How to be Parisian
Does the French capital have an attainable style?
For the Parisian, style is about far more than clothing. My wife, who was born and raised in Paris, once informed me that she could tell as much about a person from the way they wielded their cutlery as she could from the way they dressed. “The British tend to shovel,” she added, with a significant glance across the dinner table. “While Parisians skewer,” I might have countered.
Nevertheless, there is a myth about Parisian sartorial elegance and it has more than a grain of truth in it. A grain that eventually turns into a pearl, which is worn in a string of them with a plain white T-shirt, a battered pair of slim jeans and flat ballet shoes from Repetto. If there’s one word that sums up Parisian style, it’s understatement.
When I moved here ten years ago, I noticed it straight away – without initially being able to put my finger on it. A single lad at the time, I was naturally intrigued by the female members of the Paris community. They were certainly different to the women I’d known in London, who exposed teasing expanses of flesh in all weathers and could hold their own about soccer over a pint.
Parisian women were not necessarily sexier, but they were more mysterious. Their hair was darker and scruffier; their voices huskier. But finally I realised what it came down to: they wore more clothes. In a word, they were demure.
I was shocked six months later when I went to a party in London and saw how brazenly the English girls were dressed.
Parisian women keep sex on a low simmer not only because they have to run the gamut of comments from occasionally rather persistent Parisian men, but also because they dress for one another. They have a horror of being perceived as vulgar by their peers.
They never want to look as if they’re trying too hard. Their hair must look as if they’ve just got out of bed (preferably with a fringe; fringes are very Parisian) and their make-up is minimal, although bold red lips are acceptable. It’s true that they wear lots of black, daringly teaming it with navy blue. They know how to make jeans, trench coats and battered Converse sneakers look the very essence of chic. Very often, they have a scooter helmet slung over their arm along with the latest “it” bag.
Indeed, accessories are an essential part of their allure. Parisian women will wear costume jewellery with an evening dress, and diamonds with their boyfriend’s striped shirt. They know that a masculine chronograph makes their wrist look even thinner. And both sexes understand that a flamboyant scarf whisks an outfit from noncommittal to nonchalant in a flash. They even wear cotton scarves in summer.
Parisians realise that fashion is the spice of clothing, not the main ingredient. Many of these rules also go for Parisian men, who’ve perfected the art of scruffy stylishness. It’s actually hard to find a clean-shaven Parisian male these days. But their stubble is the perfect length, their sneakers, sunglasses and watches are stealthily expensive and the shirt and jeans they haven’t bothered to press fit them perfectly.
For the Parisian, the stylish devil is in the details.