How does a cash-strapped Brit living in Paris keep up with Parisian women when it comes to style? Rebecca Loxton lived in the French capital for a year and thinks she may have cracked the sartorial code of the best-dressed girls in the world...
As I turn the corner to my plush Parisian apartment, the Eiffel Tower grazing the sky above the stately Haussmann buildings, I catch a glimpse of elegant old ladies draped in fur, of stick-thin yummy mummies with tiny waists clutching even tinier dogs.
I've landed digs in the most up-market area of the global capital of fashion, but dressed in comfy jeans, plain pumps and Topshop gear, I immediately feel inelegantly, conspicuously British. Quelle horreur!
Dressing well is part of Parisian culture; fashion is a tribal code, a way for the swish inhabitants of the capital to distinguish themselves from ill-dressed foreigners (er, me) or unsophisticated provincials. Parisian women really do leave for the office looking as if they've stepped from the pages of a glossy mag.
Students at the Sorbonne walk into lectures in a frustratingly effortless combination of high fashion and understated chic; women's hair is perfectly sculpted as they nip to the local boulangerie to stock up on the evening's contingent of fresh bread. I'm a cash-strapped student living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. How am I to emulate this sleek style?
The most striking thing about Parisian women's vestimentary savoir-vivre is that they seem to adopt the same level of classic glamour as we might when going to a wine bar or restaurant. Everything in Paris is more formal than in Britain, from the way they sign off an email to the way they dress.
They're classically conventional, and Parisian fashion is seductive for that very reason. No bright colours or clashing patterns here; what's kooky or alternative in London is needlessly eccentric in Paris.
A few staple accessories go a long way to imitating the formidable fashion of the Parisienne. I snap up some pretty scarves, which dress up any outfit and immediately convey an air of formality and femininity - key elements of the Parisian woman's style. I then invest in a Longchamp handbag; expensive without being extortionate, it's worth the splurge, as I blend in with other Parisiennes toting the distinctive arm charm.
I take every opportunity to join my French friends on shopping trips. They may be Parisian - and therefore innately style-savvy - but they too are students, and I'm relieved as we hit H&M, where I buy a royal blue dress with a cut and length ideal for any outing in the French capital.
Zara, as coveted by Parisians as by their British counterparts, is perfect for classic staples, while affordable department store Galeries Lafayette means that acquiring a bit of the sartorial sense of Parisian women isn't quite as daunting as I had imagined. Most importantly, don't try too hard: if you can't walk in heels at home, you still can't walk in heels in Paris.
Sipping a café crème between lectures one day, a Parisian acquaintance compliments me on my outfit and asks where I bought it. Flattered, I feel I've cracked the code and been accepted as a member of the fashion capital.
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