Since the 1970s, Jacques Pépin has provided Americans with a guide to delicious, pampering foods designed to calm the soul and nourish the body. For strangers, Pépin is an icon of French cuisine; He has written over 30 cookbooks and hosted around six thousand specialty dishes. Most recently, he posted simple recipes on his Facebook page – over 150 short tutorials since the pandemic began in March. Whether he’s preparing a turkey dinner with Julia Childs or a potato gratin with his granddaughter, the sight of his relaxed, gentle face, the sound of his warm accent, and the disarming and approachable way he breaks down complex and hearty meals always make me special at least the family put down the remote control and embarked on an evening of comfort. Pépin is a staple food in our kitchen: when we try a new technique or meal, my mother always recommends that we “see if Jacques Pépin has something on it”.
At the beginning of a closed winter, rich food like Pépin’s is an obvious refuge. But Pépin has more to teach us than how to make the perfect fried egg. Its refined, casual and timeless style also serves as a blueprint for the typical cozy winter lockdown uniform.
There has been a lot of discussion about how to quarantine, or rather the lack thereof: memes about how long you can go without pants, viral tweets about elastic waistbands and taking Zoom calls dressed only from the waist down, and viral counter-tweets about the need to put on pants and go to work from home.
Jacques Pépin in Canada, September 14, 1990.
Pépin creates this balance; For years he has been teaching us from the comfort of his (studio or home) kitchen and provides us with a lookbook with outfits in which we can stay overnight perfectly without feeling bad or overclothed. He sticks to simple parts, rich colors and soft fabrics that move with him without losing their shape or silhouette.
One of the staples in the Pépin wardrobe that is perfect for life in winter is his extensive collection of button-downs. That recommendation probably sounds obvious (button-downs are the most basic staple) or absurd (why would you use a button-down to stay home?). But as much as he might differentiate between salted and unsalted butter, Pépin realizes that some days you need cool flannel plaids and other days crisp cotton shirts with button-down collars and pockets. It even manages to pull off solid or slightly patterned button-downs in dark shades (undoubtedly a more kitchen-friendly option than a pure white button-down). Pépin especially loves a solid blue shirt and even wears one on the covers of some of his books; and if you look at old footage of him, you’ll find he’s been rocking a light denim shirt for years that exudes a simple, worker-uniform-like aesthetic. He almost always wears them with the top two buttons open, often, but not always, with a solid undershirt in white or black.
Just as Pépin layers flavors in his kitchen, he embraces layers in his dress. When he opts for an undershirt, he sometimes wears his button-down as an over-piece. Humble, he is also an absolute sweater legend, regardless of whether he works with vests or sweaters. He superimposes this on his extensive collection of button-downs to achieve a distinctive yet casual flair. You can practically feel the coziness that radiates from them.
Jacques Pépin cooks in Madison, Connecticut, March 11, 2003.
And while it can be difficult to justify spending on new clothes, considering how little we do into them these days, Pépin’s wardrobe makes it worth investing whenever the things you wear are timeless. Pépin’s appearance has remained unchanged throughout his decades of career without ever looking out of date. We talk a lot about buying fewer and better things. Pépin seems to have done just that.
Pépin’s wardrobe resembles his food in many ways: unpretentious but luxurious; durable, but always modern; Designed to hug you in comfort and enjoyment in a way that pushes the boundaries of our kitchens and homes. What could feel more current?