mercredi 25 juin 2008

Fashionable Women

There are a lot of myths surrounding French women in the Anglo-saxon world, mostly centered on the notion that French women are the epitome of elegant beauty, feminine mystique, and sexual allure. But, as with many things, the reality is not the same as the myth.

Granted, women here are not walking around in white marshmallow sneakers and peacock-colored track suits. But neither are they wearing Chanel suits with Louis Vuitton handbags. The everyday French woman is somewhere in between, and her look typically reveals her financial status or profession. Younger women, who presumably have less disposable income, mostly look like they have come straight out of H&M, Zara, or La Redoute. Lots of them wear tunics or dresses over pants or leggings, Converse sneakers or brightly colored ballerinas, topped off with either a cell phone or an iPod. Older women are more likely to live up to the stereotype of the parisienne that is peddled abroad, wearing the same suits year after year, sometimes designer, sometimes not, regardless of the season (it does not get very hot here, so it is not unusual to need a jacket or blazer even after springtime is officially over).

Professional women fall somewhere in between these two extremes. And, unlike in the US, people who are well-off, but not necessarily rich, will indulge in some designer items. For example, in the US, most female lawyers of middle-class background like me would never think of buying designer clothing or accessories on a regular basis (unless it was at Filene’s!). But, women of my same background and profession here do shop at designer stores regularly. Of courses, this might have something to do with the fact that there are no Ann Taylor or Banana Republic shops in fancy office neighborhoods here. Instead, we have Bally’s, Celine, and Louis Vuitton. It made for fun window-shopping at least!

Now that I’m no longer a working girl and can spend rainy Saturday afternoons exploring cafes in quirky neighborhoods, I’m seeing a different type of parisienne, one who seems to fit in with her environment just as much as the professional women fit into theirs. For example, when I wrote this, Diego and I were in a bar called Culture Rapide in Belleville. It’s the kind of bar that has a huge Cuban flag draped on one wall, hosts poetry readings (and even gives you a free drink if you read a poem), and where many customers have dreadlocks. The girl seated next to us as I wrote this was wearing pinstriped pants, a striped blue and white shirt left open over a red undershirt, a black bowler hat, and converse sneakers. And as I sat observing her outfit, I noticed that, on the other side of the street, two kids, about 10 and 14 years old, were trying to steal a bike. And somehow, it all made sense.

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