Since the 1970s, Jacques Pépin has been providing Americans with a guide to delicious, indulgent food designed to soothe the soul and nourish the body. For the unacquainted, Pépin is an icon of French cooking; he has written over 30 cookbooks and hosted approximately six thousand cooking specials. Most recently, you can find him sharing simple recipes on his Facebook page—over 150 short tutorials since the pandemic started in March. Whether he’s preparing a turkey dinner with Julia Childs, or a potato gratin with his granddaughter, the sight of his easy, gentle face, the sound of his warm accent, and the disarming and accessible way he breaks down complex and rich meals always makes my family, at least, put down the remote and settle in for an evening of pure comfort. Pépin is a staple in our kitchen: Whenever we try a new technique or meal, my mother always recommends that we “see if Jacques Pépin has anything on it.”
As we begin a locked-down 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. His refined, casual, and timeless style serves as a blueprint for the quintessential cozy winter-lockdown uniform too.
There has been much discourse about the fashion of quarantine, or rather the lack thereof: memes about how long one can go without putting on pants, viral tweets about elastic waistbands and taking Zoom calls dressed only from the waist up, and viral counter-tweets about the imperative to put on pants and get to work, even from home.
Pépin strikes that balance; for years, he has taught us from the comfort of his (studio or home) kitchen, providing us with a look book of outfits perfect for staying in without feeling slovenly or overdressed. He does so by sticking to simple pieces, rich colors, and soft fabrics that move with him without losing their shape or silhouette.
Staples in the Pépin wardrobe that translate perfectly to winter-lockdown living include his extensive collection of button-downs. That recommendation likely sounds obvious (button-downs are the most basic of basic staples), or absurd (why would you put on a button-down to stay home?). But much as he might distinguish between salted and unsalted butter, Pépin recognizes that some days call for cool-toned flannel plaids and others for crisp cotton shirts with button-down collars and pockets. He even manages to pull off solid or lightly patterned button-downs in dark hues (no doubt a more kitchen-friendly option than an all-white button-down). Pépin especially loves a solid blue shirt, and even wears one on the cover of a few of his books; and if you watch old footage of him, you will realize that he has been rocking a lightweight denim shirt for years now, which gives off an easy, workman-uniform-like aesthetic. He almost always wears these with the top two buttons undone, often but not always with a solid undershirt in white or black.
The same way Pépin layers flavors in his cooking, he embraces layers in his dress. When he does opt for an undershirt, he sometimes wears his button-down open as more of an overpiece. He is also, humbly, an absolute sweater legend, whether working with vests or pullovers. He layers these over his abundant collection of button-downs for a distinguished yet casual flair; you can practically feel the coziness radiating from them.
And while it can be hard to justify spending on new clothes, considering how little we are doing in them these days, Pépin’s wardrobe makes the case that investing is always worth it when the things you wear are timeless. Pépin’s look has remained unchanged over his decades-long career, without ever looking dated. We talk a lot about buying fewer and better things. Pépin appears to have done just that.
Pépin’s wardrobe is, in many ways, like his food: unpretentious but luxurious; enduring but perpetually modern; designed to embrace you with comfort and indulgence in a way that broadens the confines of our kitchens and homes. What could feel more timely than that?