French Lessons

When we first started making plans to visit Paris this last spring, my primary and overarching concern was What To Wear. I had no worries we’d figure out where to stay and eat and what to see, but I consulted every book and online source I could find about what to pack. I was determined to Not Look Like a Tourist. One website that was quite helpful was Paris Escapes, which also updates their “what to wear” by season.

It turned out I wasn’t unique in this particular obsession; at the Fodor’s discussion forum, about every other Paris thread addresses attire. Fodor’s seems to have taken notice, and recently put together a guide that you can download and print, entitled C’est Super Chic: How Not to Look Like an American in Paris. It showcases three French style archetypes (based on age), rudimentary tips for tying a scarf, and general do’s-and-don’t’s for dressing in Paris. If you’re looking for basic information and have never travelled in Europe before, you might find this basic guide helpful, if a bit stereotypical.

While I did observe that not all Parisiennes are as super chic as the hype would have us believe, one style stereotype that holds true is that scarves are ubiquitous. Women of all ages and all styles utilize scarves to add an accent of color or texture to their ensembles, tied or draped in an almost infinite number of ways. Being less than talented in the clever scarf tying department, I was delighted to find that Hermes.com offers not one, but two downloadable pdf’s (from the Scarves page, click on the “playtime with your scarf” link to the right) that each demonstrate different ways scarves can be worn, including as belts, skirts and tops. If one does not live near an Hermés boutique where one can get a scarf-tying lesson from the staff, this is the next best thing. (Une femme has a serious hankering for an Hermés scarf, which as yet remains unrequited.)

A scarf can be a fabulous accessory to turn up the chic on an otherwise ordinary ensemble. A well-chosen scarf can add a touch of color near the face, soften up an otherwise structured suit, rescue a bad hair day, or help define a waist. Scarves in all price ranges (and a few tried-and-true ways to wear them) are indespensable in a French woman’s style arsenal, and a great way to some Parisienne flair to yours.

Une femme avec un fichu. Est-ce que c’est une Française?

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8 Comments

  1. September 6, 2007 / 1:55 pm

    Oh la vache! Comme vous êtes Française!
    I love looking at the array of scarves in the department stores in Paris — amazing selection at every price point. Not only are they chic, colourful, and fun, but they’re a much more stylish solution to the aging chin/neck than the turtlenecks Diane Keaton sported in Something’s Gotta Give — they let me sport a bit of cleavage (and I only have a bit!)but keep it modest at the same time.

  2. September 6, 2007 / 5:47 pm

    Actually, jeans and sneakers are pretty ubiquitous in Paris, but not Mom jeans or clunky white trainers. Skinny or flared jeans were popular, and sleeker, darker or colored lace-up athletic shoes (or Chucks) were seen. Denim jackets were also quite common.

    What I ultimately learned is as long as you’re not dressed for Disneyland, you’ll be fine. I wore mostly my dark jeans with sweaters and black walking loafers and felt quite appropriately dressed for all of the places we visited. We did dress up more for one fancy dinner, but otherwise comfort and practicality informed most of our clothing choices. If you have a cross-body handbag, that was the one item I appreciated having the most. You’ll do a LOT of walking, and having hands free is a boon. You’ll get less tired if you aren’t having to carry something.

  3. September 6, 2007 / 6:36 pm

    Ohh la la. C’est magnifique!

  4. bonnie-ann black
    September 6, 2007 / 3:54 pm

    je suis une femme d’un certain age, also and have been planning a trip to paris in november. i have travelled a good deal to other places and never had much of a worry about dressing uniquely and with my own style but for some reason, the trip to paris has been worrying me. but since i never wear sneakers, and don’t even own a pair of jeans, i’m beginning to think i’ll be just fine. hope you’ll do a good bit of posting about your trip!

  5. September 7, 2007 / 2:10 pm

    Dejapseu: Hermes updates those scarf-books every season, more or less. So when you add one to your collection, you will have your own little orange book! In some cities the staff is very nice and would give little books to your accompanying friends too (e.g. Milan).

    The firm itself is not very keen on promoting customer relations I feel, and anyway the women in the Manhattan store do a better job of it on their own initiative. I have never bought any in London because I do not like the snarly attitude one gets on Bond Street (damn, I realise I have clocked purchases in a few countries outside the UK.. must stop!) I have done some funky things with my scarves besides using them as ‘neckwear’ as Parisiennes are wont to do 🙂 The patterns usually dictate the uses, of course.

    Thanks. I have recently started reading your blog after our chat on the F-word. Very cool.

  6. September 7, 2007 / 4:09 pm

    Good to know about the booklet updates, shefaly. Thanks!

  7. September 13, 2007 / 4:20 pm

    When I lived in Paris, I found it almost painful to see many well-dressed touristas accompanied by men who couldn’t be bothered. Oh, and the high heels. Pinched feet don’t look good in anything.

    Re. Hermes …it seems you’re sort of supposed to “earn” entrance, at least in the Paris shops. Strasbourg was a little more relaxed. Even when I’m dressed my best and feeling foxy, I don’t need that attitude. But then, I only own 2 Hermes scarves, neither bought new.

  8. Duchesse
    January 4, 2008 / 1:44 pm

    If you are buying a Hermes scarf in Paris, try the Georges V store (listed as a temp location but I have gone there for years), or the Charles de Gaulle boutique. Though people keep posting about snooty staff, I have never encountered this. However, when in Hermes boutiques I have seen people (usually women) expecting to have several dozen scarves unfolded, and then hold them up to makeup-caked faces. You DO have to open the scarves to make your choice, but if you have no intention of buying, think how this may be perceived. If you already own a scarf, wear it when you go there. or browse the current scarfs online so you hav an idea, andreferd to them byname… justo ne will do. Don’t be scared, it’s a STORE.

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