Wear What: Paris

This is extremely cliche.  The whole legendary chic of the Parisian woman is very cliche.  So of course I was very serious to go to the city and examine these mythical women like Elodia plant cells under a microscope.

An aside: I’ve seen a lot of love for Elodia on baby name websites. Does nothing for me (except remind me of high school biology, which was great, but not that great).

Okay.  So first to “debunk” the myth of the chic Parisienne. Kind of/almost.  My parents and I were kind of anxious about going to Paris.  One of the attendant anxieties was the fear that we wouldn’t fit in- that we would look like uncivilized/barbaric/slobbish American tourists.  We were American tourists, just without all those adjectives.  And hopefully not too touristy.  (Maybe even hopefully not so very American).

I don’t want anyone to look at me and say “I bet she switched to following Duck Dynasty when Honey Boo Boo was taken off air.”

Not to brag, but my parents generally look pretty good.  Aside from being attractive people (they made me, you know?), they dress well in a nice casual way.  I also try to look pretty damn good most of the time.

Basically, we shouldn’t have worried.  The average Parisian, both male and female, looks much better than the average American.  You know those pictures of hideously-attired/delusional Americans in Walmart.  That kind of thing just DOESN’T HAPPEN in Paris.

But I’m gratified to say that my family and I did America proud (you know, if America cared).  We fit in and maybe even possibly dressed a bit better than the average Parisian.

What Parisians do really well? Casual streetwear.They’ve America beat so hard.  There’s this low key style, almost a uniform- as if looking effortlessly cool were THE number one priority.  I think it’s good to learn from this, in general.  Effortlessly cool does not mean uncomfortable. But it means putting pride in your appearance above comfort (I almost wanted to add the adjective ‘loutish’ to the word comfort, but decided that would be going a bit far.)

But it’s also where my personal sartorial outlook differed from the average Parisian.  I really enjoy experimenting with my style.  It’s fun.  It gives me a nice feeling.  It’s interesting.  In some ways you could think of it as a personal hobby or art.  The way some people perfect their at-home cooking.

So I found that the average Parisian look was a bit too uniform- which makes sense, once you think about it.  Parisian chic is real, and not mythical.  Not everyone has an unassailable individual fashion outlook.  But the people who aren’t into fashion still put some effort in in Paris.  And for that, I’m grateful.  It’s nice.

And I’m also sorry for all of these hard and fast rules.  It’s hard to do cultural anthropology without making absolutes about entire groups of people.  There are always exceptions, and these are my own general impressions. There is always the possibility (likelihood?) that I’m completely off base.

With that in mind, here are the things I noticed about Parisian street style (mostly female, sorry my dapper men-friends):

  • Striped shirts: It’s not a myth, they’re literally everywhere. On every person. In every shop.
  • Scarves: I maybe got a couple (exactly two) scarves in Paris.  I always thought of scarves as a way to add contrast/color to my usual favorite color palette of black, navy, camel, and white.  But a lot of the summer-weight scarves I saw in Paris (this is July and August, mind you) were neutrals.  So I got a navy one and a raspberry one. Because I still have to be me.  Do they tie them cool? Ehhh, not that I noticed, sorry.
  • Lot of jackets and blazers: and it was so weird coming back to the 90 and 100 degree heat at home.  Damn that temperate Mediterranean climate.  But on the other hand I’m learning how to wear blazers. Exciting progress.
  • Lot of linen: So linen has been a trending textile recently. As trendy as a classic textile with ancient-roots can be.  I had already noticed this online before the trip, but the Parisians had clearly gotten the hint.
  • Louche pants: Linen pants, light pants, fitted but not tight silhouettes.  It’s a good look and one I don’t see much at home.
  • No shorts: Maybe I don’t see it so much at home is because I (and many of my friends) wear our shorts well into sweater weather.  Jeans feel so wrong after a summer of exposed skin.  But short shorts aren’t very much of a thing in Paris. The young woman wearing them was few and far between.  And frequently me (but not always!)
  • Birkenstocks: These are coming back all over the place, not only in Paris. Don’t do it, that’s all I have to say about that.
  • Culottes: Another trendy item that a number of Parisians are actually making seem wearable. I tried a few on. I appreciate them more now (Read: Not always clown clothes) but I don’t see myself wearing any. But if that’s your jam, turns out they can look good. Who knew?
  • Button up shirts: T shirts were still a big thing (preferably stripy) but I saw way more button front shirts in Paris than I do in America.
  • Patterned pants: Mostly striped. Who would have guessed.
  • ZARA EVERYTHING!: Funny story. I went into a Zara in Paris (they’re as common as Dunkin Donuts in New England and Starbucks everywhere else) and it was so much better than the Zaras in America. Even the one on Boston’s Newbury Street.  It seems dumb to go to Paris and shop at Zara, but if you like shopping, than I recommend doing so.  That said, a lot of Zara’s fabric is still clearly cheap in Paris.  Most Parisians didn’t seem to have a problem buying things with a cheap feel (I go a lot by feel when shopping) and I was able to pick out some of these fabrics on people on the street.  Zara’s also such a Parisian commodity that you frequently see people wearing the same item, which you know they got at Zara. This would be a problem in most places in America, but not in Paris, apparently. *Looks thoughtful*
  • Dresses and skirts
  • Espadrilles: Another cliche item, but literally everywhere.  In one or two variations done by one or two brands that you could see and identify on nearly every person wearing espadrilles.  And then men wearing espadrilles, which was a surprising (and awesome) look.
  • Chokers: Another trend pickup.
  • A few tulle skirts: Ditto
  • NO PEDESTRIAN EYE CONTACT: SO WEIRD

So that’s it for my sartorial Paris anthropology. Hope you enjoyed!

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