I was walking up Oxford High Street on a Sunday afternoon when I spotted a girl wearing skinny black jeans, Velcro Stan Smiths, a white crew neck jumper, a long black coat, and a black hat. Monochromatic girl, as I have called her ever since, looked particularly chic next to the indie-grunge humanities students just emerging from their beds at 3pm, still hungover and heading to McDonald’s.
I bet you she’s French, I said to myself, and sure enough, as we crossed paths, I overheard her phone conversation: “Non mais j’en peux plus de ce mec. Il s’est fait de la School la dernière fois qu’on est sorti tous ensemble.” Those two sentences told me everything I needed to know, or rather confirmed everything I already knew (and despised) about ‘the Parisian’.
I spent my secondary school years at London’s French Lycée, where the absence of a school uniform meant succumbing to popular trends (such as being dressed top to toe in Abercrombie from 2010 – 2012). The school’s cultural and stylistic demographics changed drastically in 2012 with the sudden influx of rich Parisians fleeing Hollande’s 45% tax rate. No more did Uggs and velvet sportswear plague the courtyard and classroom. Converse were quickly replaced by sturdy (and expensive) sport shoes, and black vests took over Hollister t-shirts, and Gap puffer jackets were discarded in favour of Canada Goose versions.
The Parisian stronghold altered the vibes and set new standards for us Franco-English plebs to imitate. The British section of our school that year laughed at our monotonous, conservative style, whilst they enjoyed mixing stripes with dots and vintage denim jackets as well as wavy orange trousers courtesy of the History department’s trip to India. Their idea of standards was not to have any, and they emulated the look of English school kids on weekends.
The French students wanted to show that they too could be artsy and hipster. But they did it in a more codified and chic way. Wavy garms weren’t acceptable, but alternative brand names were encouraged. Three boys in my year set up their own brand called ‘Nola Grant’. No one ever really understood where the ‘Grant’ came from, but Nola was short for ‘No One Likes Average.’ Their creations were a disappointment to say the least.
The clothes were designed to be street chic, styles which could have been copied direct from Kendall Jenner’s Instagram page. This was drawn from what is known as ‘Parisian Style’: to blend in yet stand out, to wear the same clothes as everyone else, but wear them better, thus upholding one of fashion’s main success staples—it’s not about what clothes you wear, but about how you wear them.
To a certain extent, these ideals do t with those true to ‘the Parisian’. Monochromatic skin-tight clothes go hand in hand with a stylish walk and a straight, composed posture (combined, of course, with a snobby air of utter disdain). Parisian style is part of a cultural attitude, the costume of a social type that smokes Camel cigarettes whilst gently sipping a Perrier on one of the outdoor tables at La Muette.
But most Parisians are aware of the deprecating implications of their city’s label. My Parisian mother is the first to mock the bourgeois 16th arrondissement lifestyle and aesthetic. Monochromatic, monotonous and monocultural, Parisian style is similar to the Parisian mindset: conservative, bleak and narrow-minded.
I always chuckle when my English friends talk about Paris as the city of love, or when French history textbooks proclaim that it’s the city of lights, progress and tolerance. The harsh truth is that 21st century Parisians are quite regressive. Just look at Marine Le Pen’s position in the polls. Republican propaganda (I’m looking at you too, Fillon) is merely a mask for xenophobia, homophobia and conservatism. Non-conformity and radicalism are deplored in Fillon’s official campaign video. His desire to preserve French integrity involves the rejection of cultural exchange: he preaches national unity, yet targets minority groups as the sources of economic meltdown and terrorist proliferation in France.
The Parisian fashion scene is the same. Where were the hijabs at fashion week? Where are the famous French black models? Are there any French models above a size 3? Casting out differences for the sake of homogenity means reinforcing the white Catholic middle-class norm that is ‘the Parisian’. French designers seriously need to rethink the way they see their city, and their city within a larger, diverse country.
‘The Parisian’ is not all Parisians and the term’s totalising nature unwittingly highlights the social and cultural segregation in a city dominated by middle-class Fillon voters, where council ats are restricted to the outskirts so as not to ‘stain’ the beauty of the sandstone Haussmann cityscape. Entrenched and marginalised, the ‘other Parisians’ who cannot fit the ‘true Parisian’ mould show us that fashion, politics and social demographics remain intrinsically linked.