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How I Got My Oh-La-La

By most accounts, I look O.K. My style, such as it is, mainly impresses the world with a mild, she’s nice. Yet I had been in Paris mere weeks when Madame de Glasse, the French neighbor with whom I am friendly, announced some startling news. As we chatted in the launderette we both use on the rue de Passy, Madame eyed a washer’s soggy wad of pajamas, long johns, turtlenecks and sweats I had plopped into a rolling basket. Then she said with some alarm, “Mademoiselle, like many Americans, you are a prude, non?”

Moi? I stared at her, shocked.

True, Madame’s wash was a jambalaya of plunging necklines, peek-a-boo intimates and colors the heart-racing hues of passion. There were lace bits and sheer slips and things that looked short and clingy. But who would have thought that what passes for hot where I come from—a whole sack of comfy stuff snapped up for a song at an outlet—would be seen by Madame de Glasse (if not all of France) as symptomatic of a horrible American malady: dowdiness. And I had it!

Was my frumpiness so far gone that nothing could be done? I squeaked. Suddenly, I was insecure in my one-size-hides-all hoodie. Madame swept a sorrowful look over the laundry I loaded into the dryer—a hefty cotton jog-bra and the shame of some unraveling granny panties stood out—and rendered her opinion. I held my breath.

“It is grave, very grave,” said Madame de Glasse, gravely.

I had no idea. Yet my wardrobe of saggy-ass sweats and what’s-become-of-me tops certainly contrasted with the outfits fresh from the dryer that Madame de Glasse was folding. Among them: a tiny lime-green thong, a demi-brassiere of transparent lace, and a sweet, sexy skirt no bigger than a wisp. Was it true...