Friday, March 27, 2009

Fashion Police

Add to Google Reader or HomepageEveryone knows that I have no right to make observations about fashion. I consider myself “à la mode” when my socks match. Nonetheless, I have admired French fashions that we encounter everyday. Evidemment, Vaison la Romaine is not Paris and fashion is more casual here than there but it is not “à la mode mid-ouest” either.

One of the most enduring, albeit surprising, fashion statements is Converse Allstar basketball shoes. I am referring to “high tops” though young adults – men and women – wear low ones as well. These were the basketball shoes of choice when I was in high school (back in the days when a peach basket with the bottom missing served as the basket.) You can get “Chuck Taylor” Allstars in canvas or leather; in almost any color you want; with designs printed on the shoes or not… There aren’t a lot of people my age wearing Converse Allstars but I suspect that it is because the shoes don’t accommodate orthotics well. (Our French teacher was wearing a pair – red leather - today!)

The second most common footwear among women is high boots with high heels and pointed toes. (Toes with such acute points that one could kill the spider in the corner…) One rarely sees plain leather boots. The boots need straps or buckles or laces or zippers or combinations of all of those…

Falling from the fashion charts are Puma athletic shoes though I still see them fairly often. These are Puma track shoes – very light with what appears to be very little structure but with the Puma trademark stripe/swoosh on the sides.

A definite “This is an American” marker is a pair of Nikes or Adidas or Reebooks or any of the footwear that Americans wear less as a fashion statement and more as a “fitness” statement (though there is a limited – if any – correlation between fitness and what one wears on one’s feet.)

Ten years ago, Ellen objected to my plan to bring jeans to France as part of my wardrobe. TIMES HAVE CHANGED. Jeans are ubiquitous (I think that means expensive). The more expensive, the better… One way to earn money here in France would be to bring American jeans and sell them in the market. Levi Strauss, Lee and Wrangler are all very popular here – and cost about three times as much as in the states. French boys wear their jeans just like American teens – baggy and defying gravity. Women wear TIGHT jeans. The majority of women wearing jeans are so thin that their inner thighs don’t touch. Both young men and young women seem to like jeans with extra details like zippers as closures for pockets, laces, rhinestones, embroidery…

If women are wearing skirts or dresses, the skirts will most likely be black and often will have irregular hems – points rather than straight hems. It seems that the mode this year is to take different fabrics, piece them together and then sew them as a dress or skirt – and then adorn the creation with buttons or laces or rhinestones… The exceptions to straight hems are sweater dresses – or just sweaters – that fall centimeters below the butt line… Whether it is jeans or slacks or skirts or dresses, women use belts (huge, wide, ornate belts) to complete the statement.

I am surprised how often people have shirts or sweatshirts or blouses or sweaters that have an American logo or an American expression on them. Women’s tops have to be designed to show off the lingerie for which women seem to spend a fortune. Given the number of lingerie shops in Vaison la Romaine, I would venture a guess that a good foundation is second only to good eyesight (there are more optical shops than any other type of boutique.) French people/Europeans seem to buy dramatic glass frames that shout “Hey! Look at me!”

The scarf is the final touch to a complete look. Scarves are more prevalent than jeans though equally expensive. In one sense, it seems counter-productive that, after putting together lingerie and a top, a woman will cover both with a scarf – but scarves do keep you warmer. Speaking of warmer, since we have spent the winter here, we have seen a lot of hats. Berets are extremely popular (duh!) for both women and men. For men, hats with brims seem to be the most popular, but baseball caps are gaining popularity.

So, if you are wearing black and/or Chuck Taylors, smile! You ARE à la mode!