What Every French Woman Knows

In The New York Times, A Guide to the French. Handle With Care.:

7: Feeling Sexy Is a State of Mind, or: Buy Good Lingerie

In her close-fitting sweaters and pants and tailored leather jackets, Eliane Victor is both stylish and alluring. The retired author and journalist is in her late 80s.

For French women, being sexy has nothing to do with age and everything to do with attitude. Arielle Dombasle, the actress and cabaret singer married to the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, dared to expose her breasts on the cover of Paris Match and took off her clothes in a song-and-dance revue at Crazy Horse in Paris. Some people feel she tries too hard. But give the lady some credit. She’s turning 50 and has a Barbie-doll body.

A 600-page sociological study of sexuality in France released this month concluded that 9 out of 10 women over 50 are sexually active. The sexiest French women seem naturally skilled in the art of moving, smiling and flirting.

Chic French women prefer to peel and polish rather than paint their faces. Too much makeup, they say, makes a woman seem older, or worse, “vulgaire.” “The most beautiful makeup for a woman is passion,” Yves Saint Laurent once said. “But cosmetics are easier to buy.”

French women spend close to 20 percent of their clothing budgets on lingerie. But you also have to know how to wear it. When the Galeries Lafayette department store inaugurated its 28,000-square-foot lingerie shop in 2003, it offered free half-hour lessons by professional striptease artists.

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