French Chic & Slim
|| 11 November 2018
In 1917, when the United States entered the fighting in World War I, my grandmother’s younger sister was engaged to be married to a young man who answered his country’s call to arms. He, a Major, died fighting on the fields of France. My great aunt never married.
After the Armistice in November 1918, with an influenza epidemic, food shortages, buildings in rubble, and a huge percentage of young French men of marriageable age dead in the fighting, a young Frenchwoman who had lost her family and seen their home destroyed in the war, chose to start a new life in the USA. She accepted the proposal of marriage from an American soldier. When she arrived in the USA, she brought with her the only item she had been able to save from her former life: a serving spoon from her family’s silver.
The marriage between a refined Frenchwoman and a brash American former soldier was not happy. After her divorce, Marguerite supported herself as a manicurist. But she was more than someone who cared for her client’s nails, she also guided them in the principles of French style and behavior in a city where oil was bringing affluence and women were eager to acquire more sophisticated ways. My great aunt was one of Marguerite’s clients.
Likely because my great aunt had lost her fiancé in France, and Marguerite had lost her home and family — perhaps even a fiancé too — the two women became close friends. Later, I received Marguerite’s lessons in style and behavior via my great aunt. I can remember her lecturing: “Your skirt length must be absolutely right. Even if it is only one-quarter inch too long you, must adjust the hem.” I also remember lessons in etiquette and the necessity of good posture.
While those lessons in my teenage years were not always successful against the countervailing pressures of my peers — and my mother and grandmother who had their own ideas about dress and behavior — they did lay a foundation that made me receptive later when I had French women to directly guide me.
When Marguerite was nearing the end of her life, she gave to my great aunt her most treasured possession, that silver serving spoon that was her only relic of the country of her birth and her life there. Eventually the spoon came to me.
Today as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, Marguerite’s spoon is a reminder of the Frenchwoman who was responsible for my first lessons in French chic and behavior.
be chic, stay slim — Anne Barone
image: Marguerite's spoon brought from France after World War I.