The Elements of Style


Kim France ’83 introduces herself this way online: “I’ve been around for a while. I’ve learned a few things, and have failed, sometimes quite spectacularly, to learn others.” We got a chance to catch up with France and talk about ’80s fashion, publishing, learning, and being around for a while—in her case, at magazines such as Sassy, New York, and Elle in the ’90s before founding the much-loved Lucky magazine in 2000. France now writes about fashion on her blog “Girls of a Certain Age,” and is working on something else exciting. Read on for more.

What was your style like at Williston?

I was very influenced by The Preppy Handbook—that was a huge thing at the time. It was meant as satire, but a lot of people actually used it as a style guide. I got to Williston in 1980, very preppy—pink and green everything. I had a pair of pink pants and a green button-down shirt and a madras blazer that I wore when we had to dress up for dinner.

What did you wear to graduation?

We all wore white dresses—mine had some lace going on. And a white jacket. With shoulder pads. There were definitely shoulder pads.

Did you do anything fashion-related while you were a Williston student?

Um, no, not really. The fashion bar was pretty low.

What about writing or publishing?

I knew I wanted to write. I’ve always been pretty sure that was what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know what shape it would take. At Williston I was on the newspaper and I wrote editorials. I wrote one about how they took away a smoking section somewhere on campus—and I was really mad that they took away the smoking section, so I wrote an editorial about it. There were still other ones—other smoking sections—I was just upset about this particular one. It was a long time ago.

What happened after high school?

I was a creative writing major at Oberlin. I wrote fiction then. I was never incredibly good at it. I’m a better nonfiction writer than I am a fiction writer. After college I was an intern at the Seattle Weekly, and then I got a job in New York at a publication called 7 Days, conceived as an uptown sibling to the Village Voice. I was an editorial assistant there. I was a terrible assistant. Because I wanted to be writing, and also I’m not the most organized person. Then I wrote a piece about my father for Sassy that got a lot of attention, and things happened from there.

What’s it like blogging now, after being in the magazine business for so long?

The most natural thing for me would have been to work in magazines forever, but my industry is dying. I was a dinosaur. I knew that my next move would have to be something I created myself. And it’s wonderful! When you’re running a magazine, you have a lot of masters to please. But now, if I want to say that a particular designer’s clothes are too expensive, I can say it.

I read online that you intended your blog to be “style for women in their 40s who didn’t feel like they had defaulted to mom jeans yet.” But now mom jeans are hip again! Are you wearing them? 

I can’t wear high-waisted jeans—they just look absolutely crazy on me. I still wear low-waisted jeans, even though almost nobody makes them.

What are the pithiest, most helpful things people have ever said to you? One-liners that help guide you in your life or career?

When I was at my first job, something had gone wrong, and it was probably my fault. And whoever my boss was at the time said, “Don’t make excuses.” That was a big one for me. And someone else said, “Don’t expect any praise ever. The praise that you got was that you got hired.” The praise of my bosses had always been really important to me—but the point wasn’t to make me feel good, it was to publish magazines.

What’s the best writing advice you give?

The best writing advice is just to stay in the chair. You just have to keep writing, even if bad stuff is coming out. You just have to trust that eventually it will get good.

What’s the best book you’ve read this year?

Ariel Levy’s memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing a book for Algonquin Books right now—a memoir. The tentative title is This Is Not My Beautiful Life.