Sep 21st, 2017, 08:39 PM

Style Habits to Give Up (or Adopt) When Moving to Paris

By Lindsey Joy
Image Credit: Wearohwhere
When looking for the differences between French and American styles, it's the little details that count.

Countless articles and books have been written about French women’s style — how to adopt it, how to exemplify it, how to become it.

I have probably read most of them — everything from How to Be a Parisian Wherever You Are to French Women Don’t Get Fat. They are all entertaining, sometimes inspiring for new fashion choices, and mostly (in my opinion) correct in their observations of French women and their style. But now that I have made the jump across the pond and am living in the City of Light myself, it’s the little details — beyond the obvious assertions of wearing all black, giving up exercise, and taking up smoking — that make the difference between French and American styles.

Most women interested in fashion have a general idea of the basics of French style: wear monochrome, neutral colors and sexy lingerie, let your hair go natural and frizzy, spritz Chanel No. 5, invest in good skin-care, and adopt a more natural make-up routine, perhaps with a bold red lip punch. But I am a detail person. Sometimes my inability to “see the forest through the trees” gets me in trouble. Still, identifying specific aspects of le style français can be helpful. So here are some observations I have made since moving to Paris.

1. Give Your Eyeliner the Day Off.

Almost any bystander, even one not interested in fashion or make-up, should recognize that French women wear less make-up and have a more “natural” look when it comes to their visage. Things noticeably absent: Kardashian false eyelashes, perfectly coiffed/styled/curled/blown-out hair, and caked-on foundation with bronzer/highlighter/contour. However, what’s the small difference that I have noticed that seems to make a BIG difference? The absence of eyeliner. You probably wouldn’t think this would be the major component of the French make-up look (or “un-look"), but upon closer inspection of the chic girls in the Métro every day, I have noticed that most of them don’t have eyeliner on. While in America, we girls are spending copious amounts of time trying to perfect an equally symmetrical wing-tipped cat-eye, the French look is refreshingly doe-eyed, awake, and — dare I say it — young, without ANY liner. So, if for no other reason but to try and fit in, I have found myself reluctantly putting my eyeliner back in my make-up bag most days and I am slowly warming up to the results. If you want to take it one step further, skip your mascara too. It’s also (but not always) absent on French women’s eyes. But let’s not get too crazy now….baby steps, right?

Image Credit: flickr/merciacoventry

2. Put Your Tweezers Down.

In in the same vein, another element in your make-up bag that needs a day off: Your tweezers. I have to admit, this is one that I'm still struggling with. Not to brag, but one of the things I get complimented on the most by other women specifically are my eyebrows. Seriously, I’ve had complete strangers stop me in malls asking me where I get my eyebrows done. I would look at them a little puzzled (and self-satisfied) when explaining to them that I do my own. It’s a little embarrassing how much time I can spend trying to ensure my brows are perfectly arched, defined, and symmetrical to each other — especially if you get me in a hotel with one of those magnified mirrors. Don’t even bother expecting me to be ready to go in time. But the look in the Parisian streets (and this could just be a passing fad) is a more natural, bushy looking brow line, à la Brooke Shields (“nothing comes between me and my Calvins”). So, begrudgingly, I have vowed not to pluck my eyebrows for a month (besides the obvious stray ones in the middle….a uni-brow is never in style, unless you are Frida Kahlo) to see what I think about the results. Stay tuned.

3. Before You Leave the House, Remove 2 Pieces of Jewelry.

Your grandmother’s (and Coco Chanel’s) rule of thumb still stands. In France, there is no such thing as “statement” jewelry pieces. My first week here, I went to dinner at a restaurant wearing dangly, linear crystal earrings. The bartender asked what I do and I said I worked in fashion. A look of bemused recognition flashed across his face as he replied, “Ahh! That’s why you are wearing those earrings.” Because a normal French woman would never wear such “loud” earrings to dinner, bien sûr, even to a fancy dinner. Making a statement with accessories here is, paradoxically, not making a statement (unless it’s your handbag, see below). Here, it is all about simple, dainty, classic pieces that you are most likely only wearing, because they hold some type of sentimental value to you. Or feel confident wearing no jewelry at all! And please, do not wear any hair accessories. Decorative clips, sparkly headbands, tiaras — all belong on the competitive skating rink, not on Paris streets.

4. Trade in Your Louis Vuitton.

In affluent suburban America, the “it” bag of choice for business women and soccer moms alike is the Louis Vuitton Neverfull tote. Granted, you have variety between color, ensigna etc, but nevertheless, it is a type of fashionable rite-of-passage. Despite LV’s home being right here in the center of Paris, I was surprised that I rarely see one of their signature bags on the shoulders of French women. Only tourists have them. For French women, the it-bag of choice is the LV Neverfull’s European cousin: the Goyard Saint-Louis or Artois tote. Like the NF, there are different colors — blue, grey, red etc. But the concept is the same. All-purpose. Large-enough. Coated Canvas. Now, if you want to be a little more original (and a little more chic), the Celine luggage tote, a chained Chanel shoulder bag, or a Yves Saint Laurent crossbody will also work very well. And the it-bag here is not just for the upper echelon. This is something the average Parisian invests in, even when the rest of their outfit is from Zara or Mango. A classic, chic bag makes a statement that you know style and have style, even if the rest of your look is minimalistic and sans brands/logos.

Image Credit: Pinterest/Sonoko Kato

5. Dump Out Your Purse and Fill It with the Following Items:

Umbrella. You do not want to get caught in the rain with a mile to go before you get to the nearest metro station. And you Never. Know. When. It. Is. Going. To. Rain. Even if the forecast says only 20 percent chance of rain, it seems to always happen.
Plastic Shopping Bag. The concept of Costco doesn’t exist here. Parisians buy food for what they are eating that day. Upside? There are dozens of fresh markets everywhere in the city. Downside? Stores have all but banished plastic and paper bags. You have to bring your own shopping bag, or buy a canvas one at the store (not super expensive, but still). And nothing is more irritating than walking home and remembering you need some haricots verts for dinner, but you have nowhere to put them and you are determined not to add a tenth canvas bag from Monoprix to your growing acquisitions.
• Travel Sized Deodorant. I now know why Parisians get a bad rep for being smelly when it’s 92 degrees outside and you are walking 13 miles around the city in one day, and then getting crammed into an over-crowded Métro car. You’re going to be smelly! Help your fellow pedestrians out by being part of the solution, and not part of the problem.
• Roller Ball Perfume. See above.
• Blotting Papers. Also helpful in the heat when you are getting all sweaty.
• Something to Read. You never know when the train is going to stop for technical/maintenance/whatever issues. And in France, quelques (a few) minutes to solve the “issue” can mean 20 minutes. And if you don’t have service on your phone, those 20 minutes are going to be more boring and painful than watching a game of American golf on TV.

6. Throw Away Your Favorite Accessory: The Starbucks Cup.

In most American cities, people you walk by on the street have two things in their hands: a cell phone in one and a Starbucks to-go cup in the other. In Paris, people drink espresso and they drink it fast. Despite lingering for hours at sidewalk cafes, the French do not get Venti anything, do not take three hours to drink it, and certainly do not warm it up in the microwave three times like I normally do. I thought I was being practical by buying my own “café filter” machine here so I could still enjoy my morning coffee without spending $4.00 for a simple black coffee. But it wasn’t until I put my coffee in a Yeti and hopped on the packed Paris metro car at 8:30 in the morning that I realized something was off. I was getting some serious side eye and I didn’t know why. Then I looked around and realized no one had a coffee cup in his or her hand —not a canister from home, not a Starbuck’s cup, nothing. It was then I realized how foreign this concept was here and how, while I still might enjoy my morning cup of Joe at home, I damn well better be finished with it by the time I walked out my door.

Image Credit: hystericalemotion

7. Get Used to “Basic” Nails.

There are no such things as the $20 cheap nail salons on every corner. Sure, there are a plethora of nail salons in Paris, but a gel manicure is going to put you back at least $60 and a regular pedi, probably $80. Definitely not within my student budget. So either get used to wearing basic nails or start practicing your own aesthetician skills. Mani/Pedis are definitely saved for a “special” treat. And please, leave nail art, fake nails, and French manicures back home in the States.

8. Hang Up Your Louboutins.

I have been in France now for four weeks and you know how many times I have worn heels? Once. You walk everywhere here. And being a retail girl, I thought my half a dozen pairs of black flats would cut it here and still be stylish. I was grossly mistaken. Wearing the flats I wear back home for ten hours at work feels like I am walking barefoot here after five minutes. The cobblestones, the uneven pavement — you need good walking shoes. That being said, don’t despair, everyone wears flats here and you can find comfortable sneakers that are also fashionable. Want to fit in even more? Don’t: Nikes. Do: Stan Smith for Adidas (they are everywhere). So unless you have the financial means to have a personal driver take you everywhere, or you have stock in Uber, get prepared for a life three inches shorter than what you are used to.

Image Credit: kicksonfire

9. Watch Where You Step.

While we are on the topic of walking, watch where you are walking- literally. One of the less "attractive” aspects of the city is that the French are notorious for not cleaning up after their dogs. Unlike in the States where most states, especially New York, have adopted strict “pooper scooper” laws associated with heavy fines for not cleaning up after your dog, there are no pooper scooper laws in Paris at all. Business owners wash the streets every morning and I guess the thought process is the “remains” get washed away that way? So, unless you want to ruin your brand new, sparkling white Stan Smiths (see above), try not to get too caught up with looking at all the pretty sights above.