, and walked.......

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  2. Since everything I have looked at at Uniqlo only goes up to a US size 16, and I am *not* in their size range, I never gave any more effort into looking that their business practices.

    glassdoor.com has some eye-opening reviews given by former employees. Yikes!!

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  3. Success always brings critics. There is no more reason to criticize Uniqlo than to find fault with Hong Kong's Giordano or Scandinavian H&M.
    The sizes are too small for me too but I always look in the stores as the designs are interesting and Japanese master store layout like nobody else.

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  4. I still have two print-outs of your original "Vivienne Files" from the French Chic Yahoo group. I think it would be great for you to re-post some of your articles. I really found them helpful years ago when I was trying to focus my wardrobe. This was years before the word "minimalist" was spoken outside the design world!

    Leah

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  5. I, too, fondly remember your Vivienne posts on French Chic.
    I have few needs and even fewer wants as I age.
    Less is often more than enough nowadays.

    JA

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  6. Thanks again for all your thoughtful posts. Reading them has really helped me change the way I collect clothes and dress; much less haphazard and more focused, so that when I get new pieces they fit my needs and become a coordinated, cohesive wardrobe. The most helpful concepts I've gotten from you are 1. Have a color scheme. 2. Make a plan and stick to it. 3. Layers mean a simpler wardrobe, not a more complex one, as I used to believe.
    Thanks again, please keep posting!

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  7. I just started to read The Vivienne Files 18 months ago but I have learned so much. As I can't eliminate all my existing clothing and start over, it is a lengthy process. It seems that North American woman tourists either dress up too much (costume jewellery that matches) tops better left for evening etc or look as though they are going hiking. French women of a certain age tend to wear more skirts and better quality city walking shoes. As I am retired longer, my needs become fewer.

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    1. Oh, I do love this...not only do French women dress better than all of us but they also have a sense of humour :)

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    2. I'm curious about "better quality city walking shoes." What would be an example of those that could support walking 5-10 miles a day and being on foot for 8-12 hours? I'd love to find some shoes that would look good and be supportive for my trips. Unfortunately, the only ones that work for my 68-year-old feet (and knees) do tend toward the athletic or hiking look as opposed to anything that Janice shows here.

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    3. Walking and stair climbing is part of most European's daily activity. I am sure that they don't walk 10 miles each day, but we do walk quite a bit. Hence the casual chic shoes above a certain price point that you buy look good and get you through the day. Having said that, any Cole Haan with their Nike technology sole support will get me through my busiest day just fine while still looking a lot better than any athletic shoe ever will.

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    4. Josef Seibel, Mephisto, Rieker, Naot or my favourite splurge Thierry Rabotin (get them on sale) are great European city walking shoes that will carry me (62) for 5 to 10 miles. They are often an investment but some styles will work with jeans, dress pants or with a skirt so they are a great travel choice.

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    5. I like Munro American too.

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    6. In this discussion about shoes, you might find this Women's Travel Shoes thread from the Rick Steves travel website interesting -- https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/best-travel-shoes/women-s-travel-shoes . At present there are 91 replies, so this is definitely a hot topic. Something often forgotten is that when people pack light, there is only room for the shoes on their feet and one or two more pairs. And many tourists are going many different places, not just to a big city, so the shoes they wear must be comfortable and utilitarian first and foremost.

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    7. Arche, Paraboot, some of Accessoire Diffusion's oxford styles. I find Thierry Rabotin excellent for a light extra shoe but not solid enough for walking long distances. And Blundstones for hiking about in jeans.

      Anon@ 9:49, I believe Mme L. is Canadian; at least I sent her something to her home in Canada. We dress pretty well too.

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  8. Always enjoy reading and learning from your blog. Here is an idea: Can you put together a ten-item wardrobe where the color black is not used as a top (not in a shirt, t-shirt, sweater, or jacket) ? As a NYC femme d'une certain age, I find that I wearing black anywhere near my face is aging. Thank you. Cynthia

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  9. I am a woman who has just turned 50, and have spent my entire life with a scattered mind, overwhelmed by obligations and stuff. I am finally coming to accept that for me “less is more” is not just a philosophy, it is the key to my peace and well-being. After poring through various minimalist wardrobe blogs, something about your very well-organized and articulated system has resonated with me. For the first time in my life I am forming a vision of what a Vivienne-style wardrobe may look like for me, and it’s very exciting. One of the keys has been to make navy one of my 2 main neutrals, instead of black. Just that one decision means I am being forced to be more selective and ignore the mounds of cute black tops, dresses, jackets, etc. that have always seduced me. And I must say I am happier with the way I look in navy! If I do manage to finally master my wardrobe, I’m hoping that, as some suggest, this will begin to translate into other areas of my life that have always seemed chaotic and out of control. Thank you for this!

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  10. I visit here daily and really appreciate your ideas and advice. Your's is one of the 3 blogs that I do visit daily!

    I just had my colors done and am trying to build a wardrobe with navy and winter white (cream) as my base colors with accent colors of purple/plum, aqua/teal and I'm struggling for that third color. I have a navy pant suit from Talbot's, navy dress, winter white slacks and a plum flyaway caridgan. I would like my winter white jacket to be a flyaway cardigan but have been unable to find one. Can you suggest that wardrobe on here? By the way, I bought your recent e-book on colors. . .excellent!

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  11. I love your work. I agree with less is more and buying good quality. I started buying "expensive" clothes about 15 years ago (I am 59 years) and it has made such a difference it my wardrobe. For example, I love the designer Sarah Pacini. I bought a beautiful sweater in a pumpkin/cognac colour about 8 years ago that was a Sarah Pacini. It is a waterfall style. It still looks current and like new. I love it. Yes it was pricey but worth it.
    Janet

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  12. I am another daily visitor; and while I find the minimalist approach harder to adhere to - I like to have the variety of different colours - it is reducing the spread and volume of my choices. I am also slowly learning to recognise when I am picking things that would look fantastic on somone else (typically, one of my very stylish sisters) but are really not me. So thank you - and long may you continue!

    I also like to dip into the historic posts - there is so often something pertinent to whatever issue I am trying to address. But I have to say, that has become very much harde since you had to change the format. I used to find it very useful for finding things, as well as for browsing, to have those little snapshots that flipped over to the day's title - is there any way that those could be revived, please?

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  13. Just adding my little request, as I am starting to rebuild a wardrobe... I'd love to see a 4x4 in burgundy, sapphire blue, medium grey, and black, perhaps with a streamlined or menswear sensitivity... If you ever have time!

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  14. Dear Janice;

    once again, thanks for all the work you've done so far. I am not sure if you've seen my previous comments so I'll write again, I was working on my navy-black-camel-gray wardrobe for a while and it is not going..ıhhm so successful. I decided to spare black-gray for winter and navy camel for warmer weather.. Yes, crazy! but since it requires a lot of planning I will settle in black and gray in the longterm for 365 like you and Vivienne, and not buy another tiny piece of clothing in navy or camel.. By the way, I wished you had had a book reviving all of your precious efforts. I am sure that'd sell millions of copies.. I browse some of the other "capsule wardrobe" blogs but none of them appeals me as much as yours.. You really know SOMETHING Janice..

    love, Aideen

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  15. Janice, your thoughtful commentaries are always so appreciated, as well as the stellar wardrobe combinations you put together. This was no different, as I too am concerned about financial and environmental purchase decisions. Your blog helps the world in more ways than just making it a prettier place! Thank you for all your efforts.

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