The French man’s summer game plan
Perish the thought of stripping off and showing builder’s bums. Gallic men don’t let style slip even in the heat
While the heatwave rages in England, bringing out more moobs and orange six-packs than anyone should have to deal with in a lifetime, here in France the men are busy pressing their Lacoste polo shirts and buffing up their Tod’s loafers. Loafers, of course, that they will wear with no socks, a habit that the Frenchman will carry through the whole summer. He won’t wear socks with his espadrilles, deck shoes, loafers, or in fact anything bar possibly tennis shoes. And somehow he gets away with it, possibly because his legs are just that bit browner and more toned than your average Englishman’s. For a Frenchman, the sight of the sun is no excuse to lower standards, in fact the opposite.
A few years ago when the children were much younger, we went to Collioure with some French friends for a long weekend. My English husband had not really thought about what to pack, so he just threw some clothes in a bag. Claude, however, had packed with a kind of precision normally reserved for astronauts. We were there for three days, and every day Claude had a dashing new outfit, often with an accessory to set it off, such as a hat or a scarf. Everything seemed to match perfectly: the navy blue shorts with the crisp white polo shirt and tan loafers; the navy blazer with the pocket square in a colour that offset the rest of outfit; the different swimming trunks to suit his mood. I’m not saying an Englishman will not dress with as much care, but not on holiday.
The accessory is one of the things that will differentiate your Frenchman from your Englishman. The French may not have a reputation for bravery, but they are not afraid of accessories. “I often wear a scarf,” says Hugo, an artist friend who lives in the Languedoc. “It lends an outfit a certain class. My other top tip is not to scrimp on your footwear; cheap shoes, whatever the season, can make anyone look badly dressed.”
Of course, just like French women, French men carry themselves with a certain confidence that British males rarely seem to manage. Perhaps the moobs are dragging them down.
There is no doubt that Frenchmen are more aware of their body image than Englishmen. Maybe they have to stay thin in order to keep up with their skinny women. In Françoise Sagan’s novel Bonjour Tristesse, the narrator tells us about her holiday on the Mediterranean: “The first days were dazzling … my father performed all sorts of complicated leg exercises to reduce a rounding stomach unsuitable for a Don Juan.”
My uncle has been watching his weight ever since I can remember, because if he doesn’t my aunt spends most of the time talking loudly about his “brioche”. Our friend Claude on that weekend in Collioure was wearing extremely small swimmers so as to maximise his tan. “Claude, ton ventre dedans!” commanded his wife Béatrice if he dared to look 500g overweight: “Hold your stomach in!”
A Frenchman’s clothes will fit him. I have lived here since 2000 and happily have never seen a builder’s bum. Their cotton summer jumpers lightly touch their torsos and their shirts sit well on their shoulders. Where an Englishman will show a lot of flesh, a Frenchman prefers to show a hint of shape, as well as a lot of class. I know which one I’d prefer to see.
The one advantage for English males is that the French rarely venture outside their own country during summer, so you may be able to get away without investing in a new wardrobe. I remember coming home from Marseilles airport in a taxi a couple of years ago. The driver told me the traffic was so bad because everyone was going on holiday. “Where are they all going?” I asked.
He looked at me rather quizzically. “Well, you can go left, or you can go right,” he replied.
Whichever way they go, rest assured they will be well dressed.
Helena Frith Powell is the author of The Ex-Factor published by Gibson Square at £7.99
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019