As it’s been more than two weeks since I last did any laundry, and I really didn’t bring that many clothes to France with me to begin with, I’ve left with a rather bizarre assortment of vêtements to wear these past few days.
Luckily, I’m in Paris – I’m beginning to understand that as long as you look like you put a bit of conscious thought into what you’re wearing, you’re good to go. The city is a capital of fashion, no doubt – but “fashion” is such an all-encompassing term, and Paris is such a diverse city that à la mode is more of a state of mind. What seems to be important here is having respect for clothing and style – less important are the clothes you wear or your personal style.
This is why I haven’t worn my North Face fleece since landing at Charles de Gaulle, and why I’ll only wear my hooded sweatshirts for running or sleeping – having a “scrub” day here seems almost disrespectful. Not to mention the fact that I’d look like an idiot (and be instantly recognized as a tourist) in a hooded sweatshirt here.
This is also why I could get away with throwing together the dregs of my wardrobe into one mish-mashed outfit and feeling totally normal going out in green cargo pants tucked into brown boots, a purple tee-shirt, a black zipper sweater and a grey wool scarf – that’s the other thing, there’s a lot of mixing of black and brown among the über-fashionable here. As long as you look like you gave it a little consideration first, you can pretty much wear whatever the heck you want.
There are a few things though, that no young Parisienne (or American poser) should be without these days. Combine them any way you like, but make sure you have at least a few of these staples.
• First and most importantly – your skinny jeans. You need at the minimum one pair of dark denim skinnies (coup cigarette is okay – there’s no need to look like you’re wearing jean-patterned spandex) and one pair of black. Flares are just not where it’s at these days, and in the cold and rainy fall weather, skinnies are actually a lot more practical – at least you don’t come home with your pants soaked from the hem to the knee from stepping through puddles all day.
• Next you need a pair of boots (into which you will be tucking your skinny jeans). Any color is really okay, but brown is the current popular favorite – and as I mentioned, black and brown go together quite happily in Paris, so it’s cool to wear them with your black jeans. Flats are the most popular option for walking around the city, but heels are good too – just steer clear of anything too high or too Western – the last thing you want to do in Paris centre is look like your style icon is Jessica Simpson.
• You also need a pair of ballerines – ballet flats (not rain-friendly!). Repetto is the preferred and most authentic marque, because they also provide all the ballet shoes for l’Opéra, but only if you can afford to drop 120 euro on a pair of flimsy (but oh-so-beautiful) ballet shoes. Every other shoe store in the city will offer an acceptable alternative. I will confess that I have a pair from Repetto – but they were last season’s color on super sale at Galaries Lafayette, so I can look like I actually belong in the 2ème arondissement without having to match all the Chanel-clad mamans for spending.
• A pair of high-top Converse All-Stars is also a must – to be worn with style, not for bumming around in with jeans and a pullover sweatshirt.
• Tights are important so you can wear skirts and dresses through the change in seasons. Not so much the footless tights that have been so popular at home, though you’ll see them once in a while. Footed tights are less busy-looking and thus much more chic. On the subject of footless tights, the distressed miniskirts usually paired with them are not cool here. I feel like a hillbilly wearing my cropped jean skirt, even when I pair it with my dark tights and boots. Ripped up denim is a big faux pas – not chic at all.
• Instead of your destroyed jean skirt, try a sweater-dress. Yep, a thick woolly sweater cut as a mini-dress and worn belted with tights and either ballerines or boots. The more of a Frency-French waif you are, the cuter you’ll look.
• For a coat, you’ll want either a leather jacket if your style is more hip, or a trench if your style is more classic. Since I have neither, I go with the Eddie Bauer down vest and the “I like to go camping” look.
• Parisian girls keep their hair in either long gorgeous waves or short and chic cuts. There’s no shoulder-length or in-between here. Their eyebrows are perfect and their hips are…well…nonexistent.
• Slung around these teeny tiny hips are big belts – the most popular on the streets is the D&G leather and bronze. Go for the Dolce & Gabbana if it’s in your budget, but if not, knock-offs abound on every other street corner. A tip – anyone who knows D&G will be able to spot a fake in a second, so if you go that route, wear it with some attitude please. With a good sense of humor you’re impervious to judgment.
• For style street cred, you need a pair of headphones snaking down from your ears to your bag – iPods aren’t particularly big here, so an MP3 player of any mark will do. It’s important to keep the actual player in your purse or pocket so you have your hands free to surf the metro. Even if you’re a big fat faker and the headphones lead to nothing but the inside of your purse, you’ve achieved the “I’m Parisian, I know my way around the city and nothing’s can bug me” look.
• The final and most important wardrobe staple is an infinite number of scarves. Pashminas, wool shawls, sparkly patterned scarves, may they fill your closet diversely and numerously. The scarves are the single most vital addition you can make to your wardrobe. You’re probably going to be sporting one every day (if you’re really into the “I’m Parisian” façade, so make sure you have a good variety.
It’s easy to just buy the trendy basics, but it’s important to wear them with flair. This might depend on your arondissement, your budget or your personality. Yes, each neighborhood has a trademark style (at least according to an article I found in French Elle). The 9ème and 10ème arondissements host the edgy rock-chic look, while the 3ème and 11ème are bobo chic. The 18ème and 19ème are ethnic chic, and the residents of the 8ème and 16ème value les grandes marques – Chanel, Gucci, Prada, Dior, etc. The real fashionistas lurk in the 6ème and 7ème, and those of us who inhabit the 2ème are apparently fresh and hip.
I’ve exhausted my tips for autumn 2006 – go forth and be French. Updates to come for winter and spring and summer.
• By the way, black nail polish is just as big here as it apparently is in the U.S. If you are chic (or wish you were) your fingernails have got to be jet black.
•• I just got this email from one of the Franco-American associations at Sciences Po. I thought it was pretty funny:
” Transatlantique, l’association franco-américaine de Sciences Po, anime la vie étudiante en favorisant :
– les rencontres entre étudiants des deux continents
– les débats d’idées sur des thèmes US
– la promotion de la culture et des arts Américains
– …and some good ol’ American fun !
* Au programme *
• avec nos soirées et nos happy hours, retrouvez la fête au rythme Américain. This year, Sciences Po is the hottest party university !
• événement inédit à Sciences Po, notre American Week vous fera vous sentir chez vous : l’esprit « college » avec brownies, barbecues … and so on …
Share moments, share ideas, share a drink …
and find new French friends !
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I’m not sure if this is meant to entice the party-hearty Americans or what, but I’m pretty sure Sciences Po is not particularly famous for its apparent status as the “hottest party university.” The sports association throws some pretty wild ones, but still.