When your personal obsessions and your paid profession overlap, you’ve hit self-actualization bullseye, and that’s what’s so inspiring about Kim France. The founding editor of Lucky magazine (R.I.P.) and the brains behind the Girls of a Certain Age blog (its motto, “You know who you are,” should win the world’s best tag line contest if that were a thing), Kim has spent her career meditating on her love of fashion in the smartest, most unique and relatable way.
She is as passionate about eye cream and handbags as she is about art and culture. And since she’s 55 and owning it, and it’s her damn blog, she gets to share whatever she’s into, however she pleases. Her personal style and writing voice are both so peerless, we’d be willing to bet you’ll be into it, too. Read just one of her posts (well, finish this one first), and you’ll immediately get it.
Kim kindly gave Bare Necessities an exclusive interview about reaching publishing’s glass ceiling before the floor gave way, picking herself up by her chic platform bootstraps to find herself all over again and what’s so good about growing up.
Meet Kim France from Girls of a Certain Age and Lucky magazine
Q: In broad strokes, can you tell readers about your incredible career path?
A: I grew up in Houston, got an unpaid internship at Seattle Weekly, was a pretty terrible assistant at 7 Days, then went to Sassy which was, for me, a game-changing job because the whole magazine was written by three staffers. We couldn’t be precious; we had to get it out there. I’ve never had as intimate a relationship with readers as I did there. Around then, I also started writing about rock music for Rolling Stone, Spin and Vibe. After Sassy, I went to Elle and New York Magazine, where I did entertainment.
I met the editorial director for Condé Nast at a party, and we hit it off. When they started thinking about doing a shopping magazine with an editor-in-chief who didn’t fit the fashion editor mold, they thought of me. I felt like there was room for a fashion magazine that would be more democratic in tone and content, and they supported that.
I was at Lucky for 11 years. One day I was called in and told I didn’t have a job anymore. I was very sad that day, but I was also very relieved. It was hard watching what was happening to magazines. There was a lot of pressure being put on magazine editors to come up with new forms of revenue, which shouldn’t be a magazine editor’s job. I took a year off afterwards. I really needed it. Lucky was a very gratifying job, but it was very stressful; it was game-changing, and then the game changed. I needed time to regroup and remember who I was.
“The game changed. I needed time to regroup and remember who I was”
Eventually, I started thinking about writing again, but I knew I didn’t want to be a magazine writer, waiting around for my editor to call and tell me infinite ways they wanted me to change my story. So I started a little blog in 2012 that was private the first few months. I was really unsteady; blogging is a different kind of writing.
When I got more confident and had accrued enough content, I took Girls of a Certain Age public. I called a Women’s Wear Daily reporter, then The New York Times’ Styles section wrote about it, and all that helped me get an audience.
The first posts were really bad. It’s not like here’s my lede paragraph… It’s a different thing. I took the advice I gave the copywriters at Lucky: If I was in the dressing room with my friend and she was trying something on, what would I tell her?
Q: What’s your mission with Girls of a Certain Age?
A: My mission is to show that there’s a way to look cool at any age but always appropriate. To give women a forum to talk about whatever’s on their minds. There are so few places for girls of a certain age to find community. Lucky was about shopping, but what we accomplished that was good is that we didn’t have articles about things like fighting over the last bag at the sample sale; we didn’t use language like “shop ’til you drop.” Those things needed to happen for it not to be vulgar. In the same way, I felt like Girls of a Certain Age could be about that without being explicitly about it. It’s not full of constant reminders of what stage of our lives we’re in; we all know. It could be a more exuberant experience than that. I wanted to make it a fun thing.
“My mission is to show that there’s a way to look cool at any age but always appropriate”
Q: Personally, what’s it been like for you to become “a girl of a certain age?”
A: It’s a mixed bag. I certainly spend a lot more on skincare now. My memory is not as good as it used to be, and that’s no joke. It’s a strange thing to move into a different phase of life. I just turned 55 and I still feel in some ways like I’m 17. In other ways, I’m really aware that I’ve been on the planet for a while now. All the stuff they say about becoming a little more invisible in our culture is true, but I try not to dwell on it and to look at the positive: You can move through the world really anonymously if you want to. I refuse to think of it as a bad thing.
Q: How can we empower women not to feel irrelevant after aging out of the coveted 18-34 age group?
A: I don’t get it because there is so much money to be spent by women in my demographic. We control the household finances, and we make the money. We’re a culture obsessed with youth and beauty, and that’s what we want to see. There are always some people who are doing something different—Madewell and various beauty companies are showing gray-haired models; Paulina Porizkova on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue talking about ageism—but these are all beautiful women. I don’t know that it’s so different than it’s ever been, and I have a degree of acceptance about it.
Q: What does a typical day look like?
A: The morning starts with coffee and walking my dogs, Sammy and Mister, a Schnoodle and a rescue from Thailand. Then if I haven’t finished my blog post for the day, I finish it. Then try to work on my book, which is overdue, and whatever other projects. Working from home is challenging. I really miss the spirit of collaboration at magazines and having other people around who make you laugh during the day. Fortunately, I have enough friends who are refugees of the magazine world to connect with over the course of the day. There is no real average day yet they all look the same: some combination of blogging, writing, walking the dogs, meeting a friend and going for lunch or a walk. I would never say never to anything, but I can’t say I have a burning desire to catch the subway to midtown every day again.
I try to read a lot because you do better writing when you’re reading. I binge-watch whatever I’m watching at the moment. I see people I haven’t seen, and I’m very close to my family, so I try to see them.
Q: What drives you?
A: Fear of failure drives me. It’s hard to be someone trained as a print editor and not feel irrelevant in 2019. And making a living. I’m not married, I don’t have someone supporting me or even someone to lean on that way. But at the same time, I don’t care about making the kind of money I once made or having a job like I once had. I’m glad it happened, but I don’t ever want it to happen again—nothing with that much pressure.
“I don’t care about making the kind of money I once made or having a job like I did. I’m glad it happened, but I don’t ever want it to happen again”
Q: How did you learn to get comfortable with risk-taking?
A: I think people take risks—or at least I do, and I think it’s true of others—when no other option feels feasible, and that makes taking the risk feel a lot more manageable.
I wasn’t a very happy kid in Houston. I had a lot of family on the East coast and a strong feeling I would be happier there. Case in point: It didn’t feel like taking a risk because I didn’t feel like I had another option other than getting out of Texas and changing my life.
Q: Fashion and feminism aren’t mutually exclusive to you. Why is it important to cultivate style, and how can we use style to enhance our lives?
A: I think it’s important to cultivate style if cultivating style is important to you. If you couldn’t care less, you should wear whatever you want. But I think style can be a way of expressing yourself and boosting your self-esteem. We lead stressful lives. Within reason, shopping and buying things can be a harmless charge—you get a little high from it, and blowing off steam buying something is good.
I never felt beauty or fashion and feminism were mutually exclusive. There are parts of the fashion world that are oppressive; there are designers who don’t do women any favors. I’ve long felt it’s the fashion designers’ fault that models have the bodies they have now. They’re in the position to choose to change that if they want to, and many of the designers are women, and they choose not to, and that’s not cool, but it’s like turning around a barge. I think fashion can help identify who you are in our culture, and help you move through the world in a confident way. I don’t see what’s wrong with that.
“Fashion can help you move through the world in a confident way”
Q: What’s the most common mistake you’ve seen women on the rise making?
A: when I was last in an office, I was shocked by how many women in their first jobs thought they were prepared to become senior editors. Not everybody is Mark Zuckerberg. I hated when people said it to me, but you do have to pay your dues a little, and having a good ‘no job too small’ attitude when you’re starting out is really important. The people at Lucky who got ahead were the ones who just kept their heads down and did the work.
Q: Tell us more about your book.
A: It’s a memoir about my time in magazines with a focus on Lucky. During that time, a lot of very crazy things went on in my personal life. I went through a very, very paralyzing depression, I got divorced, I got breast cancer.… It’s about negotiating that job while I was dealing with a lot.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO KIM
The bra that makes you feel unstoppable: Let me go look in my bra drawer…. I like Chantelle bras a lot, and Wacoal makes a pretty unstoppable and the most attractive racerback bra.
Wardrobe staple(s): Jeans, of course; Maria Cornejo dresses; buttondown shirts by Nili Lotan, APC and Everlane, and clogs from No. 6 and Rachel Comey.
Personal mantra: Choose love.
Greatest extravagance: I can’t live without Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady body oil. Perfume is too strong for me. Oil is the way to go.
Dream job as a kid: I wanted to be an actress.
Hidden talent: I can usually guess the time.
Favorite vacation destination: We’ve been going out to Sag Harbor in the summers for a long time. My family has a house there. It’s got a very comfortable, homey feel, and I get to see my brothers and my mom a lot, and so I like that.
All-time favorite TV show: I will never not watch Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It gets me every time in a new way. It holds up!
Passionate about: Obviously right now I care about upholding a woman’s right to choose, which is looking pretty terrifying. My monthly donation makes me feel like a decent person. I’m been active in foster children’s rights; they get a bad deal in this country, assuring better conditions for them is important to me. I’m passionate about my family. I never had children, so my primary family is still who I’m closest to.
Best band: The Velvet Underground and Yo La Tengo are in constant rotation these days.
Favorite emoji: I do not believe in emojis.
Comfort food: Shepherd’s pie.
Best advice you ever got: Don’t make excuses. In my first job, I was trying to get out of some hole I’d dug myself into and my editor told me to own it and move on. I also believe in acknowledging what you don’t know in the workplace. I don’t believe in faking it ‘til you make it at all. I believe in getting help from people who do.
Proudest moment: When women who I worked with when they were younger who have now made it in their careers say that I was a mentor.
Greatest strength: I’m pretty decisive.
Biggest regret: Getting married. And also the day that Nirvana did their MTV Unplugged performance, I decided not to go; I figured I’d catch them another time.
Fear you’re trying to overcome: Biking around New York. I go with my boyfriend, we’re very careful, but I’m still afraid.
Secret to living a great life: I’m very into this concept of radical acceptance. Acknowledge the things in your life that you can and can’t change, and figure out how to work within your reality.
The perfect day must contain: The sun. Every winter I dream of moving to Miami.
In a word: Evolving.