Historically, Paris has always been known for its tailoring and fabrics used to make some of the world’s best fashion. Since the Renaissance, women have made long trips just to get their hands on Paris’s latest fashion. Designers have found their ways to Paris’s sweatshops only to have a chance in the industry. Even during World War II, when Berlin directed that all the ateliers be moved to the German capital, Paris refused. Lucien Lelong, head of the Couture Chamber defiantly said, “Paris’s haute couture is not transferable, either en bloc or bit by bit. It exists in Paris or it does not exist at all.” It seems to the outside world that fashion runs through the veins of this city (or at least in the water of the Seine). But the reputation of Paris as a city of fashion isn’t quite true. Parisian girls are fashionable, but they don’t actually care about fashion whatsoever.
In the book, “In Paris,” its authors Jeanne Damas and Lauren Bastide don’t even use the word fashion to talk about Parisians. They note, “One art is very particular [in Paris]: the art of expressing your taste through the way you dress or the way you decorate your apartment.” Essentially, the word fashion, even for the fashionistas of the city, carries an almost tacky connotation. Instead, the Parisian girl always has style, and it’s an art for her.
As a Francophile and lover of fashion and style, I had to ask, what do real Parisians think about this? Is Paris really about fashion or is there another French-girl secret to their reputable appearance that’s grounded in style?
I met with the most stylish girl I could think of in Paris, Camille, who tells me she doesn’t shop in real stores anymore but prefers vide dressings and thrift shops. “I’d say that the French woman is elegant, classic, effortless,” she says. “She doesn’t dare try new things much, but always goes for what she knows suits her well.” Closet essentials are a must for the Parisian. She owns a few (but not too many) pairs of jeans, tees, pullovers, and, of course, a trench coat, that always work for her. These are not necessarily from expensive brands, but she is willing to invest in quality pieces. From there, she has a few timeless pieces, that may have been passed down, or perhaps she got them at a vintage store. These might be, preferably, couture or highly-regarded heritage French brands (she supports everything that’s French).
No matter what the Parisian girl wears, she still remains natural. Carla, another one of the city’s inhabitants, says she focuses more on accessories. “I don’t consider myself as a fashionista, only a bag-addict,” she admits. Her shopping habits usually involve some vintage stores and then her favorites: APC for jeans, Kujten for cashmere tops and sweaters, and The Kooples for skirts and dresses.
“I think that Paris is the capital of fashion because everyone here, whether [shopping] in a thrift shop or huge brand like Chanel, has a sense of fashion,” explains Marion, a confident minimalist-chic Parisian. (A sense of fashion is an eye for what works for you and how to put pieces together; it doesn’t mean following the dictates of fashion.)
The common thread among all the women I spoke to was clear: shop vintage. “I basically don’t shop at real stores anymore,” Camille tells me. “You find gems in thrift shops! And it’s unique in a way so that our style not replicated a thousand times like everyone else.” In fact, the pieces that she receives most comments on are indeed vintage finds that she dug up for a bargain price, like a Loewe bag that she bought in an online vintage store and a Bulgari Seprenti bag bought in a thrift shop in New York. The affinity for vintage shopping — curating pieces that match your style — really is emblematic of how Parisians think about dressing themselves; it’s practically the antithesis of fashion, which is about what’s stylish in the moment.
Being that style is essential to the city’s culture, calling Paris the “fashion capital of the world” does put a burdensome label on its people. It’s only made worse by the fact that fashion is synonymous with ever-changing trends created by today’s fast-fashion world, but those trends don’t really adapt well to the culture. While Parisians do wear fashion’s latest trend sometimes, like chunky sneakers, they are just as likely to spurn trends, like wearing neon colors and shapeless pieces. In reality, keeping up with Parisian fashion is just knowing what it is that you like and looks good on you and perfecting it with only small updates and rare whimsical changes. In other words, mastering your style.
Featured image photo credit: Stock Photos from Natalia Grabovskaya / Shutterstock