Thursday, April 15, 2010

JNSQ FF - Before & After Paris.

Last Sunday I started a new book, Paris Hangover by Kirsten Lobe (highly recommend!), that I have only put down for Desperate housewives and my husband... ah, and... well, this blog. (Guilty as charged.) The main character, Klein, is sophisticated, classy, and despite her also being from my native Wisconsin, she embodies everything that I've ever thought when I see an amazingly chic Parisian walking down the street: "yep, I'll never be that." S'OK though, I'm going to the country house this weekend for my own personal top-chef contest with a bunch of fabulous people, so I'm not about to start complaining.

Point is, while reading the marvelously amusing Paris Hangover, I didn't dip a toe in the déjà vu lagoon, I stripped butt-nako, kart-wheeled to the edge, dove in head-first and paddled to the bottom of the memory pool until my fingers grazed its scratchy concrete. I vividly remembered the thought that hit me like a pie to the visage when I first arrived in the city: "OMG people... are looking at me, and not in a good way." (It wasn't even the city, really... it was the suburbs and I still felt like a style-challenged-hobo-empress.)

I've never felt so self-aware as these last (almost five) years in the city of fashionistas. I was naive enough to be caught off-guard by the stiletto-clad-divas horrified eyes, locked like tractor-beams on my jogging shoes. I learned, and from then on, their only exit was to carry me to the gym. When I go back to the states, it's like exhaling when I pull out my tank-tops, and sneakers again, allowing myself a knowing smile... no one will ever notice me, and I love it.

But apparel was just the tip of the awareness iceberg. Before the big move, I never had to think about my image. I never wondered how people saw me or what my place in society was. (Sometimes ignorance is bliss - I fully realized this when my friend Ashleigh took me to Gucci.)

I am the better for it though, and dare say I've gained in femininity, and at times, feministity. I'm pretty grateful to this urban paradise; she's a brutal but efficient teacher. Tough love, ya know, how I like'em.

Enter this week's Friday Feature question:

What are you? Hipster? Girly-Girl? Feminist? Fashion Victim? Impossible to label? Has living in Paris changed the way you view yourself as a woman? Has it made you more of a feminist? More fashion conscious? Do you think that this change would've happened naturally, or did living in Paris force it out of you?

French women = Je Ne Sais Quoi, Me = Je Ne Sais Rien - Rebecca Leffler
I try every day of my life to be French hipster. (Literally, as I down my peanut butter toasts in the morning I say "How can I be more bobo chic today?") But it's to no avail. I can put on a baggy tshirt, tight jeans and a large scarf and, instead of looking like Cléménce Poésy, I look like a street beggar who was stretched out, run over by an American Apparel truck and attacked by a large scarf. French women definitely have that cliché "je ne sais quoi." I instead have a "je ne sais rien".

That said, after five years in France, I can now de-ice a refrigerator, climb 81 steps in under 38 seconds, jump through closing metro doors without injuring myself, fill out a French tax form and describe in detail in a foreign language how many ways a toilet can malfunction - if that doesn't say "independent woman" then I don't know what does.

"I wore a shirt from a children’s clothing shop, complete with embroidered ponies and horseshoes
..."- I Heart Paris

My name is Kim and I am a fashion victim. I confess that I am capable of spending more than a month’s rent on an item of clothing and that only yesterday, I wore a shirt from a children’s clothing shop, complete with embroidered ponies and horseshoes, simply because it was designed by Stella McCartney. But, back home in London, the land of the mini-skirted beheeled cleavage-bearers, I was even worse because you can get away with what you like there. In Paris you get death stares if you look like you’ve tried to hard and so gradually I have discarded anything too wacky and / or revealing and have introduced lots of subtle pieces instead: the effortless chic of Parisian designers like Vanessa Bruno and Isabel Marant has become my inspiration. But every now and then, the latent fashion victim in me rears its ugly head and I end up wearing something like a kid’s top decorated with fricking horses.

"My style has completely evolved..." - Lindsey T.
My style has completely evolved since I've lived in Paris. I would consider myself a mix of classic and hipster, hipster being a huge stretch. I tend not to wear bright colors anymore (typical first faux pas for any expat), I only wear my running shoes when I'm going to the gym, at the gym, or running outside, and my taste in fashion has become more sophisticated. I prefer quality any day over quantity, and avoid H&M simply because within weeks of purchasing anything from them I find holes. Now that I work for a boutique and am exposed to fashion in a more regular way and new designers, it's evolved even more. I don't try to pull off the same looks as the minettes in the streets because, well, it looks silly on me. But I add a little European touch to a classic American style. It seems to work... we'll see how it changes once I can AFFORD some of the things I can only drool over.

"Paris has made me fashion paranoid!" - Margo B.
Paris has made me fashion paranoid! Je ne parle pas mode parisienne! It all began the first time I came to France when my study abroad director warned all the ladies that we'd be ravaged in the streets by the crazy frenchies if we wore shorts. As an ardent fan of the barely-cover-your-cheeks variety, I was crushed -and broke after investing in a summer's worth of capris and long skirts.

A few years later, I moved to Paris. Having become (more or less) fluent in the language, I figured I was ready, jupe=skirt, robe=dress, I had it all down. Crushed again at a grad student party when one of my friends politely informed me "Margo, Paris is like NY. Before you leave the house, you have to take one accessory off". Again, the Miami chica in me was dying on the inside. (Or was I just ahead of the times with 10 000 bracelets that is not too much for les jeunes today).

Today, it's mostly my husdand's petits commentaires that keep my guessing. They range from "you're wearing that" (as in, you know there's going to be other people there, people that can see) to "it's just a dinner" (translation: why are you so dressed up).

My only saving grace is that I figured out how to wear those little silk scarfs and I love them - as black invades my wardrobe, color lives on in the scarf box. Vive la petite carrée!

"Half of my wardrobe is black!"
- Eve J.
Before I came to France I didn't own one single item of black clothing- apart from perhaps a bra or two. In England I was constantly searching for colour. Despite trying to remain the same (I hate complying to what everyone else does) the French chic/classic/boring mentality when it comes to clothes seeps into your subconscious. After only a year and a half half of my wardrobe is black! My mum keeps watching my show from England and calling me with horror at all the black I wear... but basically there's only so many times you can say to your boyfriend 'Do you like my dress' and cope with the response 'Errrr c'est trés Anglaise.'

"The standard of casual dress really stands out..."- Forest Collins
I'm an individualistic hipster - if only in my own mind! I'm also more of a girly girl these days but I think that's just as I get older rather than something forced on me by France. The one thing that living in Paris has done is make me more fashion aware. When I go back to the US (Seattle), the standard of casual dress really stands out for me in a way I never noticed before. So, without my consciously realizing it, living in France has ensured that I'm not heading out for my cocktail nights in Birkenstocks and sweats.

"I have at one time in my life or another tried on *all*"
- Karin B.
At almost 42 years old (gaaack! How can it be?!), I have at one time in my life or another tried on *all* of these girls/women for size and fit, and each of them now represents a facet of myself. What this also means is that I have a kind of multiple personality syndrome thing going on where the different sides of me compete for "face time," a time to interact with life. As a result, it gets a little chaotic inside of myself sometimes, haha. (Outside of myself, too, as they all want to wear different clothes!) ;-)

The girly girl part of me, who has never been especially strong but who does like some time in the spotlight, is happier here in Paris, where dressing up a little more matters (as Forest points out). But the Rebel in me that has the sleeve tattoo on my entire right upper arm and eyebrow and nostril piercings gets annoyed that Parisians are so homogeneous compared to those in other European big cities where tattooed and pierced adults are more common. My Inner Hippie loves hanging out at Paris' growing number of Bio stores and restaurants and is hip to the excellent recycling program in the city; my intellectual side is pleased to be in a city of such rich intellectual and cultural heritage. On the down side, Hippie Chick hates that her Birkenstock clogs look so clunky compared most shoes women in Paris wear (so she does not get to wear them except in the house) and the Intellectual resents that her French still sucks so bad that she cannot talk to anyone except expats (or fairly fluent French speakers of English) about the intellectual thoughts she has.

My Colorado Mountain Girl? The "hike-y bike-y" chick that loves fresh air and wild natural settings? She is very bereft here in Paris, and can get in quite a funk as a result. She is hoping for a trip to the Alpine region of France or one of the neighboring countries soon! The International World Traveler in me is thrilled to death to finally be living in a foreign land again. My Inner Nerd/Geek is happy to be a part of the cyber community where she has friends on Facebook to ask her cool questions like this one. :)

I love having every type of woman inside of me, even if they don't always get along (especially with what to wear) and not everyone is totally happy here in a city like Paris. The best part being so diverse and not just one type of woman is that it keeps me from being put in a box, hemmed into a label of who and what to be. I can have and be it ALL!


  1. I left a really long comment here, and now I am not sure if Google "ate" it. :( Anyways, I was writing about how older Parisian women seem to be immune to following fashion dictates, and then I came across this post here:

    Perfect example of how while younger Parisian women really seem to care about fashion and being homogeneous, older women really do NOT, lol.

  2. AHhahahaha... Thanks for that Karin lol. Lovely. Just, lovely.

  3. Eva - only half of your wardrobe is black? I now think navy and grey are colours. But I had to walk across Pont Alexandre III last week (see a circus dress and top hat and wielding an umbrella. I got some pretty strange looks. At least the hat was black.

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