How Locals Dress: Paris vs. New York

Standing in front of the closet, I am in a whole pallet of emotional states, confused being the most prominent. My room is beautifully decorated with large, antique mirrors and modern paintings, all very colorful, which inspire me. For a few days, I want to forget about my New Yorker blacks and put on the most ridiculously colorful clothes. After all, I am traveling and traveling is nothing if not transformative. I want to transform but there is a problem: Parisians tone down, a lot! Anything but neutrals and blacks attract public attention! I mean they go out of their way to turn around and look at you with a disappointed expression of discontent.

“Oh my! Is that…Good heavens!..Fuchsia?” asked the eyes of every person on the subway the other day, when they saw a young, Asian woman with short, pink hair, who was wearing high-waisted, wide-legged, vintage jeans with pink socks underneath. So not…comment dire? Parisian. An arts student at Sorbonne? Or a visiting intern from Hong Kong, who came to work at Louis Vuitton Foundation to shake things up a little bit? Either way, she had to be a transplant and a daring one too to publicly break off the chains of neutrals. Her pink head stood out like an unripe grape in a bunch ready to become wine.  My heart melted for her. Just imagine how many women and men with hair in all colors of the rainbow you see on the subway on a daily basis in New York? So let’s put this on the side as number one style difference between the two cities: Paris: refined, restrictive, rule-abiding vs. New York: any freaking thing you want.

Then, I had to face another problem, which started even before I arrived in Paris while I was still packing: I felt obliged to represent. Normally, the only time that happens is when I am trying to prove a point. I tend to become my point entirely in an effort to enforce my message, so a walking enforcement of American brands I became. I left my lovely, little French apartment wearing a blue-green striped J. Crew sweater, jean leggings from GAP, a red coat from Zara (this was my only European affair), a burlap bag from FEED and purple-blue Brooks running shoes with orange strings. Though my red coat inevitably failed the test (see my note on neutrals), I want us to focus on the shoes, for a second.

I know I am a tourist (and despite all my disguise efforts, Parisians know it too) but did I really have to wear tourist shoes?? I could have went unnoticed despite the coat, but in a city with millions of women wearing nothing but oxfords and flat booties (in black or brown, but of course) I had to go ahead and put on the flashiest, running shoes ever made by mankind. It’s over. I am forever marked as a tourist and a disgrace for the fashionable elite. Worst of all, I did bring oxfords with me but they are gold. (Bass: another American brand. What is happening to me?) Even if I did wear them, weather is too cold to put on my black, leather jacket: a signature New Yorker item. I have to wear them with my red coat, which I quickly learn is illegal. Wearing one bright colored article of clothing is frowned upon but wearing two, at the same time…that’s against the French law. I mean it.

Having done everything within my power to disappoint stylistic Parisians, I decide to play the tourist card and retreat to my visiter corner to silently observe the locals. Besides I like my running shoes. They are the most comfortable walking devices ever created. In fact, I bet if the French created a miraculous brand like Brooks, they would have dumped the oxfords at a heartbeat. Until then, I’ll let them be the experts in classy, leather flat shoes and probably buy myself a pair while I am at it.

Here are a few details I was able to gather with my New Yorker eyes about how Parisians dress by occasion. (Another version of this could be grouped by neighborhood, which is currently in progress for both cities.)

Dining-out:

Paris: Have I mentioned leather oxfords? OK, now that that’s checked, let’s move on to tops. Maybe a white, silk, short-sleeved blouse with deep armholes? Because you spiced things up with a black, lace bra? Work it sister! Down below, I know you’re wearing black jeans. Make up? Please. This isn’t Maybelline; you are born with it. Though you are wearing rings. Who wouldn’t want to show off those gorgeous rubies and sapphires and emeralds? Amen.

New York: Dining-out in the city is about the self and nothing else! It is a sacred ritual, for which we do quite a lot of homework and wear literally whatever we want. Hello pink-hair? We like you! Also, we tend to put on red lipstick a lot. Hope that’s OK with you. It’ll come off after the third shot, or you’ll stop seeing entirely. Either way, you won’t have to freshen it up every 30 minutes, promise!

Opera:

Paris: Why should you dress differently for the Opera than you would for dining-out? In fact, you probably go for dinner, followed by the Opera right after. We get it. You’ve been at it for much longer than the rest of us. You’re too used to it now, it’s too much part of your daily life. You go to the Opera like New Yorkers go to the movies. OK, wear your leather flats and your high-end, leather tote. Fine, but I see that you did put on more jewelry than you usually do. Your earrings are a joy to look at! They are vintage Chanels, aren’t they? A family heirloom? Beautiful. Once again, Parisian woman, you achieved a simple yet highly chic look, you refined you!

New York: This is a great time to feel and be glamorous! Put on your high heels in any color, form or shape you want (maybe leave ‘60s platforms at home). Show off your legs, give us a little cleavage. You worked hard to maintain your professionalism all week. This is your night! Put some bling on. How does the song go? Shine bright like a diamond! You earned it. Also, wear the best and brightest coat of all times. Right outside of Lincoln Center, as you enter through the doors of the Metropolitan Opera, is when all eyes are on you. You want to stand out. We want to watch you. We still give the Opera the magic and glamor it deserves!

9am & 6pm rush hour on the subway:

Paris: Oh la la. How do they manage to look so similar yet maintain their individuality? The crowd is so monochrome but when you look at each woman individually, you see that they in fact dress very differently. One could be wearing a black cashmere coat in fitted-cut while another wears a black wool, bell-shaped coat. Yet a third one is wearing a black cape. Is that leather? Wow, never seen a fully leather cape. That’s what I call unique within a defined format. The shoes? You know about the shoes. Still the oxfords but they are pretty so one doesn’t get tired of them though one does start to wonder: do they ever hurt your feet? Does no one have bunions in Paris?  

New York: We are practical. That allows for longer hours at work and easier mornings. If we wanted to underline our individuality with clothes, we would have moved to San Francisco. Work means black or gray at best. Black two-piece suit for men, occasionally with stripes or blue or both. Black skirt and jacket for women, with an occasional touch of red somewhere and possible addition of pearl or silver jewelry. Flat Torys. Represent, remember?

Walking the dog:

Paris: A champagne turtleneck sweater, sleeves slightly rolled to show Cartier watch. Black, wool pleated pants, just above the ankles, enough to show sheer, black trouser socks. Black peacock jacket with a hoodie. The hoodie is down of course, because does anyone wear hoodies? Aren’t they just a fun feast for the eye? Black, leather oxfords with black tassel.

New York: Have I mentioned we are practical when we want to save time? A hoodie sweater with the hoodie on weather-permitting. A puffy vest: the puffier, the better. Yoga pants and bright running shoes.