Successfully acting like a local in Paris—a fashion capital of the world, known for style and etiquette—is just as challenging as one might assume. I quickly realized the first of my many mistakes made while trying to blend in, wandering around the 14th arrondissement (my new home) during my first day in Paris. Having traveled through the city from Charles De Gaulle airport before finally reaching my dorm, I was incredibly hot and in desperate need of a change of clothes—especially once I realized that air conditioning was a thing of the past. It seems only natural for me to have changed out of pants into a pair of jean shorts before walking around, right? Wrong. Shorts aren’t really a thing in Paris, especially the kind American young women are used to. In Paris, no matter the temperature, no matter the fact that many public spaces lack AC and the metro at rush hour is similar to what I would assume the Sahara desert would feel like at high noon, shorts are out of the question. Therefore, I’ve had to get used to the strict trousers, jeans, skirt, or dress policy observed by women here, even on the days where the temperature reaches +31°C (87.8°F).
I begrudgingly accepted the no-shorts “rule”, but upon attending my session’s orientation I was quickly informed of more elements of American fashion to avoid. The staff said every year, students arrive dressed very obviously (if unknowingly) like tourists, but by the end of the program, the majority are able to pull off a convincingly Parisian look. We learned that athletic clothes, t-shirts from organizations and events, and surprisingly, Birkenstocks (which of course, I was wearing at the time) were all tell-tale signs of a non-local. At first, I was amazed that a whole city could adopt these unspoken fashion rules and that those who did not obey would stick out as sore thumbs among those in the know, but again I made sure to incorporate these rules into my daily garb (as well as make a trip to a local clothing store—good thing it’s sale season in France).
I was surprised at how quickly I began to realize these seemingly small fashion elements on those surrounding me in the metro, and how proud I felt when I caught myself noticing them- I was beginning to feel like a local. Though the seemingly strict rules of Parisian fashion can be intimidating, eventually one starts to see “the point.” The French are very proud of their identity, and fashion culture is a large part of that. It only makes sense for them to place so much emphasis on how they look, which isn’t a bad quality to adopt. So, walking onto the metro in an outfit that felt uniquely Parisian, headphones in ears, acting cool and confident, I finally felt as if I had found what it took to pass as a Parisian.
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