Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Dress Code

June rolls in and so do the tourists. They are not hard to miss with the ubiquitous array of t-shirts sporting a collage of advertising. Shorts are worn which easily display white tennis shoes and sports socks. The fanny pack accessorizes the ensemble. And the final touch: drum roll please…cameras
hanging off various necks or cell phones propped open ready to be used in a moments notice to shoot pictures of loved ones standing in front of Notre Dame or the Eifel Tower. It couldn’t be more obvious that these people are outsiders if they wore a sign exclaiming, “Here I am. I am a tourist!”

It’s not a bad thing being a tourist. The Parisian economy depends on the influx of visitors to spend their newly exchanged dollars for euros in the various restaurants, sites and shops. It’s also good for the tourist. They can visit museums that are in former chateaux and visit thousand-year-old cathedrals which do not exist at home. Dining at an array of restaurants, cafés and salon de thés are part of the package deal along with traversing the stone streets that hold the history of many who trampled on them before from centuries past.

Tourists also have the extraordinary opportunity to see life from a different point of view. The old adage, “When in Rome do as the Romans do,” certainly applies to other parts of the world, as well. Why not take advantage of doing as the French do while in France?

The French have been known for their haute couture since the time of the Sun King—that's good old Louis XIV. Courtiers in those days tried to out do each other with their fashion and not much has changed in the last in the 300 years since. While people are no longer gallivanting in white wigs and silk, they still have flair with their personal styles.

Some in Paris have the available funds to purchase Valentino and Jean Paul Gauthier, but most do not. Yet, they still manage to make their look have a certain casual elegance that doesn’t seem to be found anywhere else. Silks and ribbons of age-old have been replaced with denim and dark colors. Jeans worn with dark shoes or boots and topped with a lovely blouse or sweater is the ticket here. Not to mention the all important scarf. Scarves are tied in an endless array of knots which should be published in a book somewhere so that the rest of us can copy their ingenuity.

During the summer, the French may wear shorts, but when they do, don’t expect to see khakis. Only dressy shorts perhaps with a cuff will do here.

The French save their tennis shoes and white gym socks for the gym. While comfortable walking shoes are a definite must to make it though a day of walking through the streets of Paris, try an understated dark colored leather walking shoes in lieu of the more noticeable white sneaker.

Fanny packs are yet another faux pas. Only Americans wear them. If it is your mission in life to be spotted by pickpockets who prey on tourists as their meal ticket, then I recommend wearing a fanny pack. Otherwise, leave it at home. 

Part of trying on new countries is to see the world from their perspective. Instead of being a tourist become a traveler. While tourists rush from one site to the next barely able to catch their breath, a traveler soaks in the experience. A traveler wishes to live life as a local does. How do they shop? How do they eat? How do they wear clothes? Each piece of this glorious puzzle helps give a real taste of what Paris is all about, if only for a moment.

Additionally, by dressing the part you will encourage the locals to mingle with you. Needless to say, here in Paris, if you look the part, they will want to socialize with you. That is when the real fun starts. So, come and enjoy the City of Lights—just do it with a sense of style.

Thank you for reading and bonne journée!