I’m certainly not the first person to muse about this (nor will I be the last), but Parisians have a thing about black. Or, more precisely, they have a thing about not wearing too much colour.
I first learnt this from my former housemate (a lovely Parisian) who told me that you should not wear more than two colours at a time. So, me wearing a pink and grey chequered dress with a gold scarf and purple ballerina flats, “ça va pas quoi”. “You have to take off at least one colour before you leave the house,” I was told (in the nicest possible way).
This does not come naturally to me – I come from a country of bright colours and sunny prints (mister zimi being my favourite) where it is socially acceptable to wear clashing fluoro “active wear” almost all of the time (click here if you do not believe me).
But slowly, over the course of the years, I have found myself toning it down a notch. When I showed my purchases from the recent soldes to a girlfriend she commented that everything I had bought was black. “You’ve changed!” she said. Sure, it has something to do with the fact that we’re in winter at the moment (and it’s true that, even in Melbourne, people tend to wear darker colours in the colder months) but there’s got to be more to it than that.
So why is it that Parisians wear so much black? There are lots of theories – black is chic, timeless, slimming – all important things for Paris-folk. But it may come down to something about fitting in with the crowd. Parisians are not naturally extroverted when it comes to fashion. It is almost better to conform than to se faire remarquer (to be noticed). As one Parisian explained to me recently, there is comfort in wearing the same thing as everyone else – at least that way you know you’re not “Has-been” (an English phrase the French love to use, which is another blog post in itself).
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. The most obvious (and my favourite) is the “red pants on Fridays” rule chez les mecs (for guys). At my office, on Fridays even the most conservative French males will wear red pants to signify the coming week-end. It’s like they’ve got one foot in the office and one foot in their country house (à la campagne), pastis in hand and ready for the first round of pétanque. It’s defiant, but then again it’s not that defiant, because everyone else is doing it.
Another example: we went to a beautiful country wedding of a dear Parisian friend a while ago. After a raucous, napkin-waving marquee reception on the Saturday night we were all invited back for a brunch on the Sunday morning. There was no official dress code. “What to wear?” my non-Parisian better half asked me. “Easy,” I said – “Coloured pants and a white collared shirt.” And boy was I right. We arrived to a sea of coloured slacks in every shade of the rainbow – red, pink, green, mustard, blue, you name it. Once again, the Parisians had nailed it – fitting in, but with just the right amount of colour to look at once chic and effortlessly décontracté (relaxed).
There are other signs of change in the air. The recent surge in popularity of CrossFit (I go to Reebok Crossfit Louvre and highly recommend it), competitive/social running groups (e.g. Boost Pigalle), boot camps (e.g. CYD) and outdoor exercising generally (vale the passing of La Gym Suédoise (Swedish Gym) and Aqua Biking, two exercise concepts that Parisians love but I never fully understood) has meant the active wear phenomenon has hit Paris with a vengeance. I was recently super excited to see that Lululemon – the cult Vancouver-based yoga and active wear company – has even opened its first showroom in the Marais. I was thus not surprised to see this shop window on my walk to work a few days ago:
Fluoro colours! Clashing colours! More than two colours! This was all good news for me. Only time will tell if the colour/fitness trend will suffer the same fate as the Dukan Diet and Minitel, or become a part of French life, even after it goes out of fashion in the rest of the world (ahem, rollerblading and razor scooters). For my sake and for the sake of all colour-loving expats in France, I sincerely hope for the latter.
*Credit for this blog idea to my friend Blake, a fellow colour-loving nearly-Parisian