I think it’s safe to say that it’s spring in Paris. The sun is shining, it’s warm enough to walk to class without a jacket, and every spare patch of grass in the city is filled with smoking sunbathers – no really. They lay on their backs with their pants and shirt hems rolled up, one arm across the eyes to block out the sun while the other hand brings a cigarette up for a drag every few minutes. Only in Paris, right?
With the onset off a new season and the beginning of a long run of the warmer months, it’s definitely time to reassess French fashion. Get ready with a pen and paper because here are my notes for must-have clothing for anyone currently living in the city of light, or wishing they were.
First and most important is the mini trench. We already knew that the trench was French, but as the months get warmer and dryer, the hems get higher, the colors brighter and the fabrics lighter. Styled exactly like a full-length Carmen Sandiego, but cut to fall at the hip, the shoulder and wrist straps, big buttons and tie-waists of the mini-trench are exactly the same as those of it’s cold-weather big sister, just styled for spring. Khaki is the most popular color, but you’ll also see black cotton, darker browns, grays, and an array of bright springy colors like greens and oranges. It’s important to note that chicness is still a way of life in the sweaty grime of summer in the city, so if you want to look Parisian, go with a neutral – khaki, brown, black, gray or navy blue. If you’ve got the cash, buy yours at Comptoir des Cotonniers for around 200 euro. If you’re on a budget, try any of the cookie cutter “Paris Chic” boutiques lining any side street in the city and style yourself for a much more affordable price of 20-30 euro. The middle of the roaders shop at Gap, Esprit, Promod or Zara. My own happens to be blue and gray plaid and was not quite as cheap as 20, but was well under 100 euro.
As predicted by Vogue back in December or January, the chic nail polish for spring is dark brown – just as chic as the Chanel Black Satin rage of the fall and winter, but a bit less harsh for spring. Buy it Chanel if you’re blessed with a disposable income, but the rest of us stock up at Sephora or Monoprix.
As the Laguna Beach style of beachwear for any occasion – cut-off denim miniskirts with or without leggings, flip flops and wife beater-style tank tops – has not, and probably will never catch on here, you’re a lot safer going with a knee-length cotton skirt or dress. Stock up at Zadig & Voltaire, H&M or Antik Batik and pair with tights, leather boots and cardigans for the spring and flat sandals or espadrilles in the summer and you’re sure to capture that easy breezy French girl chic. These pieces are particularly effective if shown off from the back of a moped driven by a frighteningly stylish French boy.
As for shirts, French fashion doesn’t seem to change tremendously. Tee shirts are cut low to show off a nice décolletage and skim the body. I think the idea is to never look like you’re working for your chicness – tight tee shirts or too-complicated tops just look like too much effort and destroy any idea of chic you might have had. Loose and light, but always sexy.
In a repeat of last summer, the cut-off trousers are back – or maybe they just never left. Worn either below the knee in madras style, or cut high like hot pants that you might happen to wear to work (with some thick opaque tights underneath and a seriously conservative shirt, of course!) Buy them anywhere that clothes are sold and wear them with the same attitude as the floaty skirts and dresses. The perfect carelessly chic French outfit? Short trousers, a horizontally striped cotton shirt (think John Paul Gaultier) and ballet flats or sandals.
There are two types of shoes preferred by French feet from March through August. The first being a pair of chic flat sandals. Styled in the exact same shape as the ballet flats that are still roaringly popular among the chic and skinny-panted young women of Paris, but cut as sandals (cut out toes, for example, or with thin ankle straps). Wear these with your skinny pants – it’s still just morphing from winter to spring after all, cropped trouser pants or floaty cotton skirts. As with every style, you can become an haute couture fashion victim just as easily as a boho budgeted one. Starting at 19 euro in the generic boutiques, going up to a thousand euro if that’s how much you’re willing to pay for your footwear.
Espadrilles are the other foot fashion must-have. From what I hear, they’re back every year as a summer sandal you buy once each spring and spend the summer wearing to the ground as you vacation in Italy or Provence. These you really can buy anywhere – for 100 euro in the boutiques on rue Saint Honoré (which may not sound like a lot until you consider what this shoe is – woven hay and a piece of canvas) or for 20 euro in the women’s clothing department of Monoprix. Go for crazy stripes, polka dots, whatever strikes your fancy at the moment, because you’ll just be stocking up again in Spring 2008.
The French are obsessed with Levi’s denim. There are Levi’s boutiques all over the city, where you can clad yourself in 90 euro pants that you might have paid $50 for at Sears in the U.S. (I should know, I spent a summer working there). Whoever you are, whatever your income, at least one pair of Levi’s is going to be a staple of your wardrobe. You either save up and guard them zealously as your special pair of jeans, or you wear them for day-to-day bumming around, paired with a simple button shirt from Prada. Sound ridiculous? Not for the moms who live in the 2ème arondissement.
Women carrying Longchamp purses should be featured on the postcards of Paris, alongside the beret-wearing, baguette holding men that so often grace the racks of souvenir stands. Though it doesn’t seem to have reached international fame, the brand is as much a staple of life in Paris as is owning a scarf for every day of the week. They make regular leather purses as well, but live here for a while and you’ll probably be more familiar with the brightly-colored canvas bags with leather handles. They come in all colors and sizes and if you are a female who lives in the city, no matter your age, you probably have one of these bags. If you’re a mom, you carry a smaller one as an everyday purse. If you’re a student you probably carry both a luggage-sized bag filled with books and graph paper and a smaller one over your shoulder with normal purse contents.
In Paris, there’s no such thing as putting away your scarves for the winter. Maybe the wool varieties are sealed and stored, but pashminas are as common as ever. More popular for warm weather are little wispy scarves, brightly colored and sometimes sparkly, tied in jaunty knots at the neck. Even though it’s a little sunny and bright to sport black and skulls, it seems like every young person in the city (male or female) has one of the sparkly skull scarves that have been popular since I arrived last August.
Really, the most important thing to remember is to stay chic. Take a leaf from Coco Chanel, and stop in front of the mirror on your way out the door each morning to remove one item from your outfit. Clutter isn’t chic, anymore than looking like you stepped out of a Hollister catalogue is – at least not here. Be chic, be effortlessly stylish, never look like you feel the heat, never ever put your scarves into summer hibernation – and please, please, don’t forget the deodorant. The metro is horrible enough when the weather gets warm without being pressed against other sweaty people of already questionable hygiene.