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:

"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.
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!


ShrinkingDoc said...

Hey, it's all what's important for you.

I will admit I care a little bit more since I can buy clothes that are smaller and since I was depressed over my stupid shoulder in late winter and spent hours watching "What Not To Wear" on the DVR everyday. I now tend to buy stuff that's a little nicer and fits a little better. And I don't wear sneakers everywhere.

If you really want to be like your friend K, I could nominate you for the show! They give you $5000 for a whole new wardrobe and a trip to New York where they teach you to shop! Just let me know. I think a fashion failure (your words, not mine) oboe-playing anesthesiologist would be a good story for the show, so you'd have a better chance or being picked! You seem kind of nice, though. If you can cop a little attitude, it seems like it helps. They seem to pick the ones that are feisty and fight them a little.

Good luck getting off tonight! Safe travels!

K. said...

LOLLLL! T., I love are too kind and funny! You look beautiful and you are no slob! Personally I think you are not enough of a fashion disaster to be on "What Not To Wear" (a great show!) but I do think your friend is right--you would totally be able to get on the show because you are just so interesting...

Anyway, I find it a little embarrassing that I am so fashion obsessed because I should probably be less concerned with that stuff being a doctor and all. But, I just can't help it! Something about me yearns for beauty everywhere, including in my clothing, jewelry, makeup, shoes (and shoes and shoes...) I've decided to just embrace it.

I loved the "French" passage in your post...I took a facebook quiz recently that said that I should live in Paris! (How is it that those quizzes are often weirdly correct?) I hate to see people walking around like they just rolled out of bed...

Anyway, here is one fashion tip for you since you mentioned having one fabulous dress that you love: When you find something that fits you well, is comfortable, is not too trendy, and looks amazing on you, buy it in every color if you can! Things you love are things you will wear over and over again and won't be a waste of money.

Thanks for your post...I just happened to check in today because I'm on call and waiting for some action...I apologize that my visits are so SPORADIC...

Lisa Johnson said...

Bon Voyage T! I hope you enjoy your flight. Have a macaron for me at Pierre Hermes!

I dress down so much more than I used to, but I do love fashion. Even on my one little trip to Paris, I do remember noticing that only Americans seemed to be wearing sneakers.

Hinzi said...

If I were your patient I would say, come as you are - be comfortable!

If I were to believe my daughter, and how could I not - she just returned from a trip to Paris - I would say, do as the Parisians do, dress up and enjoy it!