Lingerie is the secret weapon that makes French women so seductive, according to HELENA FRITH POWELL

Overall, my English friends relate to their underwear much like they relate to their dishwasher.

It’s useful, not very pretty, and lasts for decades. I remember a pal once joking that of course his underwear all matched. “It’s this whole indistinguishable shade of gray,” she laughed. ‘A look that takes years to achieve.’

It wasn’t until I moved to France that I realized how negative and damaging this attitude could be to self-esteem. Because here, it is rather the opposite that is true. Indeed, I realized that a French woman’s secret weapon to look and feel very chic is not her clothes at all but what she wears underneath.

Therefore, I was not surprised to read this week that French MP Coralie Dubost claimed £420 in expenses for underwear alone. “I’m not a cheater,” she said when she resigned. “There are parliamentary outfits and personal outfits. I don’t wear the same clothes in my personal life and as an MP.

As a French woman, she naturally includes underwear, making a clear distinction between her work underwear and the little ones she wears for lounging around the house.

clothing store, which always makes my husband laugh, writes Helena Frith Powell (pictured)” class=”blkBorder img-share” style=”max-width:100%” />

In my local town (about 8,000 people) alone, there are three lingerie boutiques. My favourite, called Frou Frou, is next to a children’s clothing store, which always makes my husband laugh, writes Helena Frith Powell (pictured)

The truth is that all French women invest heavily in their underwear – according to some studies, spending 30% of their clothing budget on it.

In my local town (about 8,000 people) alone, there are three lingerie boutiques. My favorite, which is called Frou Frou, is next to a children’s clothing store, which always makes my husband laugh. If you venture there, you’ll be presented with a wide range of matching bras and panties, most of which will set you back around £150 a set. The other two stores are even more expensive.

I live in Languedoc, which is not a rich region. The fact that these recession and lockdown-proof stores have managed to stay in business for the 22 years we’ve had a home here says a lot about French women. I’d wager that every woman I meet today, from the baker to the school canteen, will be wearing exquisite, matching lingerie.

Even the supermarket only sells bras and panties in sets. There’s always an inviting selection in the aisle between canned tomatoes and shampoos.

They are displayed on combination hangers so there is no confusion between panties and bras. If you try to buy one without the other, I’m afraid someone will call security. What you won’t find are budget trouser packs: French women just don’t go there. And for the past 20 years, neither have I. We moved to France in 2000 and when I arrived I was as disinterested in my underwear as your next British wife is in her faded little M&Ss. My criteria at the time were price, comfort and durability.

I was not surprised to read this week that French MP Coralie Dubost (above) claimed £420 in spending on underwear alone.

I was not surprised to read this week that French MP Coralie Dubost (above) claimed £420 in spending on underwear alone. “I’m not a cheater,” she said when she resigned. “There are parliamentary outfits and personal outfits. I don’t wear the same clothes in my personal life and as an MP’

For special occasions, like my wedding night, I splashed out on something special, La Perla I remember, but for everyday I didn’t see the point.

How wrong I was. I soon learned that in France panties are never bought in bulk and worn until they look like a J-cloth that has seen better days.

Underwear should be chic, seductive and above all matching. Always. I used to find this cultural difference perplexing. Surely that wasn’t something to twist your panties? When I asked a French friend why she wore matching underwear, she looked even more confused than me. “Are there others? she answered.

As I discovered, French women have a deep and complex relationship with their underwear. Understanding this was really the beginning of my understanding of this sacred race of sensual superhumans who seem able to tie a sling and seduce a man with the flick of a slender wrist, often at the same time.

It wasn’t long before I started taking the French approach to lingerie. The ripple effects boosted everything. I have much more confidence in my body now, in my 50s, than as a young woman.

Following the rules of French lingerie is now so ingrained that I can’t wear underwear that doesn’t fit, even while gardening. It would be like wearing weird shoes. If ever my husband is mad at me, he threatens to bury me in little mismatches. The nightmare of all French women, and now mine. A French lawyer friend of mine tells me that if she has a particularly difficult day ahead of her in court, she will choose her most exquisite underwear.

“Knowing it’s there gives me strength,” she says. ‘It makes me feel powerful. Your underwear sets the tone for the whole day.

For French women, partnerships may wax and wane, but her relationship with her underwear is for life.

Audrey, another French friend, tells me: “It’s the basis on which everything else rests. And if it’s beautiful, you feel beautiful too.

Audrey adds that she always wears nice underwear because you never know what the day may bring and she wants to be prepared. “Prepared for what?” ” I ask. ‘Who knows?’ she responds with a smile, “But whatever it is, I need to be beautiful to the core.”

Along with price, age is no object when it comes to this way of thinking. Just because you’re moving forward doesn’t mean there’s no reason to drop the standards. This is another big difference between us and the French.

It seems to me that the more older women come here, the more they try. Their nails are perfect, their hair brushed, their lips glossy. In Britain, it often feels like getting older is an excuse to relax, to get comfortable, not just around the belly, but in terms of clothing. This is not the attitude across the Channel.

Several years ago, while writing a book about French women, I chatted with an elderly silver-haired lady in the underwear section of Galeries Lafayette. “Why do you buy lingerie? ” I asked him. “To look sexy,” was the reply.

For French women, partnerships may wax and wane, but her relationship with her underwear is for life.

A woman in her later years takes her underwear as seriously as she takes her nutrition. A gray, faded, mismatched bra and panty combo would just make her feel miserable and that life is over.

Another area where we differ is how long we hang on to lingerie. They don’t keep bras and panties until they fall apart, but update them regularly.

During the winter months, it can be more structured cuts and darker colors. During the summer, when lighter clothes are worn, neutral tones and more relaxed shapes come into play.

The first time I threw on underwear, it felt vaguely subversive and oddly emotional. As a French friend put it: “You English people seem to cling to your bras like you would a favorite toy.

Now I update my underwear regularly. I don’t claim to follow seasonal rules, but as soon as something starts to look flabby or shapeless, it goes away. The average lifespan of a drawer is six months. Maximum per year.

On the subject of comfort, French women have comfortable underwear; they’re not going to dress for flirtation and/or success every day of the week.

But the less structured models are sensual and elegant and can consist of soft silk bras and matching silk briefs.

I have three sets from the French lingerie brand Etam, which is quite affordable, in black, cream and nude. As my French friend Audrey says, “Dressing in beautiful lingerie is a kind of self-love and attention that makes you happy. I think it becomes especially important when you reach a certain age.

It’s very easy to hide under a rock when menopause hits, but if you keep treating yourself to gorgeous lingerie, your self-esteem, body image, and libido will benefit.

A friend of mine says that French women wear sexy underwear not so much to seduce others, but to seduce themselves. According to French lingerie designer Chantal Thomass, we Brits have a long way to go to embrace this mentality.

“British women don’t have the same culture of sophisticated, luxurious underwear,” she tells me. I say it may be partly because of the hassle of maintaining it. I mean, you can barely throw your silk underwear in the washing machine with the dog blanket.

“Don’t wash it,” suggests Chantal. ‘Just wear it in the shower.’ How French is it?

Helena Frith Powell is the author of Two Lipsticks And A Lover, published by Arrow Books

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