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Stealing French Style

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Paris. An entire summer. I couldn't wait. I would live life as a local. I would go to the markets for fresh cheese, sip cafes au lait in the Marais, Rollerblade around the Rue de Rivoli on Thursday nights. Within a few days I would be unmistakably French. But what would I wear? Would my style translate? Would I ever look as cool as Jane Birkin? Oh, wait -- she's English. But she does have an Hermes bag named after her
What is French style anyway? I thought I was going to see berets, striped tees, sleek capri pants, ballet slippers, and scarves tied more ways than a first date's tongue. Instead, I saw prairie skirts, tank tops, flip-flops, tousled ponytails, and bronze skin. And this was on the French women. Where was I -- Paris or Malibu? Didn't I just see Cameron Diaz wearing that exact prairie skirt in Us Weekly, or was that Hello!? Or OK!? (I just like typing magazine titles with exclamation points!) I didn't want prairie skirts and Birkenstocks; I wanted pencil skirts and pumps. But where were they? I had to investigate further.
In an attempt to assimilate I spent the first few weeks putting my hair in a French twist -- and having it fall down the second I walked away from the mirror. I also practiced keeping my mouth in that perpetual "ooh" position in case I needed to exclaim "Ooh la la!" over perfect croissants. (The "ooh" mouth also works for looking bored. It's an all-around useful mouth position.)
As I discovered, French women can look so chic wearing the least amount of stuff. Even when they're dressed, they look stripped. So I removed my bracelets, necklaces, dangling earrings, studded belt, and oversize purse. But I didn't feel chic; I felt naked -- which is what most French women are in Saint-Tropez, and which I will never be in public.
But what better way to aid in my quest for chic than going to the haute-couture shows? Then, perhaps, I could "steal" some French style. One problem, though: The shows were happening in the midst of a horrible heat wave. All decisions about style went out the fenetre with the heat. Being cool physically trumped being cool clothing-wise.
So off to Dior I went. I wore a vintage (code for a few seasons old) Prada sleeveless shift to keep cool. As if anyone was checking me out. I was surrounded by Oscar-winning actresses and rock stars who looked perfect. I watched two massive black horses harnessed to a sinister black carriage carry Erin O'Connor around a tent in the Bois du Boulogne. I kept imagining that they would somehow untether themselves and come straight for me, indiscriminately trampling models and celebrities on their way to freedom and fresh air. The headline would read, "Horses Fine, American in Old Dress Breaks Legs." Horses aside, I was still riveted by the models' Eiffel Tower-esque high heels sinking into a gravel runway that looked like crushed black diamonds. I thought, Maybe it's more heels that I need in my life as a pseudo-francçaise.
Step two of my French lessons: Chanel. (Question: How did Karl Lagerfeld, in his high-collared, perfectly pressed white shirt, black suit, and gloves, not faint from the heat? There was no fan in his hand, people!) All I could think about was taking a shower. And should I be in those knee-high black leather boots from the fall collection? Is that French style? Would that work in car pool

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