The Parisian Girl
I’ve had a fascination with the French for years, and the world has had a fascination with the great nation for centuries. Once a cultural hub for fashion and trends, often the language of the nobles and always a stunning city, the revolutionary capital of the world has always had a place on the world stage. But the centre of that stage, has, and will always be, the Parisian girl.
Whether or not they are a world power – they are technically not – the French have a certain je ne sais quoi that gives them international influence. One of the worlds first civil nations, France was a hub for the Jewish escaping Russian pogroms, for African Americans, and for the proletariat. Full of workers, designers, and creatives, Paris is my spiritual home, regardless of whether or not I’ve nailed that elusive Parisian Girl style.
It’s an odd thing to analyze the culture that I’ve spent so much time idolizing. I have so many books on my shelf about ‘Paris Style’ and ‘How to be a Parisian’, and yet there is something so elusive about it. I was always told that if you took only one thing from a book you were winning; from all my ‘research’ (buying expensive books to try an emulate the Parisian Woman) I’ve deduced one thing; Parisian women are entirely their own.
These wonderful women – the local ones, that is – are practical, comfortable and self-aware, totally comfortable in their own skin and oblivious to external pressures. Ines La Freige, the writer of several Paris Chic how-to’s, talks about ballet flats being as ‘sexy’ as heels, because you want them to, and discusses washing her hair every morning to wake up, a distinct no-no in all hair care books. Does she care? Nope. This is how I think of the French. Everything in moderation, everything for pleasure.
If I could sum French women up in one word, it would be indulgent. Just incredibly, beautifully, indulgent, in ways in which I have never seen in other countries. Freud had a theory about the ID, the EGO, and the SUPEREGO. The ID being your logic and reason, the EGO being your pleasure principle and your SUPER EGO being your moral principles.
I like to think of French women as living a little by their ego; they drink red wine at lunchtime, but only one glass; purchase one beautiful thing instead of five practical things; take their small children out to dinner and stay late because they want to, regardless of whether the child is enjoying themselves or not. They will live their own life, not ruled by societal rules, guidebooks or their children. They are entirely their own women.
The History of France
A great deal of France was totally destroyed by the bombings in the World Wars, and though considered a cultural hub, the French are historically not particularly skilled at fighting wars. In the First World War, many soldiers were sent into the trenches in their traditional military uniform – fit with tasseled fez and blue and white military jacket. In both wars, Germany invaded France, although in the Second World War the effects were far more devastating. Luckily, a great deal of the wonderful architecture still stands. Rhode France handed over and effectively murdered the majority of their Jewish population without much assistance of the prevailing Nazi forces.
Of course, France has since redeemed herself, in art, culture and remembrance. The city is almost entirely a historical monument – from the Opera house that was the birthplace of the phantom of the opera (due to the underground lake that stopped building proceedings for several years) to the roads themselves, which were gravelled and paved to stop revolutionaries ripping the unsecured road pavers up and chucking them at the armed forces.
History and the Parisian
There is something particularly wonderful about this philosophy, and I personally believe that it dates back to the revolutionary days. In the later stages of the French Revolution, women were allowed as many liberties as men; in fact, it was the ‘fishwives’ (meaning, the women who worked in the fish market) that forced Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette out of Versailles, not the armed men. There’s something so powerful about this concept, and I think that it carries into everyday society.
The women of France are not defined by men. More often than not, you see a woman talking over her partner, a woman leading the way, a woman generally in charge. Moreover, the men of France seem to have a distinct amount of respect for this. A young waiter en un creperie described it to me as thus; ‘only little boys want women they can control’. He went on to tell me that ‘l’homme de francais’ want women that are ‘entirely their own’. Though I’m 90% sure he said that to hit on me (I ran away), he’s not particularly wrong.
It’s a very modern ideology, but it’s easy to understand. In France, the individual is the desired, rather than one of the masses. Of all the style tips that I have to bestow on you, this one is by far my favorite; be your own woman (yes ladies, I said woman – past the age of 18, the French see you as a woman) and own it. Men will come of their own accord.
Travelling to France
There’s a common misconception that the French are sharp and rude – I would put to you that perhaps, you are the one being rude. An old friend of my parents, born in Czechoslovakia, speaking both Czech and German, refuses to speak any French in France, stating that their insistence on their language was punishable…by his own rudeness.
Trying to speak, even a little, is a gesture that shows that you understand that you are in their country. Many global papers indicate that one day we will see a globalized language and a meshing of cultures across the world. The French’s insistence on keeping their language and culture is a refreshing take on globalization.
This is the entire spurring point of France. They have always been at the forefront of social change, and with the recent election, they will remain so. They were at the forefront of the gay rights movement (don’t even try to pretend that fashion-inclined gay men aren’t at the forefront of fashion), they were at the forefront of the ethical movement (which will forever have an effect on the fashion movement) and they continue to fight for democracy. What more can you ask for?
Where to go
France is both a historian’s and an anthropologists dream, as culture flows not only from Paris but from her many Provinces. From Nantes to Nice, each city has something to offer the wandering traveler.This article was written on a bus from Rodez, a charming hillside village en le sud to Montpelier. Hopefully, I am my way to see a half decent beach for the first time in months.
Places worth visiting are Toulouse, Nantes, Marseille and Nice, each city of which has something different to offer than Paris. Each boasting their own unique architecture, getting out of the center is well worth it.
In summer, even this hard-hearted (cough half Irish) Australian will tell you that it’s too warm. Cities like Montpellier and Marseille are where the Parisians flock too, leaving local stores closed for August.
Visiting these cities was the closest I’d come to seeing my home in months. Filled with denim-clad young women, I felt more at home than I did in Dublin. The only thing that was missing was the garish board shorts that Aussie men don for summer.
This was a refreshing taste of home for me. One waitress explained; ‘ French women dress for themselves and for practicality. The weather does determine what they put on in the morning because they know they cannot outdo Mother Nature – they simply have to take what she throws at them’. In other words, Mother Nature is the ultimate authority and a French woman will not suffer her comfort for fashion; she’d rather side with the weather.
With the Parisian style such a sought-after commodity, many natives have capitalized, from brick-and-mortar stores to books, to online e-shops. The most successful has been Jeanne Damas’ estore Rouje, which seems to epitomise Parisian style. Shop the store in the Credit Link above.
 Civil, meaning you become a part of the nation by abiding by civil rules, as opposed to ethnic ones
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