Trying too hard to achieve effortless chic: personal style in Paris

June 25, 2012 in Europe,France,Life,Philosophy,Places

Darn it, I muttered to myself as I straightened my hair in the tiny Parisian apartment. I forgot my smoothing cream.

Chic French woman in a cafe in the Marais, Paris, France

I had gone straightener-less for three months in Southeast Asia, embracing the laid-back backpacker culture and relative anonymity. However, I slipped right back into my Western habits, expectations, standards as I tried to prove to friends at home that I was just as stylish as I was when my closet was chock-full, when I took pride in never wearing the same outfit twice.

However, as I sipped my café crème at a sidewalk café and watched the Parisian women amble by, I realized that my slightly frizzy fringe wouldn’t be noticed in a city with hair every color of the spectrum and with seemingly more shoe shops than boulangeries.

In Paris, personal style is less about trends and more about the person. It’s about embracing your individuality and making it shine. Eyeglasses aren’t something to be shunned for contact lenses; they’re an opportunity to make a statement. Kinky curls are to be shown off, not fried into straight submission. Women choose styles that suit them, rather than wedge themselves into a trend.

Chic French woman on a bicycle at Chatelet in Paris, France

In America, women tend to aspire to a bland, consumer-driven state of perfection: perfectly shiny hair, perfectly clear skin, perfectly matching shoes and jewels and lipstick. We become an army of on trend: sporting the shoes we saw in a magazine, the neon accents popular on Pinterest, the same sweater as our best friend because we all shop in the same chain stores. We are less interested in asserting our individuality than assuring that we fit in.

Parisian women are often hailed as the most stylish in the world, their effortless chic the subject of many a book, essay or magazine article. The world reveres French fashion, haute couture houses, the looks spotted sur la rue. But perhaps what we should admire more is their ability to carry themselves with grace, their knack to pick and choose what suits them best.

French Galeries Lafayette fashion advertisement in paris, France

I know that I’ll never be Parisian, that I try far too hard to pull off a look of effortlessly chic. But being in Paris always reminds me that’s OK: that I look best when I’m confident, that I’m confident when I’m comfortable with my appearance. Usually that’s when my hair is sleek and my outfit is carefully coordinated—but Paris reminds me that sometimes it’s alright to embrace the little imperfections and quirks. After all, that’s the essential bit of personal style.

  • I’m reminded by how chic Paris is every time I leave the Loire Valley. Here, I walk my dog in yoga pants, hair on top of my head and an old T-shirt. No one even looks twice.  I agree that confidence is everything. 😉

  • I’ve been struggling with this my whole travels. I have natural frizz and curls that I normally “american-ize” (straighten) and I decided not to bring anything. No straightener, no blow dryer. Nothing! It is fine until it’s time to go out to a nice dinner, or grab a drink with some friends…. then I am stuck trying to come up with a clever hair doo. We head to Paris in a few weeks and I am sick of the clothes I packed and hate my hair in this country. I am sure Paris will be interesting to say the least in that aspect. :)

  • Very amusing! I’ve just written a post on the exact same subject (but from an older point of view!)  
    http://myfrenchlife.org/2012/06/25/how-to-look-french

  • Great post!  I think you’re right, confidence is everything…I spent a semester in Milan a while ago and remember going out to a fancy club wearing an old dress and these crappy $10 shoes I’d bought from a table on the street.  Everyone was wearing ridiculously expensive things, but I decided to spend the evening pretending it was all intentional.  Nobody raised any eyebrows, so I think it worked…

  • Freedomabroad

    I can’t wait to visit Paris this Fall and see exactly what you’re talking about! I’m sooo excited!! :)

  • I still hope my french to improve enough to be able to get a french chic haircut next time I’m in Paris. I just love how french women dominate their “messy” wavy hair… I think it’s a matter of confidence and feeling good with yourself and what has been given to you – this way you’ll always shine!

  • camorose

    Ha! As they say, Paris definitely isn’t France and France isn’t Paris :)

  • camorose

    I mean, Paris isn’t a bad place to supplement your wardrobe–I always end up tossing out old stuff and finding pretty new things here! H&M and Zara are incredible for cheap fun additions :)

  • camorose

    Just read it–very interesting! With a French prenom and fairly French looks (dark hair, light eyes, slim build), I get away with looking French to a point, particularly if I’m dressed a certain way–but I know that when I throw on flipflops, jeans and a T-shirt, I’m rocking a casual look as only an American can :)

  • camorose

    Exactly! One of the bags I get the most compliments on I bought for 5 Euros from a vintage shop in the Marais–totally not how much you spend, but how you rock it :)

  • camorose

    Haha yes! Parisian women are the best in the fall, they know how to work layers like no one else :)

  • camorose

    Very true–I think the French are best at choosing their best features and flaunting those. And yes…the messy wavy hair of the French! My hair is finally getting long enough to go au naturel–at least the in South with a bit of saltwater wave, I’m loving it!

  • Interesting perspective here, now that I’m back in Toronto and in normal non-travel clothes I have no idea what my style is.

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  • camorose

    I think your style is generally the same whether or not you’re traveling–your priorities as a traveler (comfort, style, etc) are generally the same as “real life”.

  • I love your line: 

    “Women choose styles that suit them, rather than wedge themselves into a trend.”

    That’s so important. It means your wardrobe lasts a hell of a lot longer too because you’re not picking up and dropping trends every season.

  • camorose

    So true–you’ve got to have the classics and then just add in a few trendy pieces each season to spice it up!

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