One of the most fascinating things when immersing yourself in a new culture is observing the fashion of your peers. When I came to France I didn’t really expect the typical sleek, thin stereotype but I did know Britain’s reputation as, to put it mildly, ‘tacky’. Here are a few of my general observations when out and about.
First of all, in France there is a more conscious effort to wear a subdued pallete. Creams, blacks and browns take precedence whereas I, as the queen of colour and patterns, stick out like a sore thumb. There is a much more conscious effort to fit in rather than stand out, or, as my French friend put it, ‘to be chic’. In shops it is a lot harder to find bright coloured clothing, and I had to trek to Hollister for a bright pink shirt that I just needed. When I lived in the South of France there was an old woman who sat in cafes in a main square and made me sit with her occasionally because ‘I was different’. In these very awkward encounters, which meant I used to walk the long way home to avoid her, I once asked her HOW I was different. She gestured at my chest and my hair and said something about colour. Whereas I never changed my hair colour or love of patterns I did start wearing higher necklines after that.
In my University environment (at Nottingham) I have seen many girls wearing hoodies and leggings, or tracksuits to university whereas that would be frowned upon here. I don’t think I have ever seen a French girl wearing a hoody. Also, while the French are more casual in general they carry off leather trousers and double denim with such an unnerving ease. B*Witched would have been very jealous. Tuition here is much cheaper than England and many students attend the university nearest to them, rather than move away from home. There is less need, therefore, to try and impress people. There are also a lot more older people who attend university here: in my Swedish class, for example, there are at least 10 people over 23, and 2 or 3 over 30. The need to make an impression is far less, and comfort takes much more precendence than style.
My tram to university passes a French high school, and it means for the next two stops I have to sit next to French students. What I have noticed also is that French 14 year olds LOOK like 14 years olds. In the UK it seems to me that teenagers (tweenagers?) grow up so quickly. I remember I was wearing child clothes when I was 11 and then wanted to be cool and shop in New Look when I was 12. Here, I feel that there is far less general sexualisation of children and teenagers.
The grungey or goth look has also infiltrated more into the mainstream. Whereas in England I personally associate the grunge subculture as a teenage thing which many people have grown out of by the age of 18 or 19, in France it is prevalant among every age group. Men have long hair in pony tails, 19 year olds have full grown beards, and there’s always a token person with a mohican. I do think the grunge-subculture is very similar to the English, but it seems to go on much longer and be a lot more apparent.
I recently spoke to a German girl who was disparaging English girls’ attire on nights out. I, like many Brits, have a few outfits which are designated just for ‘going out’ However, this doesn’t really happen here. The French, and the Germans, wear the same sort of clothes on a night out as they do in the daytime. While they do wear leather trousers, for example, the plethora of bodycon cut-out Lipsy dresses in England would be scorned at by the average French girl. My friend at Birmingham University was specifically told not to bring short or slinky outfits because of ridicule on a night out. Skinny jeans and vest tops are far more normal. Conversely, if you wore jeans and a t-shirt in an English club then you wouldn’t fit in either.
What do you think of British or French style? Where are you from? Do you wear something completely different in night clubs or do you prefer a casual look? What is, in your opinion, the most fashionable capital city? For me, it’s Copenhagen. I have never seen so many well-dressed girls – and they were all a bit edgy, too.