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Who is the most elegant woman in history: you decide

Is elegance a way of being or behaving? It’s a gift? A allure as the French would say, or an attitude, as the Anglo-Saxons think? A cross between genetics and education? Are you born elegant or Does a person become elegant with time and experience?

But above all, Is there a universal concept of elegance or as many as there are people in the world? Why do we often disagree with the names mentioned in the rankings made by some media about The most elegant women of the year?

The old saying goes that “the habit does not make the monk” According to which, wearing something elegant is not always a guarantee of elegance; In fact, according to the popular saying, “even if the monkey dresses in silk, she stays cute.” However, in those lists that annually select the best dressed, they also talk about elegance.

What do the experts who make decisions look at? Some speak of “harmony”; others, of “balance”; some of “own or personal style”; many, knowing how to be and know how to move.” Of course, among the candidates there are many women of royalty or aristocracy, actresses, models, influencers and even politics.

In its Treaty of the elegant life (1830), Honoré de Balzac reviews the ways of behaving, dressing and living of the French people in the first half of the 19th century. For the French writer, the supreme milestone of good taste is that “elegant life”, different from the “life of the artist” and the “busy life” of someone who has to work to live.

Balzac writes: “… in our society, differences have disappeared: nothing remains but nuances. And urbanity, elegance in manners, that he ne sais quoi fruit of a complete education, they form the only barrier that separates the idle man from the busy man. If there is a privilege, it derives from moral superiority.”

And he adds: “This explains the high value that the majority places on instruction, purity in speech, grace in bearing, the greater or lesser ease with which a headdress is worn, to taste in interior decoration, to perfection, in short, of everything that comes from the person”.

For the writer Silvia Anaska Fisher, author of the book The Dancing Leader’s Talisman (2019), elegance is a quality closer to the Japanese concept of shibumi, “a human quality that identifies people who have achieved a high level of inner mastery” and a virtue that in Japanese culture has to do with impeccability and simplicity.

And, while for Westerners, elegance is associated with the exterior and the formal, our appearance or our behavior, for Easterners, being elegant is something that goes from the inside out and is not something sought, but spontaneous. “Elegance is the art of being present both towards oneself and towards others”, the Italian-Spanish writer declared to La Vanguardia.

For this author, “the elegance of shibumi has to do with the state of internal and external coherence” and is summarized in three virtues: moderation in search of continuous and constant improvement; confidence, or the art of banishing shame, and the attitude of satisfaction and gratitude towards the present moment”.

Surely some of the most elegant women in history had many of the virtues mentioned. And, as the popular wisdom we talked about at the beginning mentions, fashion is not the predominant criterion.

Two centuries ago, Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marchioness of Châtelet (1706-1749), was already convinced that “foolish women follow fashion, pretentious women exaggerate it, and women of good taste make pacts with it.”

Émilie de Châtelet knew very well what she was talking about; She was a groundbreaking woman, who received an exquisite education: mathematician, physicist and French philosopher, she translated the work of Isaac Newton into French. A lover, among others, of Voltaire, she maintained a union with this philosopher that was enriching for both intellectually and carnally.

If we do a survey among fashion experts about What names should be on the list of the most elegant designers in history, Surely those of Madelaine Vionnet (1876-1975), Coco Chanel (1883-1971), Jeanne Lanvin (1867-1946), Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973), Diana Vreeland (1903-1989), Madame Grès (1903-1993) appear )…

There would also be Carolina Herrera (1939-) or Diane Von Furstenberg (1946-): the first, capable of making a simple white shirt elegant and the second, of transforming a housecoat into an all-terrain dress. And today Marta Ortega, CEO of Inditex, often appears.

Among the millionaires, it girls either socialites, Those whom the magazines of the time called elegant would undoubtedly include the names of Luisa Casati (1881-1957), Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979) or Mona von Bismarck (1897-1983), among many others that filled the social chronicles.

If we make a list of the most elegant actresses in history We would find the names of Audrey Hepburn (1929 – 1993), Lauren Bacall (1942 – 2014) and Grace Kelly (1929-1982), also among many others converted into myths today by the popular culture of each country.

And among the most current, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore, Diane Kruger, Elle Fanning, Emma Watson, Natalie Portman, Blake Lively, Lea Seydoux or Emma Stone or Lupita Nyong’o usually monopolize the nominations for best dressed in their appearances on the red carpet.

In the list of royals, Diana of Wales (1961-1997), Queen Letizia, Máxima Zorreguieta, Rania of Jordan, Carolina of Monaco are always present; her daughter, Carlota Casiraghi and her daughter-in-law Beatriz Borromeo, as well as Sassa de Osma. And, of course, Kate Middleton.

Among those linked to politics, the names of Jackie Kennedy (1929-1994), the model Claudia Bruni (when she was first lady of France) and Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, usually appear. And, if we talk about bankers, she also always enters the lists of the most elegant Ana Botín.

Other candidates for the throne of the most elegant are the singer Jane Birkin, the model and designer Inés de la Fressange, the influencers Olivia Palermo and Alexa Chung, and even the nonagena Iris Apfel, although some consider that this Casablanca decorator personifies the saying “If you can’t be elegant, be extravagant.”

Among the models, the names of Christy Turlington, Natalia Vodianova, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, among many others who occupy the covers of magazines, billboards and catwalks, usually come up.

In our country, Naty Abascal (1943), Eugenia Silva and Nieves Álvarez are also fixtures on the best dressed lists. It will be because they have walked in Paris and know the city well because, according to Balzac, “he who does not come to Paris often will never be completely elegant.”

Each person has a person around them whom they consider the most elegant (a grandmother, a mother, a sister, a friend…), according to our own criteria and even unconscious biases resulting from our upbringing. Surely some of them fit one of these definitions that Honoré de Balzac gave of elegance:

“The art of spending income intelligently; or even The science that teaches us to do nothing like others, appearing to do everything like them; or perhaps better: The development of grace and taste in everything we do.” is our own and surrounds us; or more logically: Knowing how to become worthy of one’s own fortune.”

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