"Warm up pants?" He's never seen me wearing them before."What's wrong with that? I'm only going to the bakery."There is a second pause. Frédéric's eyes implore me. Finally, he manages to speak."But it's not nice for the baker!"I stare at him, incredulous, thinking, "You can't be serious." But he is...His girlfriend is about to step out in public wearing "pantalons de jogging" - an item of clothing he wouldn't even wear jogging......Underpinning Frédéric's reaction to warmup pants is a concept that to me is totally foreign: looking scruffy is selfish. Not only do you look like a slob but you let down the whole city. In Paris, failure to dress up leads to instant ostracism...[Fashion designer Ines de la Fressange says] "It is much more comfortable to wear a jacket that is well cut in a nice fabric than it is to look awful."She pronounces this last word "offal." And suddenly it's quite clear tome that I've spent a good part of my life looking offal......Such is the power of Paris. It inspires me now to dress up too. The trouble is I'm inconsistent.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Confessions of a Fashion Failure
Oh, how I envy my friend K. She is not only completely gorgeous but also impeccably stylish. We were at a conference together not too long ago and I just sighed with admiration at her perfectly-put-together outfits and beautiful hair. I borrowed this image from one of her enjoyable "Fashion Fixation" posts. She knows whereof she writes.
I am a dumpy slob. I LOVE comfort and find it in pyjama-like clothes and sensible shoes. Getting a "look" together takes me so much darn effort that I usually just give up before I even start. I like the way light make-up improves the way I look but usuallly can't be bothered to put it on.
Anyone who has spent time in Paris, though, will know what I mean when I say that if you schlepp around in sweats and T-shirts, you'll stick out as a tourist, or an American - a sloppy one - and be the object of considerable disdain. In Paris you're supposed to dress like the model in the above photo. Chapter Ten of Sarah Turbull's book Almost French summarizes it perfectly. Please allow me to quote a passage:
Turnbull isn't the only one. Here's a word from David Lebovitz's book The Sweet Life in Paris:
"The unspoken rule if you plan to live here - but equally good to adopt even if you're just coming for a visit - is knowing that you're going to be judged on how you look and how you present yourself. Yes, even if you're just dumping your garbage. You don't want anyone else, such as a neightbor (or worse, one of those garbagemen in their nifty green outfits), to think you're a slob, do you?"
My husband's Parisian mother and relatives would be the first to protest at this characterization of Parisian culture. But as an outsider coming it, I do feel it when I'm there - not at all from them, the warmest, loveliest people there - but from THEM: the other Parisians. I've never been one to put much stock in appearances, but there's an unspoken code there that says, "If you don't care how you present yourself, you don't care who you are, or who we are, and that's a FLAW. Shame on you." It's a tougher code and ritual than I'd want to accept for something so trivial as clothing, but I'll admit part of me admires it. Maybe because it reminds me of medicine: You're always supposed to be at your best, and anything less is just plain weak. Impossible standards, but familiar ones.
Once in a while you find a dress that's both nice looking and comfortable, that's made of just enough Spandex to feel like cool second skin on your body and make you sigh at the way it feels and falls draped over your body, but not so much Spandex that it clings to the embarrassing bulges and makes you wince when you sit down. I have ONE dress like that, and a couple of other "nice" casual outfits. So I pack them and hope they'll suffice. What really matters to me is to be able to get on the flight tonight, at last, get there safely, and have a chance to spend some R&R time with my family. They, at least, know that whatever they see on the outside, they have with them someone who's pretty happy with herself and absolutely in love with them!