Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Notes on Paris: Fashion and Gender Identity

Yes, Parisian girls really are that pretty, and yes, Parisian boys are also very good dressers, and no, they are not at all feminine. In fact, the gender lines were very clearly drawn in France; it’s been some time since I felt so clearly that I was A Woman, put on earth to be Decorative, and the other person was A Man, put on earth to choose his Decoration. It must be a difficult task for any man in Paris, where each and every girl on the street would turn heads here in the States. Not being a man, I tried to break down Parisian fashion, if only to copy it correctly and not stand out so much as a tourist—especially important, I thought, when traveling on my own.

First: Parisian girls dress very, very classic. They follow trends, yes. But only to a very small extent, and the style of their pants and shoes and coats is much more classic than trendy. Their heels are lower, their pants are neither as skinny NOR as flared. My mother would have felt comfortable in almost everything a Parisian seventeen-year-old would wear, except...

Second: the greatness of a look is in the details. Bags, printed scarves, tousled, pinned-up hair, rings, necklaces, earrings: that was what made a look trendy. Jeans on the inside or the outside of the boots? Hair up or down? How many earrings? What kind? It was the details that made every outfit pop, and clearly, everyone had worked hard on those details. Jeans were covered with decorative seams and embroidery. T-shirts and hoodies were stenciled, painted, and ripped in just the right places. A single ring placed on the perfect finger drew the eye in. Comparatively, back in the States, everyone looked like they had just rolled out of bed.

Third, the details were even more important because, if you weren’t paying attention to those details, everyone looked the same...almost. For example, all the girls had the same coat. Except...that one collar might be a little taller, one hem line might be a little shorter, one coat might have trim on the sleeves where another coat has trim on the collar. Everyone had jeans with decorative seams...except that the seams were in slightly different spots. As opposed to downtown Seattle, where I can see the same pair of Rockin’ Republics ten times an hour (those are designer jeans, boys) in France I saw hardly ANY mass-produced fashion; I never saw the same pair of jeans twice. No, I have no idea how they did that. It's a hard balance: how to look classic while still standing out from the crowd? The girls nailed this balance. And yes, the boys noticed these details. French eyes are more attuned to that level of detail, across the genders, which is probably why they recognize country of origin so quickly, too. After all, if you'd grown up in a country in which every building, every post office, every PARK BENCH was decorated with levels and levels of gold leaf and tiny sculptures, you'd spot miniscule differences, too.

Fourth, that much attention to one’s outfit inspires confidence in oneself, and the Parisian girls had that in spades. Due partly to the culture—they know they’re supposed to be decorative, and they take that charge seriously—and partly due to the amount of time spent on looking good, the girls practically sang with confidence and poise. They didn’t trip, they didn’t bat their eyelashes, they didn’t sweat. They didn’t even wear much makeup. Many of the girls even had acne, which they didn’t bother to cover. They just stood there in their classic outfits and their heads held high, and boys fell all over them.

Fifth and final tip: Approachability. Sure, you can spend a lot of time on your outfit, but if you don’t have a look you’re going for and are COMFORTABLE in, what’s the point? Parisian girls had a look. They’d carefully studied themselves in the mirror, from all angles, and they made sure their shirts were tucked in and that their hair sat just right, and yet none of them looked too perfect to approach. They were almost casual in their great coats and black pants and perfect heels, just standing there, like it weren’t no thang. Again: comfort, and confidence, and one begets the other.

It was very inspiring. I didn't have space to buy anything--say, a coat--and take it home, but I wished I did. I did the best I could with what I had, wearing my jewelery and my scarf and my boots, and succeeded well enough that French people stopped me on the street and asked me for directions at least once a day, so I'd consider that a rousing success. (WOO-HOO!) Back here at home, I'm trying to spend more time on the details, and when I dressed up this past weekend for Bonza Bash, I thought ahead about comfort and ended up rocking my dress.

Travel is the best education there is.

1 comment:

Quatoes said...

Of course, this is something I wouldn't have noticed at all. It's nice to have someone point stuff out like this to the poor oblivious computer geeks :-)