How My Personal Style Changed When I Moved to France

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.

Weather, walking, and wanting to fit in (but not TOO much!) caused my style to change when we landed in Paris.
I literally put on whatever is laying around and top it with a coat.

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.

Four Paris style developments in one shot: white sneaks, vintage cross-body, coat as outfit, undone hair.

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.

This violet cross-body bucket bag from Baggu makes me feel so much less boring.

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.

Necessity and a need to blend in (but not too much!) caused my style to change as soon as we touched down in Paris.
This hair style causes a 75% increase in strangers speaking to me in French, meaning it successfully helps me to blend in.

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.

Scarf, long coat, and sunglasses. Don’t care.

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.

Waiting Four Months For My Boxes To Arrive to Paris From Los Angeles: I Lived It

When we began planning our move to Paris, my husband and I were all about that minimalist life. We were going to unburden ourselves of so much random stuff we had accumulated having lived in the same city–in my case–since birth. We were going to keep things simple, be less materialistic, spend less, pick up and go where we want, when we want. We felt smugly weightless, relative to the LA versions of ourselves anyway.

1/3 of our earthly shit went to friends and Goodwill. 1/3 of it, mostly my antiques and random old stuff I couldn’t let go of (if you’ve ever sent me a holiday card, it might be included in this category), we sent to Make Space, a service I highly recommend. The final 1/3 was going to come with us to Paris, first into a truck, then onto a boat, then onto another truck, then to an apartment we didn’t yet have. This was mostly my clothes, cooking stuff, books and records we deemed essential, and decorative pieces I liked enough to bring. Oh, and a couch, coffee table, and two chairs, because we were going to have to buy those anyway so if we’re shipping stuff, why not go for it.

I am not known for being an optimistic person. I had a friend in 8th grade who deemed me a pessimistic optimist at best, which I suppose is a more nuanced way to say I am a realist and reality kind of sucks, doesn’t it? That said, I had some kind of psychic hunch, maybe a naive hope that our boxes would arrive NO LATER than two months from the time we saw the moving truck drive away. It was September 16, and I was even a little bit nervous that the movers might arrive in Paris while I was back in LA for Thanksgiving. This is an actual thing that I worried about.

We packed only clothes, a few toiletries, four plastic plates, two tin mugs, and a camping knife to hold us over until our boxes arrived. It was 100 degrees in LA in September, but we packed some winter options because Paris is cold. I packed LA winter clothes because I only know LA winters. I packed the backless black mules I lived in back in LA, as well as some rattan mules that went with every outfit. I packed high heeled boots that were a mainstay for me the previous winter. I took a few sweaters out of my suitcase because it was getting heavy, and I could live without them for two months. I was a fool.

Fall hit Paris two days after we arrived. I realized all the trends the girls my age were wearing were composed of articles of clothing I owned that were now on a boat, so I pledged not to buy anything. By the end of October, I had to break my resolution because it was already low-forties and none of my jackets had seen 50F before. I held out on buying more than one coat though, because of my feeling that the container would arrive by mid-November.

The plastic plates that we brought to our partially furnished apartment got us through several months.

Then on November 1 I received an email from a clerk in Holland that said our stuff had left New York ten days earlier. I’d assumed it was already being offloaded in Rotterdam, but no, it had been sitting back in the US as the seasons changed in Paris. Quick mental math of ocean travel + customs + truck to Paris + bureaucracy meant we would not have our things until the end of winter. I just wanted a jacket. Maybe some books. A proper spatula. Some more scarf options.

I went back to LA for Thanksgiving, and the irony of traveling from LA to Paris, back to LA before any of my things arrived was not lost. It was such a joy to have extra blankets, more than one coffee mug, scented candles at my disposal. To be honest, it was a joy to find joy in such simple things. There’s probably a lesson in here about appreciation, family being all we need in life, but I’ll tell you there is also a lesson about how much a good a ladle is worth.

Two months crawled by with very few updates, so it was only natural to assume the container would arrive while we were out of town for Christmas, because that’s just how the universe works; it messes with us. The next mental milestone was the four month mark, so I just assumed for the sake of comedy that anniversary would come and go without a word from the shippers. A friend told us his stuff was gone for four months and he had to hassle the moving company for an update on his shipment, which had been lost. Clearly we were in for the same lot.

As soon as I reconciled myself to this sad reality, we of course received an email that our things could be delivered in three days if we were available. Hell yes, we were available. One mover carried up all of our boxes, one by one, and in just three hours, it was done. We had salad bowls and full-sized towels and sheets.

I’m whining, because I whine, but honestly at worst it was just a bit uncomfortable and cold. I had two sweaters that were adequate for the weather, and now I’m wearing a black mock-neck sweater in all photos of me from the first four months we were in Paris. We dried off with hand towels because I wasn’t going to spend full price on bath towels when we had four in the container. We used one camping knife for everything. We ate salad from a pan. People are dying of that Coronavirus in China, so I won’t complain at length for the amusing inconvenience that is moving internationally, just provide some level-setting of expectations and tips. The situation was a pebble in our shoe, inconvenient but livable.

Having lived through this mild quarter-year annoyance, I’ve compiled a list of EXACTLY what you should bring with you should you be moving long distance and waiting for your belongings to arrive. Some are self explanatory, others not so much, so I will elucidate:

  • Clothes/Jackets: you do you, but bring less than you think you need and be realistic about weather. You won’t regret only bringing neutral colors, and you’ll be the smartest person in the room if you only bring black
  • Shoes: Again, be realistic about weather and bring less than you think you need
  • Bags: Again, you do you but don’t forget shopping bags since plastic bags are illegal everywhere and you’re going to hate buying a new reusables when you have 28 of them packed in your moving boxes
  • Skincare and meds: You’re also going to hate spending money on this stuff which is likely packed in a box that says “bathroom” on the side. And your skin will freak out as soon as you move
  • Plastic or tin plate, cup, mug, and one set of utensils per person to hold you over until your stuff arrives
  • Pillow cases: will you be shuffling between Airbnbs for weeks when you arrive? Is that pillow you’re using actually clean?
  • Corkscrew, scissors, screwdriver: or just bring a single Swiss Army Knife or a multi-tool. You won’t regret it
  • Hot sauce: if you’re moving to Europe or to a place that does not typically use a lot of hot sauce, bring hot sauce
  • ┬áPatience, lol

Paris Is Having a White Sneaker MOMENT

Within about 20 minutes of arriving in Paris, I became hyper aware not only of the French girl uniform (story tk tk tk), but of her uniform shoe: the white sneaker. I’m not using literally figuratively when I say literally everyone, their baby, and their mom is wearing white tennis shoes of some sort. Dudes too, this trend is for everyone.

Stan Smith Adidas were a huge deal in LA about five years ago–like if you didn’t have a pair then who the heck even were you. I wanted to be cool so I skipped Stan Smith’s for a pair of Marks & Spencer’s that were “designed” by Alexa Chung, but it was the same aesthetic: low top, white puffy leather, white laces, chill round toe that looked simultaneously preppy and casual. I didn’t hang out enough in Paris over the last few years to know if they’re still riding that same initial shoe wave, or if the wave broke later here and I arrived at the beach right in the middle of it. Ocean metaphor.

I stalked some people while at a cafe in the 1st.

The models you see the most are the Stan Smiths, vintage-inspired Reeboks, and a new round of Adidas that are designed to look like vintage-inspired Reeboks. This combination is especially true of the millennials and anyone a little older, maybe a hip GenX-er. They wear them with jeans, with trousers, with dresses, with skirts. Somehow it always looks good, no wonder it’s such a thing. For GenZ and Millennials trying to hold on to their youth, it’s a mix of these shoes, but also more of a Spice Girls, Fila, even Skechers type of sneaker: all big and clunky, giving off Sailor Moon vibes. Still all-white.

It’s one thing to see a fair amount of kids doing something and feeling like you have a trend coming on. The sheer proliferation of this white shoe thing is a goddamn epidemic here, and I’m curious to know why.

One theory I have is comfort. People in Paris walk a lot. It’s the thing they do most after or during carrying baguettes. You have to walk everywhere, or walk to the Metro to then take that everywhere, so there isn’t much high heel-wearing, sadly. Boots are great, but it’s not winter yet and they’re still not as comfortable as tennis shoes, so why not just make tennis shoes on-trend for everyone’s sake?

My other theory is that it’s part and parcel of an overall homogeneity we keep noticing in Paris. It is a very diverse and eclectic city, but it seems like trends in food, wardrobe, hair, decor are somewhat narrow. They’re not bad trends, there just isn’t much deviation from them. OR, to be totally fair and bare witness to my geographic bias: maybe there is just less deviation than there is in LA. It’s too soon to tell, and I may be talking out of my ass, but I keep getting the sense that people in Paris aren’t trying to be trend-setting supernovas of individuality quite as much as they tend to be in LA. I always thought this was a stereotype of how the world viewed Los Angeles, but maybe it’s true, and I’m just not used to a city with quite so much chill. So everyone wears white shoes.

Whatever the reason, I’m glad I brought my white Feiyue high tops that are actually martial arts shoes, and my white Onitsuka Tigers, but I’m sad that my Reeboks and Adidas are in a container somewhere in the Atlantic, to be delivered in the near future. Hopefully the trend hasn’t waned by then.