Walking the Walk and Dressing the Dress in Paris

 Given Paris is considered the epicentre of style and fashion, it would be sacrilege not to write a blog entry on the subject. In any case, I have found the way Parisians dress understated and simplistic and able to be emulated. Although it is less about wearing that Chanel bag, and more about a rhythm and consistency that allow them to be so very chic all the time.

So. Voila!

Coming from my own university where students are usually awake 10 minutes before class and often turn up in Pyjamas, to Paris, where even the university students are so very chic and well put together for an 8am class in an adjustment. Its like they all have some secret that they wont reveal. But its more than that, its an attitude, a way they carry themselves.

One of the very first things that was said to me and my fellow exchange students when we arrives at ISC for our orientation was;

‘Watch the people who live in Paris, notice what they wear, what they don’t wear,  and start to dress like them yourselves’.

What I didn’t realise, is just how practical this advice is.  The exchange liaison officer who said this was trying to get us to adopt a form of urban camouflage.  However, rather than mud smeared faces and branches in our hats, this camouflage was made up ballet flats, Longchamp tote bags, and a lot of Abercrombie & Fitch.

Paris, the home of Chanel.

Paris, the home of Chanel.

It’s an unfortunate fact that Paris has a problem with thieves, being a tourist, or foreigner you are unusually susceptible to pickpocketing and other forms of crime. Those that carry this out are well trained at spotting the difference between locals and those visiting who aren’t aware of the ever-present chance of  loosing a wallet or camera.

Funnily enough, the longer I have been here, the more obvious tourists seem to be. Its not by their accent or language, but the way they dress and the way they carry themselves. The way a Parisian carries them self is with a confidence just shy of arrogance, head high, graceful gestures, with a carefully arranged look of contempt on their face. They never lock eyes or smile on the metro and they have a purpose with which they walk that stands out amongst a tour group.  This attitude helps make them invisible to anyone with foul intentions. What you don’t notice is their hand in their pocket minding their wallet, or their arm over the opening of their bag. They are very aware of their surroundings while managing to look completely blaze. THAT is the trick. To look completely casual like no effort is being exerted, when in reality, you are paying attention to the details and very aware of every aspect. This too goes for dress.

Scarves for every occasion.

Scarves for every occasion.

Dressing the dress of a Parisian is the way to blending in. It isn’t until you see a group of Parisians together, such as when I was in class, that you notice the repeating pattern of clothing combinations, colours and items that identify them as Parisians.  Of course every  social and age group has their own appropriation of this, but for the most part they all work of the same principles when it comes to dressing. Understated cool made up of carefully selected, unique items.

In the name of engrossing myself in the culture, and of course my inner fashionista, I have tried to observe, identify and adopt these principles, and, surprisingly, feel both chicer, safer and much more like a local.

First rule for dressing like a Parisian, bright colours are so démodé.  Particularly in Winter, bright colours are a complete no-no. Rather, Parisians prefer a wardrobe that is based on neutrals, where almost everything is tonal and can be interchanges.  black, grey, navy blue, light blue, brown, tan and white. This is what they build their wardrobe around. The beauty of which being it become very hard to make a fashion-mistake because everything goes! Even when they throw something together last moment they still manage to look chic.  Keep things tonal and you cant loose, particularly when it comes to blues, Parisians love blue, I have seen many a man sport blue loafers with a navy suit, baby blue shirt and matching scarf. When you do inject colour in your outfit, keep it muted, and slightly dulled. I call them ‘dirty’ colours, they almost have a hazed look about them which is far more subtle. A final note ,stay away from neons and use pastels  in Summer and discreetly.

Be confidence and selective. Even if what you’re wearing does clash, it doesn’t matter because you want them to clash and make a statement. or, thats what they would have you think. Theres a cool confidence that the Parisian has about what they are wearing. They completely  own their image, everything they wear is a deliberate choice, because everything they include in their wardrobe is a deliberate choice, every item being scrutinised in the shop or change room before being deemed acceptable. Parisians love every item in their wardrobe, from a basic white shirt to a pair of fabulous heels, each item is loved and therefore warn as much as possible. They chose quality over quantity, so although they have small wardrobes, each item is superb.

When in doubt, add a scarf!  such a nifty trick! when a wardrobe is lacking a little something, simply add a scarf, wool or cosy cashmere in winter and a cotton or silk one in the summer. A scarf can add punch to a simple shirt and jeans, and they always look cool, you can tie them in a hundred ways, looped, layered,  clipped with a brooch, or fashioned into a turban. Wear a scarf any which way brings instant cred.

Colour used in the right way

Colour used in the right way

Your wardrobe should tell a story. when someone asks ‘where did you get that  …..’ the answer is usually either a foreign country , a bespoke boutique, antique dealers or even better, ‘It was my grandmothers’. Parisians value sentimentality when it comes to dressing and treasure items they feel are beautiful or meaningful, or reminds them of a time, trip or lover.

Irony is a good thing. If things seem a little tedious, mix it up a bit, wear sneakers with a silk dress, a string of pearls with a T-shirt or a leather jacket with a lace dress. having a sense of humour and Irony about what you wear keeps things fun.

Keep it simple. This is how the French achieve their reputation as being chic. Keeping your accessories minimal and let the items speak for themselves. Look for clean lines and fabulous fabrics, think of it as ‘zen’ing your outfit.  this extends to hair, makeup and nails, keeping it subtle it what makes it chic. They love leather and Langchamp tote bags for precisely this reason, because they are simple, they don’t date, and because the materials are great, they look better and better with wear. So easy!

Be comfortable. surprisingly enough, its rare to see Parisians in stilleto heels. Theres a reason Paris is the home of the ballet flat (apart from a love for ballet), they are chic AND comfortable. I was surprised on my first night out with the other exchange students to see that most of the girls out where in some form of jeans and sneakers combo. Being the middle of winter this seemed practical, but it also meant they could dance till their hearts content and walk home if need be without that dreaded moment in a night where you eat your dignity and slip your heels off to walk home. It seems like a much better way about things if you ask me!

Pay attention to the Details. This is possibly the most important principle for dressing Parisian. the devil is in the detail as they say. Whether its adding a slick of mascara, throwing on some earrings or spiriting some perfume. Parisians pay attention to these details, closely! The girls always have at least their hair blow dried and their nails neat and short, while the men sport impeccably detailed ties and shoes that look like an outfit even by themselves.

Don't forget a pair of fabulous shoes!

Don’t forget a pair of fabulous shoes!

Every day is an occasion. Finally, every day is an occasion, even if, like I mentioned above, its only going to class. What sets Parisians apart from everyone else is they would never be caught out of their homes it trackies, unless they were actually running, or they were a cool Abercrombie & Fitch pair.  So its rare to see them looking less than their best. Although i must say this is at times  a bit of an annoyance, especially when I just need to step out for some bread and milk and have to change from sweats into jeans. But hey, ‘when in rome’.

Being able to gain a bit of insight into the fashion capital has been one of the delights of my stay in Paris. being able to add a bit of a polish to my own sense of style and indulge in the catwalk that is most streets in Paris.  However I dont think I will be giving up my hoodies or colourful summer dresses any time soon.. expect to see me in the odd lecture in my pyjamas.. although I may just be wearing a string of pearls with them…