Paris Travel Tales
Chapter 5: Café Life and the Eternal Question - What Makes Parisians So Stylish?
On this trip, Samantha and I spend a lot of time at Parisian cafes. We sat at outside cafes in the famous tourists areas such as the Marais, the Opera, the Latin Quarter, the Tuileries, St. Germain des Pres, Ile St. Louis, Montmartre and the Champs Elysees. We sat in cafes outside the tourist thoroughfares in the Place de Republique, the Canal St. Martin, the Batignolles, Place de Clichy, and La Villette. I guess that saying we hung out in dozens of cafes may be an understatement.
Since this is our "Eat, Drink and Be Merry Parisian Tour", soaking in the sights while sipping champagne in cafes all over Paris seems appropriate. Samantha is a self-proclaimed "shopoholic" and lives to explore Paris with an eye for items that she can't find in the States. Normally, we would mix "cafe hopping" with "shopping until we drop". But, the deplorable state of the dollar has even affected Samantha's willingness to buy.
We decide to spend our money and time on experiences instead of stuff. Regardless of the exchange rate, this is a good travel strategy. Looking back, I remember the wild times I've had with Samantha in Paris more than the purses and shoes I've collected on our trips over the years.
It may sound like a lame vacation spending a week in cafes, but there is something very satisfying about Paris cafe culture. From the wicker chairs, to the harried wait staff, to the familiar menus of croque monsieurs and salad nicoise, I am completely content and relaxed whiling away the days in Parisian cafes.
Why is Paris cafe culture so seductive? Sociologists believe that "People derive pleasure from watching others engage in pleasurable acts. Thus, the popularity of European cafes." What can be more pleasurable than a leisurely drink, a quiet conversation with a friend, while watching the flow of Parisian life occurring right in front of you. This icing on the cake is knowing that you are sharing this experience with dozens of people around you. The cafe is a theater and you are sitting in the audience of a long-running performance called "Parisian Life'.
Most days our cafe chit-chat eventually turns from personal matters to the more entertaining subject of people watching. We watch as Parisians from all walks of life pass by our path. I point to a Parisian woman wearing the a trendy swing coat, short skirt and heeled boots, and tell Samantha about my attempt to be fashionable on this trip.
"I bought a swing coat like that one"
"You did", Samantha asks, "Where is it? How come I haven't seen you wear it?" I relate to Samantha how I was "this" close to being a fashion victim.
A few days before our trip. I bounced up to WT in my smashing new outfit that looked like this one, but all in black with a white trim around the collar of the swing jacket, and fuller arms.
WT looks up from his computer were he is working and chokes back a laugh. "Hey, Flying Nun."
Did he just call me a "Flying Nun. WTF?"
"What did you say?"
"You look like a Nun that could fly away. With all that black and sleeves like wings."
"I wanted a new jacket for my trip and this is the style that's all the rage right now. " I pout, "And, it was on sale."
WT laughs, "Imagine that. They couldn't sale your Batgirl jacket at full price."
I must of looked hurt, because he softened his tone. "Look, you have lots of clothes that look great on you. Just wear what you always wear." Spoken like a true male.
"I'll think about it." I stomp off to our bedroom to examine my fashionable outfit in a full length mirror. I raise my arms up, then down. Oh my God. My arms are really flapping. I do look like Batgirl or a deranged nun.
Being a petite 5' 1", the wide, flowing arm sleeves were overwhelming on me. What was I thinking. I hurriedly rip off the jacket, dump it in a shopping bag to return, and begin filling my suitcase with my "tried and true" travel wardrobe of black pants, skirts and structured jackets.
After telling this story, Samantha nods in sympathy. It stinks when the latest trend just doesn't work for you. Which happens to me a lot. Being about 5 feet tall and a classic pear shape, clothes aren't exactly designed for my body type.
"I think being told that you look like a nun is more unsexy than being told that you look fat in an outfit. What do you think?"
"Yep", Samantha says, "You can be overweight and still hot. But, I don't think anyone would think of a nun that way unless they had some kind of kinky fetish." We giggle. "You know I've read a quote where someone says , "Parisian women are sexy at any age, because they dress for men. Whereas, American women dress for other women. There may be something to that. Luckily, WT saved you from being a Fashion Victim."
We eye up the women walking by and notice two things. One, Parisian women seem to dress their age. You don't see women who are "of a certain age" wearing clothes off the rack from "Forever 21". You also don't see young girls or tweens wearing skin revealing styles and make-up sporting the "12 going on 25" look popular at my local mall. Parisian women seem to have a natural balance between dressing stylish and embracing where there are in life. Its refreshing.
The men, as always, look classically stylish. Blazer, sports coats, and tailored pants. Pants are cut to fit, not baggy. And, Parisian men are not afraid to experiment with color. You'll see ties and dress-shirts in luscious lavenders, magenta, and cucumber green. More so, even than the women, Parisian men dress a "step up" from their American counterparts.
In our hometown, WT lives in running shoes, Levi's with holes in the knee, and a bright red LL Bean Anorak that I bought him twenty years ago. When we lived in Paris, he would not be caught outside of our apartment in clothes so beat up and casual looking. For someone that cares nothing about fashion, he instinctively dressed the part of a Parisian gentleman. I have to look at the pictures of him chasing our kids at the playground in black cashmere sport coat to remember that in Paris he dressed like a different person.
When I ask him about this at home, he'll say, "When in Rome..." And he'll remind me, "We're not in Rome now." And, I force myself not to argue and to think, "C' est l'vie".
(To be Continued...)
Photo Credits: Swing Jacket Nordstrom, Inc. All other photos property of Paris Escapes.
Author: Cheryl Montgomery