The very first day we arrived in Paris, I knew I had packed poorly. I packed poorly even though I’ve been hanging out in France for years so I knew enough to know how to pack wisely–no shorts, nothing too flashy, good jewelry, plenty of black. I would be living out of the same three suitcases for at least three months (it would end up being more) and I didn’t want to get outfit envy everytime I saw a Parisian girl walk by and put me to shame. I packed with this in mind, and still ended up regretting my choices within just a few hours.
I kept seeing girls in oversized trenches in the perfect shade of khaki that would hit their calves at just the right place. For some reason they all had on white tennis shoes, just like the ones I would be unpacking in three months. In my mind, all the stress from the move would be gone if I had just the right trench, because that’s what capitalism has done to my brain.
Because I was starting to freelance for the first time in my life, I didn’t want to get all spendy just to placate my nerves that were frazzled by move-related anxiety. I kept track of every time I yearned for an outfit piece as it passed by while I watched from a cafe table. If the piece was something I had on the boat, I just had to wait for it to arrive. If I didn’t own something similar, I was allowed to entertain the thought of purchasing, especially if it was functional i.e. kept me warm or allowed me to walk comfortably. The ellgible items fell into three buckets: khaki trench, navy wool trench, quirky white sneakers.
These were the only three items I allowed myself to buy in the three-month wait for our boxes to arrive, but they, along with a tiny desire to blend in, still totally overhauled my Paris uniform. Here’s my hindsight inventory of how my style changed.
Coat As Outfit
Being from LA, I have no concept of cold or of a peripatetic commute. I too thought this was trite of LA people to say, but damn if it isn’t true when that thermometer drops below 50 F. It follows that I had no idea that sometimes your outfit is your coat. Parisian girls have the ability to put on a giant coat, and then style their extremeties; their ankles, their wrists, their necks are where they express themselves because the middle is hidden. Suddenly I was barely thinking of my shirt or pants, suddenly I was caring a lot more about exposed socks, suddenly I was learning new ways of tying scarves. My two coats became my signature look, and I changed the extremeties depending on the occasion.
White Sneakers As Identity
I also had to get a lot more sporty because I was walking at least four miles a day while apartment hunting, exploring, and getting lost. I found I was wanting to wear stylish sneakers with literally every outfit, just like everyone else in Paris. But they couldn’t be the same Vejas that every man, woman, and child was sporting. I needed something comfortable, that allowed me to fit in but also stand out, show that I had unusual sneaker taste. After two months of research, I settled on a pair of super weird Golas with black and white laces that were being sold by Anthropologie for some reason. I liked how they contrasted with my dark navy winter coat.
The Cross-Body As Necklace
Packing four large totes was a practical decision until the second week of walking those many miles per day when said bags started to grind into my shoulders and give me back pain. I had to carry less and redistribute the weight. I packed one smaller vintage Longchamp bag that could pass as a cross-body thanks to the trend in wearing slightly larger bags a little high on the body. My back was saved until the rest of my actual cross-bodies arrived.
Like the coat as outfit, the cross-body is like the giant necklace of your coat. It’s another visible thing to style when the majority of your corpus is hidden. It’s also less likely to be stolen or pick-pocketed, and is easy to rummage in to grab you metro pass or wallet without having to remove it and fit a whole arm inside to find something.
Not Primping To Blend-In
I’ve never been afraid of standing out, but I also don’t necessarily try super hard to either. But as an outsider in a new city where I don’t know the language and where everyone kind of dresses and does the same thing (more on that when I have time to form a proper thesis), I wanted to fit in a little. So I stopped doing my hair and cut way down on makeup.
The French are very minimal on hair care. I’m not 100% sure, but thus far, I only have evidence that they wash it. No blowdryers, definitely no curling or straightening, and according to sage goddess Caroline de Maigret, only dye to your natural color. If I see tousled curls on the metro, I know she’s not from these parts. I started using a similar routine because “doing” my hair made me stand out way too much here, and also because I literally knew no one so why bother.
Fashion magazines talk way too much about effortless French beauty, it’s a bit cliche by now but it is at least half true. I’d say French women, especially Parisians, spend more time on skincare, and less time on makeup. The former tends to allow for the latter. You’ll never see a full face of makeup here, except for on the same girl who also had perfectly tousseled curls. Maybe a lip and mascara, or a light cheek and a touch of eyeshadow. I adopted this less out of a need to feed in, more out of necessity as I developed a bizarre allergic reaction to something in my apartment and had to stop wearing makeup until my eye swelling reduced. Not a magical story, but I lived it.
What Stayed The Same
I was very conscious that due to both practical and impractical needs, I was changing my style. I didn’t want to lose my Shelby style–whatever that was–in the evolution. Though I felt an immense amount of peer pressure in the form of odd looks and staring, I did not stop wearing oversized sunglasses, even in winter. I have sensitive eyes and I’m shy, so I stuck with them.
I also keep wearing hats, even indoors, which is apparently a major faux pas in France. I have poofy hair that tends to look better after a day in a hat. I also have a strong penchant for grandma-on-a-Mediterranean-cruise fashion, so I wear baseball caps with earings. This also gets menacing stares on the metro, but I’m too old to succumb to peer pressure.
Once the allergic reaction retreated and I could wear makeup again, I also didn’t stop using a bit of bronzer to contour my flabby cheeks, and a little highlighter to achieve a dewy look my skin wasn’t able to serve on its own. This risks entering too-much-makeup-for-Paris territory, but I don’t have great cheek bones so there we are.